Future Thoughts: W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir on championing diversity in motorsport

Feb 17 2021


Since its inception, motorsport at all levels has been a male-dominated environment. However, in 2019, a female-only motor racing championship called W Series made a landmark statement to the world when 20 women from 15 different nationalities competed together in a fully-funded European racing programme.


In a significant development, W Series will extend its support to eight races of the Formula 1 calendar this year, granting aspiring female starts of motorsport a global platform to showcase their talents.

At the helm of this pioneering series is CEO Catherine Bond Muir, who not leads the charge in motorsport bit also serves as an influential advocate for women in sport.

Having embarked on her professional journey as a solicitor, Catherine eventually transitioned to specialize in the sports industry before venturing into investment banking. The inception of the idea for W Series occurred during a career break when she took time off to focus on motherhood.

Catherine Bond Muir with 2021 W Series drivers
W Series is a free-to-enter competition where we pay all of the drivers’ expenses. 
Catherine Bond Muir CEO, W Series

Airspeeder: What inspired you to establish the women-only racing championship W Series?

Catherine Bond Muir: The number of women racing in single-seaters had declined year-on-year over the previous eight years. That was at a time when the numbers of women participating in football, rugby and cricket were starting to increase significantly and they were getting huge amounts of exposure. Quite simply, something had to be done.

How difficult was it for W Series to gain investment and get people on side?

I spent three years developing the idea and I was knocking on doors for 18 months for money. 

A lot of people thought that it was a great idea but the market wouldn’t take it up. However, the world changed quite significantly between conceiving the idea and getting to the first race in 2019. Discussions around female empowerment were very much in the foreground with boardrooms beginning to question the logic of putting 98% of sponsorship finds into male sport. 

Fortunately key people shared our vision. Sean Wadsworth, our major investor fundamentally believed in the mission and provided the resources to get it off the ground. Figures like David Coulthard gave us significant credibility from a globally recognised name. 

Catherine Bond Muir with 2019 W Series champion Jamie Chadwick

How did it feel to finally realise your vision for W Series?

Our race at Brands Hatch, outside of my own wedding and having a child, was the best day of my life. From the outset we have wanted to be an approachable form of motorsport. That first event was such a party atmosphere and fortunately it turned out to be such a fantastic race with lots of changes of fortunes throughout. It had all the drama you could possibly want. 

That really was a defining moment when we could challenge any sceptic to come and see what has been created and the positive reaction to it. It really was an affirmation after a lot of hard work from a very dedicated team. 

Our first race at Brands Hatch, outside of my own wedding and having a child, was the best day of my life.
Catherine Bond Muir CEO, W Series
2019 W Series season finale at Brands Hatch

How will supporting the Formula 1 calendar promote diversity and propel women in motorsport as a whole?

There are two things that have made Formula 1 do a deal with us. Firstly, we produced a very professional, thrilling and credible championship in the first season. If we hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have asked us to join their party. Secondly, it’s reflecting the importance of women in motorsport and that equality is required. 

Formula 1 is working hard to answer the question on how to bring more women into the sport. Everyone is pushing for this and our involvement supports this vision. 

Everyone’s asking the question: how do we get a woman into Formula 1? I think that’s what everyone is working for and genuinely Formula 1 wants that too and believe that’s by supporting W Series. 

Clearly, this will raise the profile of the W Series so money and support can cultivate more drivers for the future. 

W Series is fully funded for the drivers, why was that important when setting out the foundations of the sport?

We decided from the beginning that creating a level playing field for drivers must be part of our DNA. Therefore W Series is a free-to-enter competition where we pay all of the drivers’ expenses.

We took this view because motorsport is littered with stories of drivers not advancing because of money. One of our great drivers, Alice Powell, is a perfect example. She was racing in GP3 but her career was curtailed not for a lack of talent but because for five years she couldn’t raise enough money. Our sport is set up to nurture talent and find the very best drivers. 

Our second key principle is that our cars are identical. This means advantage is gained on the track rather than through setup and development.

We decided from the beginning that creating a level playing field for drivers must be part of our DNA.
Catherine Bond Muir CEO, W Series
Alice Powell W Series podium

You mentioned that between coming up with the idea and going racing there were tipping point moments. What were these?

There has certainly been a move towards equality with women across the board. Landmark moments like the Me Too movement certainly accelerated and focused the conversation across boardrooms. 

This is crucial for us in supporting drivers. If we’re going to give them a competition, we need the resources to support them. This is hard-fought money that people want to either invest in us or want to sponsor and support us. 

With sponsors, we’ve proven it works for their brand. One of the tipping points was our deal with Channel 4. In 2019, we were the only motorsport in the UK live on the front five channels. As a result of that we became the second most watched female sport after football in the UK. We were the second most watched motorsport after Formula 1.

Why do you think W Series has been so successful in engaging fans?

After that incredible first race, the racing kept getting better. With this, fans really engaged in the stories of the individual drivers. This is universal across all sports. I always watch the F1 pre-programming because what happens off the track can be as compelling as the race.

Our first year was all about explaining W Series, its values and why it was needed. In this coming year we can start telling more of the stories about the drivers. That’s what it’s all about. 

Catherine Bond Muir with W Series driver Beitske Visser

Does your success diminish the relevance of the female first message in that it just becomes sport? Or do you want to continue that lobbying voice for that wider purpose?

Frankly, if what people are watching is just great motorsport, then that’s done. A close-fought contest is a close-fought contest. It doesn’t matter if it’s women against women or men against men or even women against men.

Women haven’t had the thousands of hours racing from the age that men do and all of that’s starting to change and as time goes on those women will become much more competitive. The money will go to drivers whether they’re men or women. Historically it hasn’t and that’s because no one knew what to think about women in motorsport. 

There’s a lot of work to get a woman into F1 again. Once we’re there, she’s going to have an absolutely stunning career with a huge amount of commercial support. What that’ll do is allow for the money to support those behind her and the drivers at an earlier stage creating a very real legacy.

Airspeeder Acronis

What do you think of Airspeeder’s mission?

Absolutely great. This is completely space age. What will be interesting is finding the best way to present the competition to fans. I’ve always been a fan of the Americas Cup and have seen how it has progressed by introducing new technologies to enhance the viewing experience. Because Airspeeder is new, it’s free to produce an entirely new kind of programme that fans will engage with. I certainly will watch it because I want to know what on earth it’s going to look like. 

We have a blank sheet of paper and feel extremely liberated for that. What can Airspeeder be doing as a sport so that from the get-go we have no in-built gender prejudice?

The best thing to do is embrace that. Every decision that you make, make it because it’s the best for your business not that it’s been done before. You’ve got to take advantage of that blank sheet of paper. You can paint whatever picture you choose. It’s about being bold and believing that using logic, common sense and creativity, you can come up with the best solution for you, rather than following what has gone before. Take into account what everyone else has done but come up with something that’s different and right for you. 

Read our previous interview with Skyports CEO Duncan Walker.




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