W Series returned for its third season in Miami, but while Jamie Chadwick continues to dominate, new names are starting to emerge as future challengers to the two-time champion
The all-female series had the hopes of getting in font of the eyes of the world by deciding to hold two season-opening races on the Formula 1 support bill at the most high profile grand prix this season at the Miami International Autodrome – or The Hard Rock Stadium as the complex is known for the rest of the year.
The weekend did not disappoint with some quality racing up and down the grid but the weekend was plagued by late penalty decisions from the stewards, which divided opinion.
False starts and penalty questions
A false start to the season for Alice Powell leaves her playing catch-up to her long-time W Series rival Chadwick. After stalling, Powell then fell victim to dust off-line as she went wide, sending her Tatuus into the barrier before the end of the first lap.
Lucky for Powell, however, the unusual double header format gave her the chance to come out of round one with some points from race two, which she did, crossing the line in third. She was unable to keep up with the confident pace of Nerea Marti, though she did inherit her second position following the race after the stewards awarded Marti a one-place penalty for moving under braking.
Following a collision with Emma Kimilainen, Powell hit the wall once again and limped home with a broken front wing to secure P3 across the line.
“I know I certainly had some damage,” she said in the press conference afterwards. “I guess the front wing was damaged because I felt like I did have some understeer but I hit the wall as well. A lot of people were surprised with me hitting the wall, it wasn’t on the coverage but I’ve been in the stewards room and seen the onboard and yeah it was a big clout into the wall, so luckily I was able to bring it home.
“I actually thought it was the last lap so I thought ‘oh that’s lucky!’ But when I crossed the line and didn’t see the chequered flag and it was a bit ‘how the hell am I going to finish’, the steering was totally to the right. It was alright turning right but really heavy tuning left.”
The dust on the newly built circuit was also a taking point with the drivers following the first race. Jess Hawkins explained: “It was so, so dusty off-line. There was a couple of times where I missed my braking point into the first corner and ran wide and went into the marbles and it’s so dusty its horrible, really horrible off-line.
“It’s horrible off-line at any circuit we go to but that seems to be a bit more extreme here, but I think that goes with the territory that this is a brand-new street circuit.“
Despite the poor track conditions, Hawkins took her maiden podium position and highest W Series finish to-date in race one. Keeping it clean throughout and staying out of trouble paid dividends for Hawkins when it came to the closing stages of the race.
A collision between then-second placed Kimilainen and Marta Garcia in third – as the former fell back due to a “power cutting” problem on the final lap – gave Hawkins the chance to claim the final podium position just before the chequered flag.
Despite Garcia crossing the line in second, her best W Series result since her Norisring win in 2019, she was penalised by the stewards following the contact with Kimilainen. Their justification was “that car 7 [Kimilainen] was on the outside of car 19 [Garcia] approaching turn 17, with 7 slightly ahead at the turn in point. Car 7 left sufficient room on the inside for car 19 and a collision occurred in the apex area.”
Garcia clearly didn’t agree, posting a statement on Twitter: “I have no words to describe the feeling I got yesterday. I totally think I deserved that P2. For me it was a race incident. Very unhappy with the situation, since I like fair things and I think that the fact that they took second place from me and gave me 10s is an injustice.”
The penalty left Garcia in 11th position in the final classification.
Now she’s an Alpine Academy affiliate, there is plenty of attention on Abbi Pulling, regarded as the next likely after Chadwick to make it out of W Series and progress into F3 and F2.
The 19-year-old had strong pace and managed her tyres well despite the soaring temperatures, finishing fourth in the final classification in race one and sixth in race two, when she set the fastest lap. Her first full time campaign in W Series this year will likely give her even more experience and skills to progress into the higher championships.
Mixed fortunes for the rookies
Getting to grips with a new track while competing against drivers that had been used to W Series machinery for two or three years was hardly going to be easy for the rookies in round one.
While none of the new intake were at the front of the field, there were some drivers that seemed to adapt quicker than others to the cars and track. Chloe Chambers in particular was in a league of her own compared to the other rookies.
When asked about how the rookies on the grid were getting on, W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir shone the light on Chambers, praising her for her standout performance.
“I’m really impressed by Chloe Chambers, she has been the best of the rookies this weekend,” she said. “What I’ve always said about the rookies is that they will get better and better throughout the season. And I know that is an obvious thing to say but I think our cars – all the drivers say that our cars are very unusual to drive, no one has driven in that position, it’s a very odd position in the Tatuus cars.
“The drivers say it really does take some getting used to so I expect Chloe to get better and better. I don’t know if she’ll get a podium by the end [of this season] but I expect that she will be certainly an interesting one to watch.”
Juju Noda meanwhile had an unfortunate weekend, after a disappointing qualifying where she trailed 5.9s off the pace, she continued to struggle in the two races, both with the overall setup of her car and pure pace compared to any of her competitors.
Meanwhile Emely de Heus kept out of trouble to finish P12 and P10, but it’s Bianca Bustamante who leaves Miami as the highest-scoring rookie, with two points, after Chambers’ received a penalty for crossing the safety car line out of position in race one.
In the first race of the weekend Bustamante crossed the line in P11 after starting P17 but inherited P9 after penalties. In race two, despite a strong start, a small collision meant she ended her race in P14 but the 17-year-old certainly showed this weekend that she has the confidence to fight in the midfield this season.
The champion continues to reign
Unsurprisingly, it is Chadwick who leaves Miami with the most points (and a guitar gifted from Hard Rock), with a 27-point gap to Marti in the standings. Chadwick’s consistency is what shines through most. She wasn’t particularly faster than any other driver in the races – Marti got within a second at some points in race two, and Kimilainen put up a tough fight in race one – but Chadwick was consistently mistake-free lap after lap. This is what gives her the edge.
The Williams development driver had the chance to step up to F3 this year, but opted for a further year in W Series and has set out on her goal of becoming the W Series champion for a third time in the best of ways.
“I was confident heading into [this weekend] but I think anything can happen and it’s so unpredictable racing,” she said. “So you always want to win, you always want to get the best results but it doesn’t always play out that way.
“So yeah, its gone better than expected. It’s not like we’ve been dominant with pace with weekend, there were very fast drivers throughout”
Fastest of all in qualifying was Marti, building on the promise she showed with her own consistent run to fourth in last year’s standings as a rookie. Stalling at the start of the race cost her points, but her quick adaptation to the tricky track hints at her potential.
The second event takes place on home soil for Marti at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a track where all of the drivers have experience and which will likely give us a more accurate representation of the true pace of this year’s drivers.