FIM Women Motorcycling World Championship – a true step forward?
Opinion: Despite the limited information circulating around the proposed FIM Women Motorcycling World Championship planned to start in 2024 alongside WorldSBK, we take a look at the concept, what it may look like and the potential critical points.
FIM and Dorna announced the creation of a new initiative, presented during the MotoGP Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Jerez. The plan is to create a new women-only series that would be competing on world championship tracks alongside the WorldSBK. What, at a first glance, seems like a great idea to promote female riders, still needs many details to be figured out and much caution in order to avoid similar issues as the ones that single seaters’ W Series ran into, eventually ending in the demise of the project.
According to plans, the first round is supposed to take place in 2024, when WorldSBK will head to its first European round (which will supposedly happen in March, in Assen); information is currently very limited, probably too little for a new championship starting in less than a year.
According to Dorna, the series running alongside World Superbikes will have at least six rounds – which means it is not sure if the calendar will look more like World Supersport 300 or World Superbikes, which could impact the popularity of the series considering long breaks between the weekends.
Also, during each round, riders will contest two races – probably full length, but we can’t rule out the sprint race idea, as sprints in both MotoGP and WorldSBK are surely many fans’ favorite action of the weekend.
Another interesting feature is that only one bike manufacturer will supply the series. Technically, this means that the bikes will be equal, but it also takes away the excitement of bike differences and manufacturers' rivalries. It is most possible that the chosen supplier could be either BMW or Ducati – Ducati expands its influence in various series and already supplies MotoE with its bike, while BMW is focused on the Superbikes program and could be promoting its brand on the package. The proof may be BMW's efforts into signing Toprak Razgatlıoğlu, hoping his insight on the bike’s development will help them to fight for the championship title. In the future, fortunately, Dorna and FIM hope to bring more manufacturers into the series – but for sure the sole supplier format will be required for at least a few seasons.
There is something that already makes the Women Motorcycling World Championship different from W Series or F1 Academy: this series is not being created as a “step up” to get into higher classes. Quoting FIM president, Jorge Viegas: “It's a Championship where we want women to be pro. It's not a step to another category, we want women who race here to be able to earn a wage as a rider, as professionals”.
This makes the new championship a racing opportunity on the level of importance of WorldSBK – meaning it is going to be more of a “final” or “the highest destination”. It may be a great idea to give women racing more importance, being world champions of the biggest category, but this also inevitably creates one worrying thought – will it cause a separation and another barrier for female racers wanting to race with men and win with men?
We already have a female championship in Motocross and we haven't seen women racing in MX2 or MXGP since the creation of the FIM Women's Motocross World Championship – will the same happen in this situation?
It is hard to say for now, as we still don’t have many details available, including information on bikes, calendar, and teams. But the risk of women staying in their championship and continuing not getting opportunities in World Supersport or World Superbikes is possible – especially by having their separate top level championship. There is great living proof that gender has nothing to do with the racing ability and doesn’t make female racers slower. That proof is Ana Carrasco.
The Spanish woman was highly competitive in the World Supersport 300, winning the championship in September 2018 and becoming the first ever female world champion.
A year later, she was third at the end of the season and continued competing in the lowest class of the WorldSBK calendar. Her declining results in 2020 and 2021 were caused by a spinal injury which she suffered in Estoril – but she recovered, fought back and won a race at her return to the sport, at Misano in 2021.
In 2022 and 2023, Carrasco moved to Moto3 and, besides Maria Herrera in MotoE, she is the only woman competing at a world championship level today. Them leaving for a women’s championship would mean no women competing in mixed-gender championships, aside from junior class series, Isle of Man TT and other road racing events.
The Women's Motorcycling World Championship will also need a lot of marketing, PR, and media work in order to avoid some of the issues of W Series or F1 Academy. Both great initiatives, but with flaws that hampered their purpose.
W Series was a new and exciting perspective in racing – I watched it myself and loved its existence. A fully-female grid in Formula Regional machinery; many talented women from various countries: the project had the goal of helping its protagonists move up the racing ladder. Becoming associated with Formula 1 and syncing the calendar initially looked like one of the biggest steps for the series. Jamie Chadwick became champion three times in a row, but struggled to move up the mentioned ladder.
Additionally, W Series's association with F1 meant that it went behind the pay-wall quite quickly considering its not-so-big community and popularity. For example, in my home country, Poland, where racing besides Formula 1 is not that popular, W Series was broadcasted by Viaplay – which now also shows F1 – in a package costing around 40 PLN which made it the most expensive on-demand platform package next to Netflix. Considering the low broadcast quality, it wasn't attractive to viewers.
F1 Academy now has its own racing weekends, many known faces (mostly to people who were interested in female racers before), and Susie Wolff overlooking the project. It looked very exciting for the fans waiting a lifetime to see female drivers getting attention and a chance to get into F1 in the future. The biggest problem was brought to light just before the start of the championship: races wouldn’t be broadcasted live, apparently due to a TV rights issue from F1.
Despite the exciting prospects for the series, the lack of live coverage has killed the popularity and hype among fans just a few rounds into the championship. It is quite surprising considering the obvious truth of marketing – little attention translates into little money.
As the purpose of the FIM Women Motorcycling World Championship is to help female racers to be seen, Dorna and FIM should be really careful and attempt to address some of F1’s mistakes. Cheap or ideally free YouTube broadcast, building fan community through social media and opportunities, getting WorldSBK riders to get involved in promoting watching the series and cheering on the riders, choosing a good times schedule during the race weekend for its races.
Also, there will be no championship without riders. For now, it is not clear if any of the established female competitors are thinking about competing in the new series; Ana Carrasco is committed to Moto3, which has a very tight and demanding calendar, and Maria Herrera already competes in two series – the Spanish Championship and MotoE.
The good news is the fact that this project is associated with WorldSBK, whose paddock is known for being open to everyone, with a family-like atmosphere, built around a great community and able to bring fans closer to the sport.
It is extremely hard to assess the whole Dorna and FIM’s initiative right now, because of the many unknowns. The task faced by the championship's founders and promoters is a tough one – finally bringing women at the forefront, so a lot of effort will be needed in marketing, broadcasting, as well as the sporting side, in order to make the on-track action exciting and accessible at the same time.
Having the examples and shortcomings to avoid from previous projects, though, will be the most beneficial starting point for the new competition.
To further judge and discuss the future of the Women Motorcycling World Championship, the whole motorsport world will need to wait to find out.