In conversation with Jamie Chadwick: from fond recollections of Chennai to Formula One
- For this British driver with Indian mother, dal tadka is more than comfort food.
Even though she has visited India once, it is a special place for Jamie Chadwick. It was here that the British racing driver’s career really took flight when she won the first single-seater formula series of her career.
After winning three out of the first 10 rounds in Dubai and Bahrain, Chadwick arrived in Chennai in February 2019 and stormed through the field in three of the five races at the Madras Motor Race Track to become the first woman to win the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship.
That title spurred the 23-year-old to earn a seat in the inaugural season of W Series - an all-female Formula 3-level racing series - where Chadwick claimed the championship, winning two races out of six. The Veloce Racing driver returned this year (after the 2020 season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and successfully defended her crown to become the undisputed queen of the new series.
“I always look back at my time in Chennai as being the real big spark from where I was able to go with my races since I won my first single-seater championship and on the back of that I went straight into W Series and was really well prepared,” says the two-time W Series champion over a video call from UK before flying to Bahrain. “I haven’t been back unfortunately but…With the world opening a bit more I’d definitely love to return.”
Chadwick has a deeper India connect. Her mother Jasmine was born in Uganda but is of Indian origin which clears the mystery around dal tadka being her comfort food.
“So her (mother) parents are from Gujarat, her whole family is Indian but they all moved here over to UK. My mum’s an amazing cook; she definitely has some good cooking Indian genes. One of the dishes she makes most is dal tadka,” says Chadwick, who won four out of eight races in 2021 W Series. “I used to always have it on a race weekend. It’s a really settling food for me. It is something even I if was nervous or didn’t really have the appetite, I’d be able to eat it. And it is very healthy and really good for me on a race weekend.”
On the edge of F1
Only two women - Italians Maria Teresa de Filippis and Lella Lombardi - have raced in F1 till date with the latter being the only one to have earned points. No other female driver has taken part in a Formula 1 race since the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix despite few coming close.
But two successive W Series titles has put Chadwick closer to an F1 seat more than any other woman on the planet. The 2021 title not just helped the Veloce Racing driver earn $500,000 as prize money; she significantly collected 15 points to make a total of 25 towards a Formula One super licence. Drivers need 40 points to race in F1 but 25 to be eligible for Friday practice. Susie Wolff was the last woman to participate in F1 practice in 2015.
“Technically I am eligible to test in free practice so that’s an amazing opportunity potentially. At the moment it feels like that (being the closest female to an F1 seat) and that’s the ultimate goal but there’s still a bit of a way to go. Also, I want to be there on merit. That’s the main focus at the moment. Fingers crossed I can make it a reality,” says Chadwick, who won her second W Series title on October 24 in Austin just ahead of the F1 US GP.
Significantly, the second season of W Series was held alongside Formula 1 as support races. Being part of the F1 weekend is really important for upcoming talents who want to be noticed as F1 teams keep a close eye on the support races to gauge the conditions for the main Grand Prix but also to spot potential talent which they can absorb into their team in the future. “W Series has been an amazing opportunity. To win in its first year was significant but this year, to be a part of the Formula 1 package, the stakes were higher. To win it this year did feel that more special,” says Chadwick.
Chadwick’s success had F1 team Williams signing her as a development driver in 2019, a partnership that was extended earlier this year.
“It massively helped me this season for the preparation for W Series. A lot of work I do is on the simulator so I get to learn a huge amount. I can also lean on the likes of (Williams F1 drivers) George (Russell) and Nicholas (Latifi) and all the engineers for support and advice,” says Chadwick, who didn’t grow up watching motorsports but is now inspired by compatriot and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
“The level they operate in Formula 1 is so high so to have any level of relationship with a team like that, any kind of integration is hugely beneficial at all levels. Of course, if I can ultimately get into the car one day and test with them, that is the ultimate dream. I am very lucky to have that relationship. Hopefully, I can continue it.”
They say that a good driver can deliver results irrespective of the format. Chadwick has regularly switched from one series to another, constantly testing her skill sets and adapting to new kinds of racing. She moved from go karts to sports car racing - where she became the first woman and youngest ever British GT champion in 2015 - to single-seaters. Now, it is off-road racing to formula racing.
Earlier this year, Chadwick took part in the inaugural season of the climate aware Extreme E Championship - an electric off-road racing series - where she even made the podium in Senegal before proceeding to W Series. In Bahrain on Sunday, she took part in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) official rookie test in Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) with Richard Mille Racing Team.
“It is a really good skill to be able to jump between so many types of cars and have that kind of versatility in my style of driving. The amount that I can learn from Extreme E, although it can be very different, it teaches me a lot in single-seaters. Same in GT racing. I have always wanted to do as many different things as possible and first of all to have an opportunity to do that, that will always be the plan,” says Chadwick, who will take part in the final round of the 2021 Extreme E Championship in December.
Chadwick has now been bitten by the off-road bug thanks to Extreme E and has added the Dakar Rally to her bucket list. “I used to follow (off-road racing) a little bit but now a lot more. The level of appreciation was always high but now it has gone through the roof having now competed in it. The Dakar could be something I’d love to do in the future when I get a bit more time.”
Chadwick is inherently outdoorsy. “I like watching and playing a lot of other sports like cycling, tennis and golf. It’s nice as it ties in with my training. That’s normally how I spend my time off,” says Chadwick, who was a hockey player before getting into motorsports.