W Series champion, F1 development driver, Extreme E debutant, trailblazer. Jamie Chadwick explains to Sky Sports’ David Garrido why she can’t wait to get started in the new electric off-road this series; watch the Desert XPrix from Saudi Arabia live on Sky Sports from Saturday
By David Garrido
Last Updated: 01/04/21 4:01pm
“It’ll be the highest level that I’ve raced at up until this point. To have that opportunity just for myself is hugely significant.”
It’s some admission from Jamie Chadwick, Veloce Racing’s female driver ahead of the inaugural season of Extreme E, a brand new off-road motorsport series racing electric SUVs in the most remote corners of the planet. Over the course of the next nine months or so, the competition will take Jamie all around the world… and well out of her comfort zone.
Not that that’s something that fazes her particularly, and the statement comes out matter-of-fact rather than melodramatic. Despite being only 22, she’s been racing for a decade. Her first taste of competitive action came at a local track quaintly named Little Rissington, near such picturesque Cotswold villages as Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water.
And so Jamie embarked upon the well-rubbered-in route of karting, and went via the Ginella Junior Scholarship to making her first bit of history in 2015: she became the first female to win a British GT Championship, taking two wins and five podiums for Beechdean in GT4.
Of course she was still very much in the formative part of her life – both in school and on track – completing her A-levels at Cheltenham College while also getting her race permit for the Nordschleife, one of the four original configurations of the legendary Nurburgring circuit, a terrifying route through the Eifel forests. It was nicknamed “Green Hell” by three-time Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart, but it happens to be Jamie’s favourite track.
A switch to single-seaters followed, as did another milestone, as Jamie took her first British Formula 3 race win in 2018 with Douglas Motorsport. And in 2019, she triumphed in the W Series, the first-ever all-female single-seater racing championship, backed by the likes of ex-Formula 1 driver David Coulthard and Adrian Newey, the chief technical officer at Red Bull Racing who is also now, incidentally, lead visionary at Veloce Racing.
2021, however, will be a very different driving experience.
Compared to what Jamie uses in W Series, the Odyssey 21 car provided to all the teams in Extreme E is, obviously, electric battery rather than internal combustion engine, but also produces double the power output and is triple the weight.
Jamie acknowledges the difference but enthuses in the face of the challenge.
“It’s epic,” she beams. “Honestly the experience I had at the first test especially – I think that was the one that really took my breath away. I loved every second of it, I’ve never ever experienced anything like that, it gave me a massive smile on my face.”
And now her beloved tarmac is taken away, how does Jamie approach it, as she goes from desert to ocean to Arctic to Amazon to glacial terrains?
“From my point of view, I just want to be as adaptable as possible. Whatever’s thrown at me and whatever I can experience over the next few months, it’s just about making sure whenever I turn up for the race, I’m able to adapt to the conditions.”
Disarmingly honest and genuine, it’s a measured response.
Not that the situation and the solutions have always been crystal clear for Jamie. Veloce team principal Rupert Svendsen-Cook takes up the story.
“Jamie came in to meet up with us, it had been a tricky year for her, and it was certainly on the cards that she might not ever race again. At the time, she’d just completed her first year of British Formula 3 [in 2017], a really tough year when she’d switched to single-seaters,” he recalls. “It was a bit of a wake-up call for her – the physicality of driving a single-seater compared to a GT car, her experience, the people around her, everything. We felt like we could really change things.”
That support from the business, who made their name as a management agency for racing drivers and then pivoted with significant success to eSports and gaming, coupled with Jamie’s own hard-work ethos and ruthless honesty with herself, helped her turn the corner. “It’s mad really – fast forward three years, and she is in our opinion, and in a lot of the industry’s opinion, the top-rated female racing driver in the world,” continues Svendsen-Cook.
And there’s plenty more to come. “For Jamie, the goal is Formula 1 – that’s what we want to achieve with her. Last year, she was contracted with Aston Martin, W Series, ourselves, Williams…I genuinely, genuinely believe that she’ll go all the way.”
Back to the present, though. As smart as it was to pick up Jamie a few years back when she appeared at a loose end, it’s also a savvy strategy from Veloce to pair Chadwick with arguably the most versatile performer on the Extreme E grid, Stéphane Sarrazin.
If it’s got four tyres and a motor, the likelihood is the Frenchman has got behind the wheel of it.
While he tested and raced in Formula 1, and took on the likes of Carlos Sainz in the World Rally Championship, Sarrazin is best known for endurance racing and in particular, his exploits in the Le Mans 24-hour race since the turn of the century. He’s been on the podium six times, finishing second four times.
“I’m super lucky to have Steph as a team-mate,” says Jamie. “He’s someone that I’ve kind of looked up to since starting in the sport. His career is super, super varied, he’s got a wealth of experience that is incredible to be able to lean on and to be able to gain from him.”
He’s also raced electric in Formula E, which could be vital.
And if there is a master-apprentice dynamic at play here, at least to start off with, it seems the master is pretty happy with how things have been going so far.
“We know she’s very fast, but when you change the surface, you need to adapt, it’s a different driving style,” says Sarrazin. “She spent one week with me, and she did a mega step. I can tell you she will be impressive, because she impressed me already. She’s very smooth in driving, precise, she’s learning very quickly.” Another example of focused application and quiet determination.
There’s been another learning curve for Jamie too, when it comes to fully appreciating the environmental thrust of Extreme E, its very raison d’être. With clear confidence despite her young age, Jamie admits she wasn’t fully up to speed on climate change before joining the series.
“My awareness for the issues that are at hand has changed quite dramatically only in the last few months, and that is purely because of the messaging that has come from Extreme E. I’m part of a generation where I really should take more onus and more responsibility for what I’m doing,” she adds. Self-awareness, another tick. Jamie’s journey to the five racing locations will also include seeing legacy projects, as Extreme E makes those real, tangible efforts to leave the places it visits in a better state than when it arrives.
Perhaps a big reason why Jamie’s strength of character has developed is how she has represented in terms of gender equality. It hasn’t just been the performances and prizes of her career so far racing against both men and other women, it’s been the statements she’s made such as joining Susie Wolff’s FIA Girls on Track initiative (which aims to offer a positive experience of motorsport to women between eight and 18), and now Extreme E.
It’s clearly something that very much resonates with Jamie, and there is room for it to dovetail with her own personal objectives. “From my perspective, I’m quite selfish in my thinking that there’s a certain amount I want to achieve as a racing driver and I want to achieve that for myself, but of course I have a huge amount of awareness that I am representing a minority group, and everything that I do going forward has the opportunity or the ability to be able to ultimately showcase that it is possible for women to succeed in this sport in all avenues.”
Extreme E is the perfect platform for and expression of that, with its regulation of one female and one male driver per team, and everyone in there on merit.
While she’ll be getting to grips with everything from sand dunes to ice sheets, the links and reminders to her ultimate goal are there. One of Veloce’s rival teams, X44, is owned by Lewis Hamilton, Jamie’s racing hero, whose steadfast stance on racial and social injustice has impressed her and made her take a similar course. “His following is so big and he’s got something close to his heart with, for example, Black Lives Matter, and I think the fact he’s used his voice for a positive thing there I think is a natural thing for anyone to do but ultimately as athletes, we have this opportunity to do it.”
And that’s exactly what this is – an opportunity to tell the world who Jamie Chadwick is, how talented a driver she is and what she stands for. For a brief moment, the measured tone drops and, the excitement is clear as she reflects on the adventure before her.
“I think it’s exciting for a young driver like myself to be up against some massive names whether that be in teams or even other drivers, I think there are some of my idols that potentially I’m going to be up against on the track, so it’s super cool and a really positive atmosphere to be a part of.”
And no doubt, Jamie will make good on this opportunity.