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Can Jamie Chadwick be Formula One’s first woman driver for 43 years?

Even by Jamie Chadwick’s standards things are moving fast. Since April, the 21-year-old from Bath has won two of the first four races of the all-female W Series’ inaugural season and been signed as a development driver by the Williams Formula One team.

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The chance to become the first woman to compete in an F1 race since 1976 is tantalisingly close.

‘This year feels like it has gone stupidly fast and my feet haven’t touched the ground yet,’ said Chadwick. ‘Definitely in the last four or five months it’s started to feel a lot more like that F1 dream could become a reality. I’m under no illusions how tough it’s going to be to get to F1. As a young driver, it was something you would always say you wanted but you never truly believed it was possible. But with the Williams relationship, it’s starting to come that bit closer.’

On confirming her signing, Claire Williams, the deputy team principal of the F1 outfit, described Chadwick as ‘a female role model who will hopefully inspire young girls to take up racing’.

The team have been here before. Susie Wolff was the last woman to participate in an F1 weekend when she drove a Williams during practice for the 2015 British Grand Prix.

But the eloquent Chadwick wants more and this feels different. She appears supremely focused and is supremely fast — the most exciting female driving talent in years.

On Saturday Chadwick retained her W Series championship lead with a third-place finish in Germany.

Spain’s Marta Garcia led from pole to flag to take her first win, with Beitske Visser and Chadwick completing the podium. But Chadwick still leads Holland’s Visser by 10 points with two races remaining in the series and is clear favourite for the title.

In Formula One, Italian Lella Lombardi is the only woman to have scored points at an F1 race, with half a point at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

‘I don’t reference myself against the best female,’ said Chadwick. ‘I just want to achieve what I’m able to achieve. If I was in F1 with a car capable of scoring points then I want to be scoring a lot more than one point. I’ve never really looked up to another driver or wanted to be like anyone else. Ultimately, I’m doing it for myself because it’s what I want to achieve. But if that does inspire more young girls to get involved it’s a great thing.

‘I know what I feel is possible and I want to prove that women can race at the top level.’

So why have only two women — Italians Maria Teresa de Filippis and Lombardi — lined up on an F1 starting grid? In 2016, the sport’s former supremo Bernie Ecclestone said women were ‘not physically’ able to drive F1 cars.

Three years earlier, 16-time Grand Prix winner Sir Stirling Moss said women ‘have the strength, but I don’t know if they’ve got the mental aptitude to race hard’.

For Chadwick, it is simply about numbers. ‘The physicality of the cars is pretty high but I don’t think it’s the deciding factor as to why women haven’t made it in motorsport,’ she said. ‘We can definitely get strong enough to drive those cars. The G-forces are high but the steering is not too heavy so it’s definitely possible — you’ve just got to train a little bit harder to overcome it so I don’t think that’s the reason.

‘There’s a bit of a lack of interest,’ she added. ‘Women don’t necessarily find themselves at karting tracks when they’re young. So naturally, particularly in karting, it’s male-dominated. It’s a bit of a numbers game — if you’ve only got one girl to 20 guys on a karting grid then you’re not going to see a girl make it through to F1.

‘Also, we haven’t seen anyone talented enough in the last few years to make that break. Hopefully more girls will get involved and with things like the W Series, where the standard is really high and they’re trying to make us all-round better racing drivers, the talent starts to come through.’

Chadwick was relatively late to karting. Hockey and skiing were her sporting passions until, aged 11, older brother Oliver persuaded her to try it at Wiltshire’s Castle Combe circuit.

Childhood afternoons spent driving her father’s Land Rover around the family farm — ‘I sat on dad’s lap and did the gears and steering while he did the pedals’ — and some good old-fashioned sibling rivalry proved a potent combination.

‘I never really watched F1 growing up,’ she said. ‘It would be on the TV at home but it was never something I was truly infatuated with.

‘But Ollie was and I’d always had quite a sporty background, so when I started karting the competitive nature of motorsport instantly grabbed me.

‘Then the speed and adrenaline — I hadn’t experienced anything like it. It wasn’t long before I caught the full-on motorsport bug and that was it — I wanted to be a racing driver.’

At a crossroads in 2013, Chadwick rejected a trial with the England Under 18 hockey squad in favour of the Ginetta junior scholarship weekend. She won and two seasons in the series followed.

Five Ginetta podium finishes caught the eye of Aston Martin who placed her in their academy, faith she repaid by winning the British GT4 Championship in 2015, aged just 17. Chadwick moved to single-seaters, becoming the first and only woman to win a British F3 race last August.

Chadwick describes herself as ‘very stubborn and tough’. In a male-dominated sport she has had to be, despite that apparently seamless progress.

‘I always just wanted to be better and to try to win races, so I didn’t really notice having to work harder than anyone else but maybe deep down there has been a bit of that to overcome,’ she said.

‘I’ve been really surprised at how much support I’ve had. You get the odd negative comment but I take it with a pinch of salt.

‘I don’t think I’ve heard genuine sexism, but you hear jokes: ‘You’ve been beaten by a girl’ and all that sort of stuff. As long as I’m there on merit and deserve my place on the grid that’s enough of an answer to any sexism or criticism that may be thrown around. I just focus on doing my job.’

At next weekend’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone, that job is with Williams for the first time.

It is one of three races she will attend this season and Chadwick will sit in on engineering meetings, having already experienced the simulator at the team’s Oxfordshire factory.

‘I feel like I’m comfortable in the F1 simulator now so that’s definitely a big step,’ she said.

‘Junior motorsport changes so much it’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to be doing in the next few years, so I’m very much focused on the short term. But with the relationships I have with Williams and Aston Martin I’m hopeful to use those to push on in the future.’

From Silverstone, Chadwick will travel straight to Assen in Holland for the penultimate race of the W Series season, which concludes at Brands Hatch on August 11.

A few weeks off and a ‘little time to be a normal 21-year-old’ will follow. ‘Since the W Series the exposure has been huge, but motorsport is quite an insular world so I can go anywhere without getting recognised,’ she said.

‘I’ve got some really great friends who aren’t in the sport so it’s great to have some time off with them.

‘I like to chill out with the dogs at home and I love a Sunday roast because I miss a lot of Sundays when I’m on the road.

‘It will be nice to do that with friends and family and bring myself down to earth for a bit.’ 

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