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Jamie Chadwick just hoped no one noticed. As she sat on the grid for a 2020 Formula 3 Asian Championship race at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Chadwick’s foot slipped on the brake pedal. Her car crept forward.
“I thought I got away with it because it was so tiny,” Chadwick told Road & Track. “I knew I’d done it, but I thought I’d gotten away with it. It was my first pole of the year, and I hadn’t actually had a podium that year.”
The race started. Chadwick “got the lead, got [her] head down, and won the race by quite a margin.” She climbed out of the car, clapping and pumping both fists in celebration of her first Asian F3 win. She hugged her race team as cameras flashed, with a crowd of crew members holding up a celebratory “1” on their index fingers.
That’s when officials finally reviewed the start footage. They noticed.
Welcome to Split Second, where we ask racers to recall a split-second moment that's seared into their brain—the perfect pass, the slow-motion movie of their own worst crash, the near-miss that scared them straight, or anything else—and what gives the memory staying power. In this edition, we spoke to two-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, who described a jump-start that still haunts her.
Asian F3 is a series on the ladder toward Formula One, where Chadwick—a two-time champion in the all-women W Series—now serves as a development driver for the Williams F1 team. F3 uses the same starting procedure as F1: five red lights above the starting grid illuminate, one by one, as drivers sit motionless below them. When they all go out, the race is on.
“There’s so much anticipation in that moment,” Chadwick said. “You’re basically just waiting for the lights to go out. As soon as the lights go out, that’s your moment.
“You hold at 100 percent throttle, and then you manage the clutch release according to the grip, the track—everything. [In Abu Dhabi,] I had my heel on the brake, the front of my toe flat out on the throttle, and then my left foot on the clutch, holding it and ready to go. I was there anticipating it.”
The lights blinked on: one, two, three, four, five. But before they went out, Chadwick’s heel slipped.
“I just lost a bit of brake pressure,” Chadwick said. “It crept forward enough to give me a jump-start.”
Chadwick expected a drive-through penalty, which requires a competitor to dip down pit lane once during the race—slowing down significantly and losing valuable time on track. But as the laps went on, no penalty came.
“There was a safety car at the beginning, and I thought: ‘If this is going to happen, then they’re going to tell me soon,’” Chadwick said. “Then on the radio, no one said anything.”
Chadwick refocused on what she could control, finishing the 30-minute race about five seconds ahead of her closest competitor. It wasn’t until after her victory celebration that officials gave her a 20-second penalty, dropping her to eighth in the finishing order.
Chadwick still doesn’t know why the penalty played out the way it did.
“I’m sure someone must have said something, because normally, it’s obvious straight away and they give you a penalty straight away,” Chadwick said. “But in this moment, they delayed it a little bit longer and decided to wait until they’d seen the footage later after the race.”
The narrative pivoted from Chadwick’s first Asian F3 win to how she lost it. One story featured a photo of her celebrating with fists in the air, the headline reading: “Jamie Chadwick loses maiden Asian F3 victory after jump start.” Her race team wrote: “Jamie Chadwick denied maiden win after false start from pole.”
Chadwick said she still kicks herself about the mistake. If she’d known she would get a penalty, she “could have pushed more and potentially gotten a better result.” Of course, it wouldn’t have been an issue is she hadn’t jumped the start.
The start of any race is a difficult balance, Chadwick said—whether you’re at the front of the grid or the back. In Abu Dhabi, she just got it wrong.
“I think normally, you’re a little bit safer at the front,” Chadwick said. “You give slightly, because the eyes are on you. Opposite of what I ended up doing, you just really want to make sure you don’t creep at the start or anything.
“But you also want track position going into turn one. It’s that kind of tradeoff and balance of not taking too much risk but also not being too complacent.”
Chadwick still thinks about that race when she’s on the starting grid now, but it doesn’t psych her out. It was a learning experience—one she doesn’t plan on repeating.
“That slight creep of the wheels is what lives in my head rent free,” Chadwick said. “I know exactly what I did wrong. It’s one of those, like, if you could go back and change something, I’d go back and slightly just put my foot a little bit more on the brake.
“But I almost certainly won’t do that again, so it’s probably a good thing that I experienced it.”
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