Jamie Chadwick is not like other British prodigies tipped for future Formula One fame.
Of course, there have already been the customary podium places in British F3, the interest from sponsors and the media excitement that greets any early success on the track. But whereas the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Damon Hill had an elite pathway plotted by predecessors, Chadwick’s is not so clear.
If Chadwick races in an F1 grand prix, she will be the first female driver to do so since Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.
For most of the intervening four decades it may have been prudent — if depressing — advice to caution the 19-year-old against such hopes.
As recently as 2016, then-F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone publicly questioned whether women were physically able to drive at motorsport’s elite level, saying “they wouldn’t be taken seriously”.
Yet by becoming the first woman and youngest driver to win the British GT Championship two years ago at the age of 17 — just four years after she first seriously pushed pedal to metal in a kart — and the youngest ever winner of a 24-hour race when she triumphed with her Aston Martin team at the Silverstone Britcar 24 Hour, Chadwick has to be taken seriously.
“He’s just old school,” Chadwick tells City A.M. when asked about Ecclestone.
Former F1 chief Ecclestone questioned whether female drivers would be taken serioulsy (Source: Getty)
“And in his defence, a female up until now has never shown the promise to make it to F1. Although he maybe shouldn’t have been outspoken because there’s a lot of younger talented girls coming through motorsport that might have been put off by his comments, for someone involved in the sport, I know that’s all it is.”
Indeed, Chadwick insists that her gender has not added any extra barriers to her career behind the wheel so far.
And while until recently it may have appeared a glass ceiling to any promotion to F1, she sees a sport moving away from Ecclestone’s school of thought.
Last month, F1’s new American owners Liberty Media announced that it was scrapping grid girls, the models who have traditionally lined the starting grid at grands prix, saying that they were “at odds with societal norms”.
That would suggest an organisation open to bringing more women drivers onto the starting grid, but Chadwick insists if she does make it, it has to be via the same route she has followed since first taking on her older brother on the karting track — by beating the men.
“The way Liberty has taken over has been really refreshing,” she says.
“And hopefully they want to see a female succeed because I think that’s really important for the sport. But for me it doesn’t change anything.
“If I’m scraping the barrel in F3, struggling to finish sixth or seventh next year, then I don’t deserve to be in F1. It’s as black and white as that and any of my sponsors should feel the same.
Chadwick made her debut in Formula 3 last season (Source: Jakob Ebrey)
“Just because I’m a female doesn’t give me the right or a free pass to Formula One. I’ve got to be doing well, I’ve got to be winning. I want to be there on merit and not because of my gender. If I’m winning and still struggling to make it anywhere then I’ve got a bit more of an argument.”
The forthcoming British F3 season is therefore of more pressing concern to her than F1’s evolving position on gender politics. Chadwick says she has to improve on her debut season last year, when she finished ninth with a single podium place.
But before she can even begin thinking about new tactics, Chadwick has to raise a small fortune in the range of £250,000-£350,000 just to get a seat in the car.
A record such as Chadwick’s is likely to persuade a team to put up part of the money, but much of the burden will fall on her shoulders.
At this stage, it is less a divide between men and women that Chadwick has to breach and more a gap between haves and have-nots — the so-called pay drivers such as Williams racer Lance Stroll, the son of a Canadian billionaire whose family has been able to pump tens of millions into his career.
“When you’re competing with guys who have bottomless pockets they can go and spend as much time in the car as possible and that is an advantage when you’re driving,” she says.
Canadian driver Lance Stroll's path to F1 has been helped by his billionaire family (Source: Getty)
“Those who know F1 will know that the likes of Lance Stroll, even Sergey Sirotkin who’s just signed with Williams, they’re very much paying ridiculous money for their rides. It makes it difficult for those with talent to make it to the top because they just get their wad of cash out and that’s them sailing through to Formula One.
“They’re talented and they wouldn’t actually be there if they weren’t talented, you still have to win championships. But if you’ve got the backing behind you it’s much easier to do that. It is difficult for drivers who don’t have that budget to compete with them.”
With the 2018 British F3 season set to start next month, Chadwick is still to secure a spot in a car. She knows that it is not just in her own interests for her to do so.
“You do the job you want to do, you go to race weekend and focus on the one goal — winning,” she says.
“At the same time, I really want to do it obviously for myself but also to showcase that women can do it. And in the back of my head there is a confidence that I know, if given the right opportunity, I could.”