LONDON (Reuters) – Jamie Chadwick raced McLaren’s Lando Norris in the virtual world at the weekend but COVID-19 could put the brakes on hopes of her joining the Formula One driver on track at a real grand prix this season.
Back in February the 21-year-old had spoken of defending her W Series title and then pushing for a Friday first practice slot with the Williams F1 team, where she is a development driver.
The plan was to move up the motorsport ladder in 2021, with whoever wins the all-female series barred from returning after this year.
Now the Briton, who lost 2-1 to Norris in the head-to-head event organised by Veloce Esports, can only guess at when she might be back on track with the pandemic putting racing worldwide on hold.
A return to W Series next year is also looking more of a possibility.
“I think realistically no-one knows what’s going to happen this year,” Chadwick told Reuters in a telephone interview from home.
“So next year is in the back of my mind and planning ahead for that just in case is always going to be something that we would do.
“We’re not due to start until the end of May so hopefully with that in mind and the progress that’s being made by everyone, we still might get a season this year.”
The original W Series calendar featured six European rounds from May 29 to Sept 5 with two further races supporting Formula One in Mexico and the United States in October, but that has been ripped up.
The German Touring Car (DTM) championship that W Series hooks up with in Europe has revised its calendar to a tentative start at Germany’s Norisring in July and a finale at Italy’s Monza circuit on Nov 15.
Germany has since extended a ban on major events until the end of August, however, while Italy has the world’s second highest COVID-19 death rate after the United States and remains in lockdown.
Formula One’s season has yet to get going, with nine races called off so far.
“The difficulty, and where W Series is doing absolutely the right thing, is no-one really knows when this is going to end so the focus is on basically going by guidelines advised by the government and then making decisions as and when,” said Chadwick.
“With W Series we are a bit reliant on DTM and F1 so that’s a lot of the guidance.
“I don’t know how many different countries the girls are from, and obviously every country is in a different situation with regards the virus at the moment, so it’s not going to be easy when things do start to get back to normality.”
Chadwick’s year started on a high when she secured her first points towards an F1 super-licence by finishing fourth overall in the Asian F3 championship.
Winning the W Series again would secure enough points to take part in Friday practice and move a step closer to becoming the first female F1 race driver since 1976, but Williams’ main focus now is on surviving the crisis.
“It was definitely something in a very ideal, aspirational world that was on the cards,” Chadwick said of the possibility of that practice slot.
“But you can’t plan for these things,” added the driver, who is working towards doing a half ironman and charity half marathon for Britain’s National Health Service.
“It (the pandemic) does put things up in the air but if we can still try to make the best of this year then hopefully we can come out of it a bit stronger and have a good plan going into next year.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)