When I first met race-car driver Jamie Chadwick, she was relieved to have the night off. We were watching a Formula One race from the Rolex suite (Chadwick is an ambassador for the watch brand — Rolex calls them “testimonees,” — which is the Global Partner and the Official Timepiece of Formula 1) overlooking the track in Las Vegas, but nine minutes in, a car hit an exposed water-valve cover and went sparking into the barrier. The race was over. Luckily, it was just a practice run, and Chadwick, who sometimes works as a television commentator when she’s not competing, was grateful she didn’t have to fill hours of allocated airtime. Instead, we found ourselves with ample time to chat, hunkered down alongside other star athletes who represent the brand, including Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and legendary British racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart. “I wanted to be a skier at one point,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t tell Lindsey that.”
When she was 11, Chadwick started racing on the Isle of Man, an island of about 80,000 people between Ireland and England, where she and her older brother, Oliver, grew up. She saw her brother get into go-karting, she explained, and thought, I’m kind of interested in this. A few years later, she enrolled in the Ginetta Junior Championship — a racing series for drivers between 14 and 17 years of age — and got a scholarship to continue racing. She kept at it until she hit a roadblock with funding at age 20. “One of the big barriers in motorsport is securing the financial backing to progress,” she said. “For all young drivers, you have to find the funding yourself. It doesn’t come easily for anyone.”
In 2018, however, the launch of the W series — a fully funded all-female league of drivers — removed the barrier. “It kind of professionalized women’s motorsport overnight,” she explained, and it allowed her to keep going. Before that, “I’d always raced against men,” she said. “It ended up being the best thing for my career and gave me this huge opportunity, and that’s what’s led me to this point.”
Chadwick won the W series three years in a row, before a lack of sponsorship put an end to the competition in 2023. Still, her success helped her secure a spot on the Andretti Autosport team in Indy NXT, making her the first woman in 13 years to race full time in the championship. She’s signed on for another year, and will continue racing in 2024. Here, she spoke with the Cut about her career, opportunities for women in F1, and how it feels to get behind the wheel.
How do you think your childhood prepared you for this sport?
The Isle of Man is super-small. My brother and I had quite a lot of freedom. My parents let us roam around and explore different hobbies and activities. We moved to the United Kingdom later but always went to very small schools; there were only three other girls in our year group. So there were four of us in total and maybe 15 boys. We did everything together, including all the sports lessons. And so it was never weird to me to be such a minority as a girl. So then when my brother got into go-karting and only boys were doing it, I was like, “I want to have a go.” I had a go at it, and I enjoyed it. And maybe I use the words blissfully ignorant, but it shaped the reason why I was so unfazed by getting into such a male-dominated sport.
What do you see as the main barriers to entry for women in F1?
For me, there were very, very few role models. There’s also a big experience gap at the moment. Formula One is the pinnacle of racing, the highest level. To work on those cars and to be an engineer — you have to move through the ranks to be able to develop that skill set. Things like F1 Academy, where there are more female engineers and mechanics, massively help women get the experience they need. When I was in the W series, my second mechanic was a woman, and the lead mechanic basically allowed her to lead our car, which gave her the experience she needed to progress. She now works for Alpine in their Formula One team.
How was the W series different from other racing experiences you had?
We would swap cars each weekend to make it as fair as possible, so no one would have a hidden advantage. It was all equally funded, so there was no discrepancy in that sense. And the first year, there were so many of us who’d never met each other, none of us had come across each other, but we’d all had very similar upbringings in the sport. We all had so much in common, and we all got on really well because of that. It got more competitive as the racing went on, but it was really nice in the first year especially. When the W series ultimately ended, it was a really sad moment between all of us because it was such a big opportunity for so many.
Did you do anything to celebrate when you won the W series?
I bought a Rolex. My dad’s always been a big watch fan — well, my whole family, to a degree. My brother argued about who would get the watches in the family. I’ve always been a big fan of watches, but I always wanted to buy my first Rolex. So when I won the W series in 2019, that was the first thing I wanted to do. The Yachtmaster was the one that I felt suited me best.
And now you work with Rolex. Tell me about that.
It’s the partnership that I’m most proud of in my career, for sure. And I’ve always been a massive fan of the brand, but not just the brand: it’s the brand’s history in sports, and the people they align with – like Sir Jackie Stewart, Tom Kristensen, Mark Webber, and Jenson Button. I’ve been inspired by so many of them for so long. Getting advice from the likes of them is an opportunity I wouldn’t have had without Rolex. For me, it was and still is a pinch-yourself kind of moment, impostor syndrome at times.
What makes a good race-car driver?
The ability to make split-second decisions. In the car, you have a lot to do: You’re trying to drive as quickly as possible, but then you’re also attacking or defending from another driver; you’re listening to an engineer talking to you, and quite often, you have to make changes on the steering wheel. And then, if something happens to your car or someone crashes in front, you have to make that quick call. I try to make sure that the training has elements where I have to think fast on my feet.
But it’s not just about the driving; you have to feel exactly what the car’s doing, how much grip there is, and make changes to the car to make it faster — those are the things that make a driver go from good to great.
How is driving a race car different from driving a regular car?
The cars we drive on the road are designed for comfort. In racing, we’ve got so many safety things that have been put in place, but the cars are designed for the track and for speed. And you put a lot of trust into people you race against, and you race against the same people year on year quite often. A lot of us grew up racing together, so you know who you’re racing. Whereas on the road, there are thousands of different people daily. I feel a lot safer when I drive a race car than I do on the road.
What’s a big misconception about racing?
That it is not necessarily physical. It definitely is. Often, you’re in the car in very hot climates for long periods of time. Your heart rate, your cardiovascular system, is at quite a high level. In Qatar last year, we saw some of the hottest conditions drivers have experienced. They were getting out of the car and collapsing. Some of them didn’t even finish. And even in those circumstances,you have to have the capacity to make decisions and operate machinery.
But there’s also just the sheer amount of G-force that’s going through the body during a race. It’s like if you’re driving fast on the highway and you put your hand out the window to feel that resistance, then double that resistance. That is what is happening to your neck, so a lot of drivers have quite large necks. Upper body strength becomes a big, big element.
How do you prepare for a race?
Now I’m racing in a mixed competition. I’m one of — or, well, I’m the only girl, and it’s been challenging to build the muscles and the strength required in this series. So that’s been the main focus. I do love cardio, and that’s more of the mental side of things. I like to go out on my bike for long rides or go long runs.
What’s one thing about you that might surprise people?
I’m not a very good driver on the road; I drive very slowly. And I’m bad at parking. I learned to drive but never to park. It’s just something that’s never suited me. And it’s a shame because whenever anyone talks about the typical female stereotype of women drivers being bad at parking, I want to be the one to defy that, and I can’t.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.