More than 22 months have passed since the thrilling finale to W Series’ inaugural season at Brands Hatch. A heck of a lot has changed for the series as it (finally) is about to get its second season underway
It’s a big year for W Series. It needs to rebound after cancelling its planned second season during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has made totally breaking the norm in many areas its way of going about things.
Series organisers has been laying down some pretty strong foundations to do that and, as has done since its inception, it has made some smart, punchy deals that will almost certainly push it forward as well as find a new car operator in Fine Moments.
Out has gone its alignment with the struggling DTM championship, and in has come Formula 1. Unlike fellow support series Formula 2 and Formula 3, W Series turns up with just one championship race held on the Saturday of grand prix weekends.
Limited track time on F1’s tight schedule means that the drivers will have very little acclimatisation time before being put into qualifying. It will be critical for every driver to hit the ground running at each event to sustain a title push.
Regardless, this opens up the championship to a huge new audience both on and off the track, is a bonus for F1 in its quest for greater diversity and inclusivity and gives fans trackside (and everyone is glad to see them making a return) extra junior single-seater racing to enjoy. It’s a win for all involved.
On top of that, it will count towards the FIA superlicence needed to race in F1. The champion will earn 15 points, the same as Indy Lights and Euroformula. It also means they won’t be allowed to return to W Series in 2022, unlike after the first season.
The eight-round season begins with back-to-back Red Bull Ring rounds, the first of which is this weekend. Silverstone is set to host a large number of fans (as a pilot scheme for the UK government) in mid-July, and the Hungaroring, Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Circuit of the Americas and Mexico City are all featuring in a calendar wildly different to 2019’s inaugural season.
New drivers are coming in, while others are looking to build on successes from 2019 and in other championships. Meanwhile, the reigning champion has a huge point to prove after a very tough 2020. Up to 17 drivers could do the full season, with five drivers down as reserves (who may race frequently due to ongoing travel restrictions).
The results of pre-season testing at Anglesey was kept secret, so previous experience, form and speaking to a number of drivers coming into the season is what 2021 expectations must be based off.
The drivers themselves feel that this season is likely going to be a lot closer than in 2019. While Jamie Chadwick had the edge first time around, other drivers certainly showed title-fighting potential. Unable to carry that momentum into 2020, they are now looking to make a strong start in what they expect to be a game of consistency rather than the scene of a winning run.
Jamie Chadwick ENGLAND
2021: currently 8th in Extreme E 2020: 4th in Asian F3, 9th in FREC 2019: W Series champion, MRF Challenge champion
It’s a big year for Williams junior Chadwick, who needs to rebound after a very tough Formula Regional European Championship campaign with series powerhouse Prema. She took the inaugural W Series title with effective driving across the season back in 2019, but faces a stronger and better prepared opposition this time around.
“I think everyone’s going to come back stronger. Definitely, everyone has been working harder, trying to get better and come back stronger. I think what I’ve learned this year will really help me for sure,” she told Formula Scout at the end of last year.
Despite the dissapointing results, Chadwick said that the takeaway from 2020 was “ultimately the amount that I’ve learned just how to conduct [myself] as a racing driver and in the engineering side that I’ve gained in my time with Prema is huge.
“I was able to pinpoint in certain areas why the season didn’t go the way I would have liked it to have done and hopefully that will stop things like that from happening in the future which is another positive to take forward.
Curiously, she has also been racing in the new all-electric Extreme E championship alongside the incredibly versatile Stephane Sarrazin. She doesn’t expect it to distract at all from her quest for a second W Series title.
“The good thing is that they’re so different that I can’t really draw on too much comparison,” she said during Anglesey testing.
“I think the bigger difficulty will be more the time. Each one takes a lot of time in terms of preparation and the time that you need to invest into it.
“So, to be a bit time-limited on both will be the hardest factor but the actual driving style of switching between the two is so drastically different. Fortunately, I haven’t tried driving on the grass yet in Anglesey so until I start doing that it’s okay in terms of jumping between the two cars.
“It definitely helps in having a team-mate like Stephane because he obviously helps me and mentors me within the team in Veloce, but his experience means that I’ve got someone I can lean on and have support from for both the on-track stuff as well as the off-road stuff.”
How Chadwick performs is of significance to W Series, and if she’s locked in a tight battle with a wide range of drivers who have shown big progress since 2019 then it will bode well going forward.
Beitske Visser NETHERLANDS
2021: currently 15th in WEC 2020: 19th in ELMS 2019: 2nd in W Series, 11th in Int. GT Open
Visser won W Series’ Esports league in 2020 which was set up once the season was called off. On top of that, she has been racing in the World Endurance Championship in LMP2 prototype sportscars, putting in some impressive performances.
“The downforce is different, the power is different and also a big difference is that W Series are sprint races and that LMP2 are endurance races,” she said. “But the last couple of years, I’ve been switching between cars quite often, so I don’t find it very difficult anymore, I can adapt quite quickly.”
She fell just short of the 2019 title, just lacking ever so slightly to Chadwick on occassion, but perhaps most crucially in qualifying – one of two race winners to not take a pole in 2019 and having just one front row start. The Regional Formula 3 car is a difficult one to overtake with, so getting things right over one lap would likely form a stronger basis for a title push.
“I think it’s going to be very close; there are going to be quite a few drivers that want to fight for the championship. So, what I need to do is be quicker than in 2019! And make fewer mistakes and hopefully, that will be enough.”
Visser’s qualities as a versatile driver probably mean that despite her sportscar commitments, she’ll be a threat again this time around.
Alice Powell ENGLAND
2020: 4th in Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy 2019: 3rd in W Series
W Series’ most recent race winner has spent a lot of time in the British Formula 4 paddock, mentoring a driver she may well end up racing against in Abbi Pulling. Powell was mighty at Brands Hatch in 2019 in front of her home crowd and really started to pick up momentum in the final races.
With a bit more luck (two retirements including launching into the air at Misano were hugely costly), a title challenge was definitely on in 2019 and, much better prepared than before, Powell is a good tip to be a strong contender this year.
“Preparation-wise, it’s all just been spent in the gym,” said Powell. “Well, I say in the gym, I mean my house because all the gyms have been shut due to lockdown. Luckily during the first lockdown we had in 2020 I bought a load of gym equipment.
“The aim of course is going to be stringing together a title challenge. My title hunt sort of ended after the third round last season, with the incident at Misano and then the trouble at Norisring.
“Now I haven’t done as much driving as those who were fighting at the sharp end, you have Jamie who has done a year in Regional and Beitske’s being doing LMP2 so I wouldn’t say the pressure is on me to prove anything but I’m just going to go out there and focus race-by-race and enjoy driving these incredible circuits that we’re going to go to.
“I’m quite glad [about the Austria double-header]! Because I know a few who have been to Paul Ricard whether that’s testing or racing there before, and I think Austria is quite easier for me to learn than Paul Ricard, there are a lot fewer corners.”
Marta Garcia SPAIN
2019: 4th in W Series
When Marta Garcia is on form, the former Renault junior is exceptional. Those days were not regular enough for a 2019 title push, but her Norisring performance was stellar. She also showed consistent progress in Esports and wants to put that experience to good use on the track.
More weekends like the Norisring one, and she will absolutely be in the title mix. But her preparation for this season has not been ideal, having just one test day in a Formula Renault car before Anglesey testing, but nonetheless seems fairly confident.
“There is nothing else in my mind, just this one – this championship. I will try to do my best, my target this year is to be fighting for the title. I think I’ve been working hard quite a lot when I was not racing.
“In the end, when you do one thing, and you focus on one thing, normally I think it goes better. Maybe if you do too many things it gets a bit confusing with different cars or whatever.
“But if you can adapt yourself, it isn’t going to be a problem with that. For me, I’m going to focus on this car with the Formula Regional car.”
Emma Kimilainen FINLAND
2019: 5th in W Series
Kimilainen effectively missed the first half of 2019 due to injury from a crash caused by another driver, but the Finn scored more points (53) than anyone else in the second half of the inaugural season.
Of all of the drivers Formula Scout spoke to ahead of the season, she seemed the most relaxed and the most confident and was very candid about the strength of the field.
“I would say probably 12-15 girls within half a second, so it’s going to be really tough and competitive, and it’s going to be mega racing I promise!
“When you suddenly have a lot of time to prepare and to go back to the basics and stuff and maybe rehabilitate injuries or something like that, it’s always a good thing when you have that time. Because usually racing seasons are pretty intense and then you just need to do everything at the same time and then suddenly when it was cancelled last year, you had all of the time in the world to do what you want regarding the training for example.
“It’s been a good preparation even if I haven’t been driving anything since 2019 Brands Hatch but that’s not a problem for me.
“I was really quickly on the pace when we got to Anglesey and I wasn’t even worried about that so I didn’t need too much time in the car anyway but we got to drive a lot so it was really, really good. I used that time to kind of prepare for the season with all of the setups, so I had a goal with my engineer, I said to him that we now need to change the car all the time.
“Every time when I come to the pits, we change something, so we have as much information as possible when we start the season because we have only 30 minutes of practice and 30 minutes of quali and there is the race so we basically don’t have any time to do set-up changes or stuff like that so we need to have that information already beforehand. So that’s what I was concentrating on at Anglesey and it worked really well and I feel like I’m really prepared.”
Fabienne Wohlwend LIECHTENSTEIN
2021: racing in NLS Series 2020: 2nd in Ferrari Challenge World Final, 2nd in Ferrari Challenge Europe 2019: 6th in W Series
Wohlwend finished sixth in the inaugural season, and has added a Nordschleife racing programme on top of her existing Ferrari commitments. While not predicted to be a title contender, Wohlwend could certainly add to the podium and pole she earned at Misano in 2019.
A bit more aggression in the races and more consistency in qualifying trim on circuits that arguably should suit her better and Wohlwend will be more of a threat this time around.
Miki Koyama JAPAN
2021: currently 11th in SF Lights 2020: 16th in Asian F3, 20th in FRJC 2019: 7th in W Series, 15th in Asian F3
Koyama was certainly one of the more exciting drivers to watch in the inaugural season, but she will need to hook things up better over one lap before challenging for the top positions in races, and her racing in Japan since has’t been fruitful beyond gaining mileage.
Sarah Moore ENGLAND
2020: NC in Porsche Sprint Challenge GB 2019: 8th in W Series
The 2009 Ginetta Junior champion and Racing Pride ambassador hit the ground running in the inaugural season with a brace of top-fives but slipped away as the season progressed.
With a lot of quick talent coming through, and a number of circuits that are going to be very different to the norm, taking some similar results or maybe scraping a podium or two would be a good return.
Vicky Piria ITALY
2020: 20th in FR Eurocup 2019: 9th in W Series
Piria had a fairly up-and-down 2019, and perhaps her best wasn’t seen enough. Regardless, fifth at Misano was strong.
She did get a chance to drive the car last year in the Formula Renault Eurocup, where she nabbed a point in the second race at Magny-Cours. That’s more recent racing experience in Regional F3 than most of her rivals.
Jessica Hawkins ENGLAND
2021: currently 29th in BTCC 2020: 33rd in BTCC 2019: 11th in W Series
Stunt driver-turned-F1 team ambassador, Hawkins was arguably the most-improved driver in the second half of 2019. She became a regular points threat after a few years away from single-seaters and obviously looked to build on that in 2020.
Instead, she found herself racing touring cars in the British championship and the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy. Hawkins has the potential to spring a surprise or two this season if she can get on top of the circuits, and that’s one of the intentions of her new Aston Martin F1 affiliation.
Sabre Cook USA
2021: currently 28th in Mazda MX-5 Cup USA 2020: 19th in IP2000 2019: 12th in W Series
Not just a racing driver but an engineer too, Cook was the final driver to qualify off the basis of her 2019 results. Since then she has dipped into Indy Pro 2000 but struggled to make a huge impression in a tough championship and added sportscars to her resume too. Coming top 12 in the standings again would certainly be a success.
Gosia Rdest POLAND
2021: currently 7th in Alpine Europa Cup 2020: 8th in Alpine Europa Cup 2019: 14th in W Series, 6th in Baltic TC – 2
Rdest was close to automatically qualifying for the second season and was invited back to take a reserve role. But she’s taking part in the opening two rounds due to travel issues for a fellow driver, and with her recent European racing experience in the Alpine Europa Cup (as well as getting to do W Series testing too) she is well prepared for the season.
Ayla Agren NORWAY
2021: currently 21st in Le Mans Cup 2018-’20: no racing
Agren’s W Series debut has been a long time coming, and the 2014 F1600 Championship Series champion is certainly one of the more experienced drivers. Things didn’t work out for her on the Road to Indy and she’s been out of racing for some time.
She returned to the cockpit recently in the Le Mans Cup in an LMP3 car. Agren is a talented driver whose career didn’t pan out before, and W Series has given her another lifeline as it has done to a number of other drivers on this grid.
Belen Garcia SPAIN
2021: currently 35th in FREC 2020 (karting): 90th in CIK-FIA Int. KZ2 Super Cup 2019: 6th in Motorsport Games F4 Cup
Belen Garcia has only been racing for a few years and was only in cars for one season before the pandemic arrived, but that did include a win in Spanish F4. She then combined karting with her other passion – pole-vaulting.
While she has been a FREC backmarker this year, she went in with very little preparation and has consistently made progress in the championship despite missing the Monaco round to do W Series testing.
Garcia is one who could well spring a surprise, and is a good contender to be top series rookie.
Nerea Marti SPAIN
2020: no racing 2019: 16th in Spanish F4
Like Belen Garcia, Marti has only been racing cars since 2019. She’s the second-youngest full-time driver in the field at just 19 and finished second to her compatriot in the Spanish F4 race she won two two years ago.
She’s since been testing privately with Global Racing Service in the W Series car under the tutelage of GT4 racing star and former FR Eurocup racer Xavier Lloveras to boost her mileage compared to the more experienced drivers.
Abbie Eaton ENGLAND
2021: racing in GT Cup 2020: NC in Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy 2019: 23rd in Super2
Racing Pride ambassador Eaton is better known as The Grand Tour’s racing driver but has formed a career and presence strong enough to get a shot in W Series in 2021. Like a few of her rivals, she’s appeared in the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy a few times, and this weekend will mark her single-seater racing debut.
It’s a big ask to succeed, but as long as Eaton is able to show consistent progress and start getting some results towards the end of the season, she’s merited her place in the series.
Irina Sidorkova RUSSIA
2021: 22nd in Asian F3 2020: 9th in RCRS Touring Light 2019: 6th in F4 SMP, 18th in Spanish F4
The fifth rookie is the youngest and one who has starred in W Series’ FR2.0-based Esports league on iRacing. Sidorkova was third in that but was able to properly mix it with the best of the bunch frequently and was one of the best racers.
After a bit of time in F4 (along with Belen Garcia and Marti in Spain in 2019, finishing behind both), 2020 was set to be a logical step to W Series. That was pushed back, but she did get to make her Regional F3 debut at the start of this year.
Sidorkova raced in Asian F3 with new team Evans GP but struggled initially with bruising in pre-season testing, then with her inexperience against rivals coming from Formula 2 and FIA F3, and then being hit by a rival on track that resulted in a hand injury that put her out for a round.
But all that experience will still be good to use going forward, and she’s absolutely rapid in small tin-tops. So another dark horse for some good results.
Bruna Tomaselli BRAZIL
2021: 9th in 1000 Miles Brazil 2020: 7th in SF Paulista 2019: 8th in USF2000
The final rookie brings a decent amount of experience from USF2000. Tomaselli came eighth in the standings in her third year in the championship, with a best finish of fifth, and showed progress year-on-year.
W Series, however, will be her first time racing in Europe. The tracks are wildly different to those of the United States and her native Brazil. Adapting to them will be the key to success for her. Keep an eye on her sneaking into the points positions.
While Tasmin Pepper was set to participate in the championship full-time, travel concerns relating to COVID-19 has meant that the South African has had to take a step back and become a reserve for this season. Caitlin Wood, after finishing perilously close to the top 12 in the standings in 2019, Wood has also been invited to return as a reserve.
Dual German-Rwandan national Naomi Schiff was an intermittent points scorer in 2019 and will be taking on a series pundit role now as well as being on call to race, while Powell’s protege Abbi Pulling tested at Anglesey despite not being announced as a driver and was given the chance to take a reserve role in addition to her British F4 campaign.
All of the reserves will race in the colours of Puma on track, as the sportswear brand is one of the seven outside partners putting their names on ‘teams’ for this season.