W Series

W Series: Mixing it with the boys

W Series

2021 was a big year for the W Series as the formula joined the F1 support package for race weekends, making a big leap for equality and showing that the girls can come out and play with the boys.

After a successful 2019 and a disrupted 2020, the W Series planned to go big for 2021 and the all-female series did just that.  Joining the F1 weekend support race package, it propelled the series into the spotlight, and it didn’t disappoint.  The season saw a neck-and-neck battle between defending champion Jamie Chadwick and fellow Brit Alice Powell, with the season going down to the wire in the last round in Austin, Texas.

Racing in a world still reeling from COVID, we started in Austria, and ended in the USA, taking on six tracks over eight rounds.  With COVID in mind, sadly South African driver Tasmin Pepper was unable to take part in the season due to travel restrictions, but this did provide an opportunity for some new and familiar faces to join the party.  British Formula 4 driver Abi Pulling made her debut dipping into the 2021 season with Poland’s Gosia Rdest returning to the fold along with Australia’s Catlin Wood.

2021 also saw the introduction of teams for the series with the creation of Bunker Racing, Puma W Series, Veloce Racing, Racing X, Sirin Racing, Scuderia W as well as the W Series Academy, designed to nurture and support young up-and-coming female drivers.

Round one took place in Austria’s Styrian mountains. It was Powell who made a perfect start to the season taking the first pole position of her W Series career.   The 28-year-old continued where she left off at Brands Hatch in the 2019 season finale.  A flawless drive at the Red Bull Ring, Powell topped both the practice and qualifying sessions.  Sarah Moore completed the front row, while defending champion Chadwick qualified eighth after suffering a turbo issue.

Powell took full advantage of her pole position, leading all the way from start to finish and recorded the fastest lap in the process.  Moore finished second to become the first openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on the podium at a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, an incredible achievement.  Liechtenstein’s Fabienne Wohlwend took advantage several late incidents to take the third step on the podium despite starting ninth.  Chadwick failed to recover from an early incident but with further incidents taking placed managed to rescue the race and finish sixth.

Round two, thanks to COVID, took place once again in Austria and despite a difficult opening round Chadwick topped both the practice and qualifying sessions. Chadwick edged out her 2019 title rival Beitske Visser by a tenth of a second and secured her fourth pole position of her W Series career.  Race one winner Powell looked a different driver, qualifying 13th thanks to a brake issue.

Chadwick went on to have a perfect round, topping every session, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap of the race and seal her third W Series race victory.  W Series rookie Irina Sidorkova claimed her maiden W Series podium finish in only her second race by six seconds as Emma Kimiläinen saw out the podium.

With a quarter of the season already gone, Chadwick held a three-point lead over Moore.  Powell was a further point behind as it was “Rule Britannia” at the top of the championship.

Round three quickly arrived as the W Series came home as the grid arrived in Silverstone.   Six British drivers lined up on the grid including 18-year-old Abbi Pulling, who was making her W Series debut alongside Powell, Chadwick, Moore and Jessica Hawkins and Abbie Eaton.

A stunning lap at the end of a fiercely contested qualifying session saw Powell return to form taking pole position.  The Brit beat Wohlwend by almost four tenths of a second on the way to her second pole position of the season.  Championship leader Chadwick lined up behind title rival Powell, while Pulling impressed in her first W series weekend by taking P8.

With the return of fans to sporting events, 100,000 fans packed into to Silverstone to get a slice of the action.  Powell had a nightmare start, losing the lead but a terrific recovery drive saw her pass Wohlwend in the closing stages and take another, her second of the season. She finished two seconds clear of Wohlwend and regained the championship lead in the process.

Round four saw the W Series arrive at the Hungaroring.  It was Chadwick’s turn to dominate Friday’s running in Hungary to take pole position and beat Powell by a quarter of a second.

With track temperatures of 50 degrees plus, Chadwick got off to a scorching start and the Veloce driver never looked back taking the chequered flag by more than ten seconds ahead of Powell.  Chadwick’s second victory of 2021 saw her match Powell’s win tally and took her one point clear as the season reached halfway.

Nerea Martí finished on the podium for the first time in her W Series career and by doing so moved into third place in the championship following increasingly improved performances as the season unfolded.

Round five and it was the turn of Spa Franco-champs for a very wet weekend in Belgium.  A wet qualifying session was overshadowed by a huge accident involving six cars.  Moore, Visser, Wohlwend, Ayla Agren, Abbie Eaton and Belen Garcia were involved in a frightening accident at Eau Rouge and all six drivers were taken to the circuit’s medical centre. All but Agren and Visser were released with the latter two referred to hospital for further checks and missed Saturday’s race.

When racing resumed it was Chadwick who took pole position by three quarters of a second from Powell.

Racing conditions were the worse they could be, with the opening 13 minutes taking place behind the safety car, when the track turned green, Kimiläinen took centre stage having started fourth on the grid but ended up taking the chequered flag and with it the second victory of her W Series career.  The win moved the Finn into title contention but still 31 points behind championship leader Chadwick who finished second with rival Powell only managing fourth.  Marta Garcia crossed the line in third place and took to the podium for the first time this season, while reserve driver Caitlin Wood was fifth on just her second appearance of the season.

A return to the Netherlands was on the menu for round six as both Visser and Agren returned to action.  The Dutch seaside resort last hosted an F1 Grand Prix in 1985 and the crowd were keen to cheer on Visser at her home race

Kimiläinen continued her excellent form to take pole position with her final lap.  The Finn once again beat Powell by seven one-hundredths of a second to take her first pole of the season and the second of her W Series career.  Chadwick was still in the hunt securing P3, two tenths of a second behind Powell.

As Saturday’s race unfolded, Powell took her third victory of the season with an early overtake on Kimiläinen before beating Chadwick by three seconds.  The fourth win of Powell’s W Series career moved her level on 109 points with defending champion Chadwick, who took P2.  Kimiläinen hung on to complete the podium, as Marti took fourth and Hawkins fifth.

The penultimate round saw the series arrive in Austin, Texas at the Circuit of the Americas.  Title contenders Powell and Chadwick, level on points and the top eight in the championship standings qualifying automatically for the 2022 season, it was all to play for as the drivers.  It was a weekend of firsts as the double-header became the W Series first race outside of Europe and first race on an F1 Grand Prix Sunday in support of the United States Grand Prix.

The sun shone on the Friday at COTA as Chadwick made a cracking start to a crucial weekend by topping both of Friday’s practice sessions. That form continued for Saturday’s qualifying session with the drivers’ best time determining the starting grid for the seventh race of the season and their second-best time determining the starting grid for Sunday’s eighth and final race of the season.

Chadwick would start both races from the front row. Fellow Brit Pulling set the fastest time in qualifying to just pip Chadwick by seven one-hundredths of a second and earn her first pole position of her W Series career in just her third race weekend with the series. It was back to normal service for Chadwick for race two as she secured pole and again would be joined on the front row by Pulling, the youngest W Series driver on the grid at 18.  Powell who suffered a nightmare weekend just when you wouldn’t want it, would start the two races from 10th and ninth on the grid respectively.

Chadwick moved a step closer towards retaining her W Series title by winning her third race of the 2021 season on the Saturday afternoon.  She overtook Pulling at the opening corner and then led all the way to the chequered flag, beating Kimiläinen by 1.2 seconds and took the fifth victory of her W Series career.  Powell, who was on damage limitation, came from 10th on the grid to take the final podium spot, overtaking Pulling on the last lap of the race and keeping her title race alive.

Going into the final round of the season and Chadwick had just eked out a lead of 10 points from rival Powell, who was still very much in the hunt.  Kimiläinen third consecutive podium finish ensured that she finished third in the championship.

As the season came to an end, the final round took place once again at the COTA on Sunday and sixteen drivers started the final race of the season following the withdrawals of drivers Eaton and Marta Garcia.  Eaton suffered a T4 compression fracture during Saturday’s race having bounced a little too vigorously over a curb, while Marta was unwell.

A flawless drive saw Chadwick take her second consecutive race victory and become a two-time W Series champion.  The 23-year-old completed a perfect weekend by leading from lights out to the chequered flag and setting the fastest lap in Sunday’s race.    Chadwick beat Pulling by five seconds to claim her fourth victory of the season and successfully defend the title she won in 2019.  In doing so the Brits took the $500,000 top prize and maximum 15 FIA Super Licence points.

Powell finished sixth to end the season 27 points behind in the championship standings, while Kimiläinen scored her fourth straight podium finish to cap off an excellent second half of the season.  Pulling continued her run of improving form by getting her maiden podium finish on her fourth appearance.  That result saw her end the season in a very impressive seventh place.

The top eight drivers qualified automatically for the 2022 W Series season, with 2019 Esports Champion Visser claiming the eighth and final spot by finishing fifth in Sunday’s race. Moore finished fourth in the race and fifth in the championship, one place behind Marti and one ahead of Wohlwend.

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