W Series heads into season three with the surprise of its sole champion appearing again. Jamie Chadwick’s second title wasn’t quite as emphatic as her first; who are the young stars-to-be looking to prevent a third?
The second W Series season was highly intriguing. While Jamie Chadwick was the class of the field once more in 2021, it became apparent more and more that her number one position has to be fought for. She was among the best in almost every area, as in 2019, but as the year progressed it was others, notably fellow Britons, who had the upper hand in certain situations.
That makes Chadwick’s return all the more intriguing, combined with the fact she is inegibile for superlicence points in the series as the cost of being there. The drivers who pushed her last year return too, including some of the notably younger and less-experienced who, after showcasing a rapid rate of improvement in 2021, can be in position to pose her toughest challenge yet.
The one they all want to beat
By far and away the most successful driver in this championship, Chadwick has been pretty much the total package to date. Quick in qualifying (a key strength), decisive in battle, decent race pace and race management to name but a few of her qualities. She’s won $1 million in W series so far, but couldn’t find a competitive enough FIA Formula 3 Championship seat to step up into with it, and that’s a move that doesn’t look good on W Series or Chadwick. What comes after this year will be very interesting, and FIA F3’s chief executive Bruno Michel was puzzled at Chadwick not taking the F3 option with a lower team.
“I don’t really understand why she couldn’t get a seat in F3, to be perfectly honest,” he said in a recent media roundtable featuring Formula Scout.
“There were teams that were ready to take her. I know there was a discussion with one team, I don’t know what happened at the end, and I think it’s a pity because I think she would be ready for F3 – and she’s not here. And she’s going to do another year in W Series.
“It is what it is, she decides on what she wants to do, her and her management, with her career. We absolutely need to prepare young female drivers to get to the level of F3, with success. And with success, it means that we need to be sure that when they come there, at least they can qualify in the top 12 because then everything is changed. And that’s the beauty of this format as well.
“And If it’s to be at the back of the grid, as I said, then it will be counter-productive because we will have many people saying ‘look’, which is exactly what we don’t want. We very strongly believe that there’s absolutely zero reason that a female driver cannot achieve the same result as a male driver, but it’s a question of preparation.”
Chadwick juggled W Series with the new Extreme E off-road series last year, and while in that paddock she discussed with Formula Scout her F3 plans. One of the backmarker teams was known to have had a seat available at the end of 2021, and Chadwick was in talks with them, but ultimately decided not to go with that option nor continue her XE commitments.
It’s important for the near future of women racing that W Series’ drivers don’t have their careers stall at this level and having its most profile driver being stuck in Formula Regional for a fourth successive year highlights exactly how far things have to come before a direct route into FIA F3 becomes viable for a driver in W Series on a regular basis. Either way, the reigning champion is as good of a benchmark as any for W series’ youngsters who go into 2022 with a wide range of experience.
Emely de Heus THE NETHERLANDS 19y/o
The Dutch driver makes the step up after one year racing single-seaters in Spanish Formula 4. She was part of the mammoth MP Motorsport line-up there, and despite the team being a force in the series she ended up 29th in the standings with a best finish of 14th. On that basis, perhaps she is making the step up to FRegional cars a year early. But she must have impressed enough in the tests to warrant a drive in the championship.
Tereza Babickova CZECH REPUBLIC 19y/o
At 19, Babickova is relatively old for a single-seater debutant, but there is a caveat of being sidelined for two years due to personal reasons at the end of 2016. After returning in 2019, her trajectory just seemed to go up, and up and up, before being given the chance to race in W Series in 2022. The move not just to slicks-and-wings but cars this heavy and notably difficult to pass in will make her progress through the year highly interesting. She can be forgiven for being a slightly slow starter here on that basis, and her racing sisters will be pushing her on.
Chloe Chambers USA 17y/o
Chambers’ career to date has been primarily in the United States, so adapting to a global championship with a wide range of circuits will be interesting, but she was more than good enough to mix it with the best in karts over there before she stepped up to F4 for 2021. There, she picked up a single point having attended every round bar one while being coached by ex-Indycar stars Al Unser Jr and Sarah Fisher. At 17, she’s one of the youngest drivers on the grid and also perhaps stepping up to this level a year early but there are certainly some potentially strong results in there that can come to fruition.
Juju Noda JAPAN 16y/o
There perhaps hasn’t been a driver so widely anticipated coming up the ladder in recent years than Juju Noda. Racing is Noda’s life, as is often the case for a second-generation driver, and the daughter of 1990s F1 star Hideki comes in with a very interesting record. Two years in Danish F4 produced mixed results (three wins among them) compared to predominantly local competition, and her US F4 campaign was over before it started last year. Regardless, she was invited along to W Series’ pre-season Barcelona and landed a race seat. Preparation has included racing in the Austrian F3 Cup in the same Tatuus T-318 car that W Series has.
We know she’s quick in qualifying, and can be a charging racer, but her tyre management is lacking. How she adapts to some of the bigger circuits will be interesting to keep an eye on. As nice as Padborg Park is, it’s hardly Circuit of the Americas or Silverstone, and just how far has Noda come since her Danish F4 debut in 2020 that grabbed the attention of the globe?
Bianca Bustamante THE PHILIPPINES 17y/o
Bustamante is in a somewhat different situation to many of her competitors. She didn’t do the Barcelona test, so hasn’t driven the Tatuus T-318 in an official test or practice, but she has already raced this year in something notable. She’s done the opening two rounds of the USF Juniors championship, taking a best finish of 10th and significantly improving from just the start of her first weekend to the end of her second. Her gig in the commentary box for other Road to Indy series shows she has the media skills already too. The 2021 FIA Girls on Track Rising Stars scholar and Noda are set to carry on in W Series for 2023, as Academy-branded drivers, should they so wish.
Belen Garcia SPAIN 22y/o
The Spanish F4 race-winner (albeit in highly fortuitous circumstances) was very strong at times in 2021 in W Series and earned a 2022 seat as a result. Sometimes the ultimate pace was not there, notably in comparison to other rookies, so whether Garcia is able to be in the mix at the front of the pack more or not will be an interesting subplot.
Marta Garcia SPAIN 21y/o
Marta Garcia is the only W Series race-winner younger than Chadwick, and she was very impressive in 2019, but things fell apart in 2021 to the point where withdrew from the final round after revealing struggles with mental health.
That left her out of the automatic qualifying positions, but she returns for a third season in this championship regardless. A sole podium at Spa-Francorchamps in dreadful conditions last year showcased her qualities as a driver, and she’ll be looking to have a much smoother season now. If that’s the case, there’s every chance she can be right in the title mix.
Scout Report: Marta Garcia (April 2020)
Nerea Marti SPAIN 20y/o
Marti’s career trajectory has followed a very similar path to that of Belen Garcia’s, but it was Marti who looked the more impressive in 2021. She was one of four drivers to finish in the top eight in every race she participated in, and nabbed a Hungaroring podium too. Regardless of the situation, Marti will be a threat for a decent points score, but an extra little bit of performance and decisiveness in battle will make the difference between consistently being in the top eight and consistently fighting for podiums instead, which is what makes for title pushes.
Abbi Pulling ENGLAND 19y/o
Former British F4 runner Pulling is a protege of W Series rival Alice Powell, has made just four W Series starts to date but is already becoming one of its biggest stars. She is the first driver to deliberately have W Series on her intended path in junior single-seaters and is putting it to good effect. A pole and a second at COTA concluded a partial season that went from strength to strength in 2021, with with a little bit of better race management, combined with consistently repeating the performances she’s put in so far, then absolutely there is every chance she can fight for the title.
Chadwick’s regular rivals
Let’s not leave out the experienced runners, of course. Beitske Visser and Powell finished second to Chadwick in 2019 and ’21 respectively, and both have the qualities to be right up there once again, amd Emma Kimilainen (third in ’21) is always a contender in some capacity. Podium finishes Fabienne Wohlwend and Sarah Moore also return, as does Aston Martin Formula 1 ambassador Jessica Hawkins and former USF2000 runner Bruna Tomaselli. Russian driver Irina Sidorkova would have been featured, but the SMP Racing-backed driver’s participation in W Series is on hold for the foreseeable following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She’s replaced by Abbie Eaton, who makes a surprising return after a nasty back injury sustained at COTA last year. Ayla Agren is the only publicly named reserve driver so far.
So, what’s new?
Perhaps one of the most intriguing changes will be that the Alfa Romeo-powered T-318 will be swapped for Toyota-powered FT-60 cars for the Barcelona and Suzuka races. This is a hugely unprecedent step to take for a spec series, with the very similar FT-60s ususally seeing service in New Zealand’s currently incubated Toyota Racing Series.
This adds an extra layer of intrigue to how the season plays out, as the drivers will have to adapt to the various changes brought on by that. Speaking of the calendar, the end-of-season double-header will now take place in Mexico City (which hopefully will host W Series third time lucky after two years of cancellations), and the opener will be a double-header on the new Miami International Autodrome. In fact, W Series will have the honour of running the first ever races on the track.
Barcelona is also new to the series, while Suzuka makes its real-world W Series debut having hosted a stunning round of the 2020 Esports League and will be the first ever Asian venue. Paul Ricard was set to host last year’s opener before a second Red Bull Ring round took its place, but it now finally appears.
The Red Bull Ring, Spa – scene of last year’s horror qualifying crash – and Zandvoort all fall off the calendar.
In the UK, W Series races will be shown live exclusively on Sky Sports F1 on television with the other F1 support series, but the show will be produced by the Channel 4-aligned Whisper Films so it will have highlights on that channel too.
While this does pose the question of how it is possible to showcase women in racing behind a paywall, having at least some free-to-air element is crucial while Sky gets to expand its live junior coverage further, and shouldn’t have any inconveniences when F1 has qualifying overrun compared to C4’s narrow live TV window. This deal will likely also be of huge financial benefit to the series, which has had to see off the pandemic among other things in the recent years to keep afloat. Additionally, whether TV money then extends to the stakeholders on track (a la F1) waits to be seen.
Chadwick predictably goes in with the target on her back, but the performances from Pulling and Marti through 2021 provide a sense of anticipation that the Williams junior is not going to have things so easy this year. That goes beyond just challenges from the likes of Powell, Kimilainen and Visser, who have all shown they are capable of entering a title fight.
Pulling is the obvious standout of the crop that looks capable of going to the top this year, but what Marti and Marta Garcia can manage will be very interesting to see. Of the complete rookies, Chambers and Babickova are perhaps the two to keep an eye on the most, while Noda is the one with the most question marks – ironic given she’s the most experienced of the lot.
However, this writer is predicting a Pulling versus Chadwick fight that goes right until the final race in Mexico.
Why this year is so important
Much of this is merely thinking out loud, but it’s key to learn where W Series is starting to head in the long term. Will it remain a FRegional championship? Will its planned feeder series start to get off the ground, and perhaps at F4 level? What will that mean for drivers climbing up the ranks and so forth?
In coming years will it look to introduce a push-to-pass system akin to FRegional European Championship, for example, to spice up ‘the show’? Its current format is okay from a spectacle point of view, but there are certainly more interesting machines out there to use.
Additionally, while W Series isn’t the only series to not field cars with a team structure (see French F4 for a prime example), there is a lingering feeling that it would prepare drivers much better for a future in racing with a more conventional junior single-seater structure to it. During the second half of 2021 it appeared on the cards with parties Formula Scout spoke to, but no change has been implemented and Double R Racing’s sister company Fine Moments continues to run all 18 cars.
Ultimately, that is what W Series should primarily exist for, right? To prepare and promote young women moving up the junior ladder and beyond.
What of its established stars too? A total of zero of its drivers have moved up the junior ladder into a higher category since 2019. That is despite the prize funds and the coverage it gets. It still seems to be stuck in the sort of limbo that it targeted to bridge with its own creation. What this has shown us is that we are still a long way from a driver making that step up to FIA F3, let alone Formula 2. As for the established stars embarking on their third seasons, questions must be asked about where their own motorsport futures lie, and what that means for W Series and for women in motorsport on a wider front if they remain in the series for years but do not get the promotional benefits.
After somewhat public criticism from former FIA Women in Motorsport Commission president and rally legend Michele Mouton, who described the championship as “limited and discriminating” should it not succeed in having drivers move up the ladder, it is imperative for the future of women racing at a high level that W Series succeeds. With so many eyes on it, and so many more on F1 at the moment following Netflix show Drive to Survive’s huge success, bringing a diverse range of new fans as a result, it must work with the other initiatives out there to really make sustained, genuine progress in getting more women in the highest-profile racing seats out there.