W Series: Why Hull-born Abbie Eaton is hoping to raise women’s profile in motorsport - on and off the track
It’s lights out and away we go for the third year of the W Series in Miami this weekend, with a double-header of races in the Sunshine State. The first will get underway this evening before the second tomorrow afternoon ahead of the Formula 1 grand prix in Florida.
W Series had its first season in 2019 before the second year took place in 2021, after the Covid pandemic meant the 2020 season was cancelled.
The series has been a signifcant supporter of women drivers, who compete in F3 cars, rewarding them with prize money to help their careers.
It was added to the F1 bill last season, with eight races. That has been increased to 10 races at eight grand prix weekends for 2022.
The first double header is this weekend in Miami while the second will be on the last circuit on the calendar in Mexico City at the end of October. The series will also head to Japan as well as Silverstone.
Eaton – an on-screen test driver for Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour, and an ambassador for Racing Pride which promotes LGBTQ+ inclusivity within motorsport – made her debut in the competition last year.
The 30-year-old, who hails from Hull, always wanted to be a racing driver but feels that an emergence of high-profile female talent will get more girls into motorsport.
“It is definitely inspiring a new generation of younger female drivers,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“Because it is on such a big platform alongside F1, there are probably Dads who watch it and their young daughter might run past and see girls racing.
“It is inspiring a new class of driver. I think having a little more publicity on that front is great.
“I am 30 now and I started racing when I was 10-years-old. I didn’t have a female role model at that time but I just wanted to race and nobody was going to tell me or show me otherwise – I was going to race regardless.
“Maybe there are young girls out there who aren’t as confident, so it is definitely inspiring a new generation.
“I think the long-term aspect of W Series is yet to be seen.”
Eaton has battled hard to get behind the wheel in Miami.
A back injury sustained at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, USA, in October, brought her season to a premature end.
At times she struggled to deal with the day-to-day complications of the injury but her desire to get back to the W Series was enough to keep her going.
She continued: “It was super tough, really tough in all aspects. I had no other option to get better.
“It was about mind over matter and cracking on with it. There were times when I thought, ‘why am I in this situation?’ Why am I still digging deep this long after the crash?
“I was so reliant on other people to look after me, in terms of driving me places. If I wanted to get to the shops, I had to ask someone to take me. There were times when it was really tough.
“I just thought to myself that I would still be able to get back into a car, I wasn’t paralysed and I was very lucky. What is four to five months out of my life? I just needed to use that time as best I could to get back.”
A big boost for the W Series for 2022 is a three-year broadcast deal with Sky Sports. The series had been shown on Channel 4 in 2019 and 2021 but Eaton doesn’t feel going behind a paywall will limit the attraction.
She said: “It opens it up to a different audience again. The die-hard fans that subscribe to Sky Sports, will hopefully watch our race and it becomes part of their weekend of viewing.
“I think it is fantastic to have these relationships and deals with W Series and hopefully it brings more partnerships on board.”
Eaton claimed four top-10 finishes from the first six races in 2021 and hopes to build on her debut season this year.
She will compete for the Scuderia W Team alongside fellow Yorkshirewoman Sarah Moore, who hails from Harrogate and finished fifth in last season’s W Series championship.
“We are just waiting for Yorkshire Tea to sponsor us, as that is all we drink!” jested Eaton as she carries the White Rose flag with Moore in the W Series.
“Sarah and I have been friends for a long time. I am very supportive of her and hopefully we can work well together and help Scuderia finish higher than it did last year.”