2021: Women in Motorsport, a Year in Review
Updated: Jan 5
One year of motorsport went by, and one is fastly approaching. We took some time to analyze the progress made by women in the sport in the last year – highlighting our top-10, our favorite moments and most positive trends. But above all, we would like to thank all of them for inspiring us each day of the year.
This time last year, we wrote a season review titled "The Women that made 2020 bearable". We were just out of one of the most surreal years in our lifetimes and the motor racing world, understandably, had come to a halt only to resume its activities midway through the summer. Still, an honorable amount of female racers distinguished themselves all around the world and carried momentum despite a difficult year. 2021 certainly continued the trend; year two of the Covid pandemic was surely not an easy one and still posed massive challenges globally – but motorsport somehow found a balanced new normality that allowed for most championships to get underway under the safest protocols. This season review might therefore be subtitled "The women that kept making waves and won't stop at nothing". In the last five years or so, the increase in both female participation and, most importantly, in the competitive levels among the world's top championships resulted in some drivers rising to international stardom, as well as a plethora of up-and-coming youngsters showing impressive speed in single-seaters, prototypes, touring and GT cars. Some of these names are in fact returning from our 2020 feature, while others make their first appearance. Especially notable were the results in the endurance racing realm, where a really fruitful cooperation between the Michéle Mouton-led FIA Women In Motorsport Commission and projects such as Richard Mille Racing and Iron Dames really changed the game. These programmes proved that when provided with quality equipment and equal opportunities, women will definitely rise to the top. For the third year in a row, the all-female crew Iron Dames finished the legendary 24H of Le Mans within the top 10 in class, and expanded their presence to the best GT championships in Europe and the world. At the base of the single-seater pyramid, more and more women approached F4 series and the first ever winner of the Girls on Track - Rising Stars programme joined the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy. In the GT3 and GT4 platforms a few really interesting names – both in Europe and overseas – established themselves as ones to watch. Likewise, in the always popular TCR championships, women climbed the top step of the podium in a record-breaking number. Here are the drivers that we acknowledge for their achievements – and we thank them for being daily inspirations.
OUR TOP 10
Floersch has become one of the most complete and adaptable drivers as she ventured from single-seaters into sportscars and then GT3 machinery. In 2020, she completed a double-program in FIA Formula 3 and ELMS, both satisfying her dream of racing at the highest level in F3 and exploring her opportunities in sportscars, in the newly-formed Richard Mille Racing team. While formula cars are not off the table yet for her future, the young German has since then really found in endurance racing her natural habitat. Sharing the Oreca LMP2 prototype with Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser, Sophia conquered a historic top-10 at debut in Le Mans. In 2021, the team would step up to the World Endurance Championship, in a very strong LMP2 field. They scored two six places as best results in Portimao and Bahrain, but were often unlucky in the Full Course Yellow timings when on course to their first top-5 in more than an occasion. Additionally, she turned another dream into reality when she was announced as part of the ABT Sportsline line-up in the new DTM era, as the German series moved to GT3-based regulations. The championship might be second only to F1 in terms of popularity in Germany and, despite Floersch having a mountain to climb in order to make up for the lack of experience in GT cars, she showed great progress and flashes of brilliance in one of the most competitive grids on the planet. Not only did she have to learn the secrets of driving a GT3 car – including ABS braking – but Floersch was also part of the development for the innovative SpaceDrive system by Schaeffler Paravan, which for the first time brought to the race track a fully-electronic steering. The project proved to be very interesting but inevitably not quite fully ready yet for competitions and Floersch returned to a traditional system after the Austrian round. In the latter stages of the championship, she made a significant leap forward and scored her first points in Assen. In Hockenheim she was close again to the top-10, and would finish 9th again at the season finale at Norisring, completing the season with 8 points. Despite feeling unwell at the WEC final round in Bahrain, Floersch made headlines in the post-season collective tests, when she topped the timing sheets in both sessions in the LMP2 class, having tested for championship-winning WRT Team. Sophia's season, though, probably had her highest peak at the European Le Mans Series finale in Portimao, where she joined Algarve Pro Racing in a one-off appearance. Together with Ferdinand Habsburg and Richard Bradley, Floersch finished third overall – becoming the first ever woman to step on the overall podium in the series. The 21-year old racer has recently tested LMP2 machinery with Prema – the benchmark team in junior formulae that will join endurance racing for the first time – as she is currently evaluating a series of options for 2022.
The second on-track edition of the all-female championship W Series certainly offered a stunning duel between reigning champion Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell – both coming into the final round at Austin equal on points and equally deserving of the 2021 title.
Chadwick eventually bagged a back-to-back crown, as Powell was hampered by a series of technical issues. While both Chadwick and Powell would deserve a place in our Top-10, their presence at the top of W Series was hardly a surprise. So we opted to include two seriously impressive rookies: among them, 19-year old Spaniard Nerea Martí.
Martí – at only her second season in formula cars after making her debut in Spanish F4 in 2019 – was selected to join W Series alongside fellow competitors Belén Garcia and Irina Sidorkova. Martí was paired with the young Russian to form the W Series Academy team, as the two youngest drivers on the grid secured the seat for two years.
Despite missing out on racing action throughout 2020 (when she was back in the Spanish karting championship), Nerea completed a series of tests in the Tatuus T318 Regional car and, once on track at the season opener in Austria, she immediately proved to be a consistent point-scorer and a serious contender for the Top-5 in most races.
Also thanks to good qualifying efforts, she managed to finish ahead of much more experienced drivers and claimed her first top-five at Silverstone, round 3 of the championship. One race later, she would step for the first time on the podium at Hungaroring and was fourth at Zandvoort.
Martí was eventually fourth in the drivers' championship – the only driver together with Chadwick and Powell to finish every race within the points. Without excessive pressure to finish in the top-8 to gain automatic entry in 2022, Nerea was able to show her potential and impressed everyone. The rookie of the year will thus certainly be one to watch in 2022, as she now targets consistent podiums and her first win.
Towards the end of the year, Martí was rewarded with a FIA F3 test day in Magny Cours, in a joint-effort by W Series and FIA F2/F3. She then announced to have joined BMW Motorsport Spain, for a 2022 double-program that will see the Valencian combining her efforts in W Series with a season in the Spanish Endurance championship as well as the BMW M2 CS Racing Winter Cup. With this move, Nerea will start gaining experience at the wheel of touring cars, keeping her options open for what it certainly looks like a bright future.
British 18-year old racer Abbi Pulling certainly was another protagonist of the 2021 W Series season. Alice Powell's protegé made her single-seater debut in 2020 in British F4, where she immediately established herself as one of the most exciting female up-and-coming talents of the last years and went on to secure 4 podiums.
Even though she couldn't clinch a maiden win in 2020, everything was pointing in the direction of a title-fight campaign in 2021, as Pulling returned to the series with JHR Developments and with the support of her W Series race-winning mentor.
Unfortunately, Pulling had a very unlucky season in British F4, with missed opportunities arising from technical issues, contacts and changeable weather conditions. Still, she scored three podiums in the first half of the season.
In an unexpected announcement, Pulling dropped out of the championship after the summer break due to a lack of funding that had also forced her on the sidelines in a few collective tests. Having been selected as one of the reserve drivers in W Series after an impressive run in Anglesey before the season, the all-female championship remained her last hope to race.
And Pulling did deliver. The Brit made her W Series debut at the home race in Silverstone and scored points – before returning behind the wheel of the second Puma car at Zandvoort, where she was once again in the Top-10. Without financial support and a seat for 2022, Abbi had to pull off a spectacular result at the COTA double-header in order to keep her racing dreams alive: with a fourth place in Race 1, a pole position and an outstanding second place in the final race of the year, Abbi Pulling was able to break into the top-8 and secure a race seat in 2022 despite having only contested half the races as reserve driver.
2021 was a rollercoaster for Pulling, who nonetheless proved to be an extraordinary talent, deserving of at least another season in formula cars.
Hamda Al Qubaisi
Hamda Al Qubaisi's Formula 4 career was a continuum, in the sense that everything seemed to flow quite naturally since her debut in selected rounds of the 2019 Italian championship.
2020 was her first full-time season in formula cars and the young Emirati continued to make impressive progress in what is arguably one of the most competitive junior series worldwide.
Furthermore, over two seasons in the UAE-based series, Hamda started to win races and built confidence – then carrying momentum into another remarkable year in Europe.
The two years of the pandemic were not without challenges for Hamda, who lived on her own away from her family throughout the racing seasons. But on track she kept climbing the timing sheets and, after scoring her first points in 2020, she became a constant presence around the Top-10 in 2021.
Her year started again with a race-winning campaign on home soil, where Al Qubaisi was a serious contender and finished fourth in the UAE championship. With six wins, she became the most successful female driver in F4 championships worldwide.
Having joined Prema Powerteam, her second European season had all the potential to be the natural progression from the previous season – and Al Qubaisi did not fail to meet expectations: she was consistently among the front-runners in testing and battled for points in most races. Hamda sure was unlucky in some rounds – the season opener at Le Castellet or Red Bull Ring for example – but bounced back with great races in Misano, Vallelunga and Monza.
The Misano weekend will remain as one of the highlights of the year, as Hamda gained two positions in race 1 to finish third – becoming the highest female finisher in the history of the series. Her first podium was just the tip of the iceberg though; her whole F4 career was about choosing the most challenging environment and comparing herself with the best.
"It's all about learning" – she often told us during these couple of years, and indeed her apprenticeship at the top level of European feeder series will undoubtedly reveal crucial in her next steps in motor racing.
As she plans to step up to F3 machinery, Hamda Al Qubaisi remains one of the most interesting female prospects in single seaters.
26-year old Taylor Hagler is one of our strongest candidates for person of the year, having taken by storm the American sports cars' scene with two seriously impressive campaigns in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and SRO GT World Challenge America.
The Texan racer cut her teeth in touring cars, with two podiums in her first full season in TC America before moving into the IMSA world in the TCR category. In 2020, a podium and a pole position already proved the young lady's potential, but it was 2021 to ultimately crown Hagler as one of the most interesting up and coming talents.
Having signed with the Honda Performance Development programme, Taylor started to log important mileage at the wheel of GT cars and, while she announced a move to championship-winning Bryan Herta Autosport for a second season in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, she also made her debut in GT3 machinery, joining Racers Edge Motorsport in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America championship.
Hagler's 2021 turned out to be a complete success: a series of consecutive podium finishes in the TCR class in IMSA built up to Hagler's first win at Lime Rock Park in July, approximately one month before she could climb the first step of the podium in SRO as well, taking Pro-Am class victory at Elkhart Lake at the wheel of the Acura NSX GT3 Evo.
One class podium after the other, Hagler and teammate Michael Lewis built a strong lead in the Michelin Pilot Challenge championship, culminating with the historic result at Road Atlanta that assigned her the title – becoming the second ever female champion in IMSA after Christina Nielsen.
In GT World Challenge, fellow HPD drivers Jacob Abel and Dakota Dickerson alternated as Hagler's teammates through the year and, with 8 class podiums, three class victories and two overall podiums, Taylor completed an outstanding debut season in GT3 with second place in the points' standings. Her consistency and determination in the battles were the standout qualities that proved crucial in both championships – which really make Taylor Hagler a solid candidate for a works team at the top of sports cars racing in the future.
Among the female drivers that conquered a title and made history in 2021 we couldn't have mentioned Michelle Gatting. The Dane is part of the inaugural Iron Dames line up since the project debut in 2019 and, when the team announced its expansion to several top endurance championships in 2021, she was initially scheduled to race in World Endurance Championship.
The drivers line-ups were then shuffled in a series of different moves, which resulted in Gatting taking on driving duties in European Le Mans Series, Ferrari Challenge, two rounds of WEC – including the 24H of Le Mans for her third time in a row – and a round in Italian GT and GT World Challenge Europe.
Her experience in endurance racing proved to be crucial in the sprint races of Ferrari Challenge, which she contested for the first time in a full campaign: her season started with the victory at the Temple of Speed in Monza, followed by a perfect weekend at Red Bull Ring where she claimed two pole positions, two fastest laps and two race wins.
Having built a solid gap in the championship, Gatting continued her run with pole positions and podium finishes, always managing her leadership even when Italian Niccolò Schirò started to hunt her down for the title. Gatting always kept her cool and never made mistakes, and secured the historic achievement at the World Finals in Mugello, where she became the first female Champion in the history of the European one-make series.
In ELMS, Iron Dames were not as lucky and two DNFs at Red Bull Ring and Le Castellet – caused by contacts with no fault of their own – resulted in a slightly more difficult season. Nevertheless, they scored two podiums in the last two races at Spa and Portimao and, famously, they were back in the top-10 at Le Mans for the third time in a row.
Gatting has become one of the pillars of the Iron Lynx / Iron Dames powerhouse and her performances in 2021 were never short of remarkable.
Lilou Wadoux is another name that we will hear a lot in the years to come. The young Frenchwoman made her debut in the Alpine Europa Cup in 2020, after a few years in touring car championships on home soil – first in the Peugeot 308 and then the Clio Cup. Her first big international appearances were in a few starts in TCR Europe, before a full time switch to the Alpine one-make series. Following a big marketing campaign to re-launch the historic French brand, in fact, Alpine Europa Cup quickly became a very competitive GT4-based series featuring a quality starting grid of young drivers: Wadoux had a very strong 2020 season, consistently finishing in the Top-10 and a few fourth places as her best results in Magny Cours and Portimao. But it would be her sophomore season to ultimately highlight Wadoux as one of the top female names in motorsports: at the Nogaro season opener she claimed her first two podiums and fought for the victory – which would slip away from her for the smallest margin on several occasions. After six podiums – one at each race meeting – finally her first win materialized at Circuit do Algarve, Portugal, where Wadoux was protagonist of a near perfect weekend. She battled for the overall title until the very end of the season, only to finish third in a tightly-fought championship. But what really impressed about Wadoux was her highly-spectacular driving style: when she had the car to fight for the win, you could always count on Lilou to pull off some breathtaking passes. Her skills did not go unnoticed and she was invited to the Porsche Carrera Cup France race at La Sarthe, the support event to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In a field of over 60 drivers – and at her racing debut in a GT3 car, which she had only driven once before – Wadoux stormed to an extraordinary pole position and victory. To wrap up the year, Wadoux was among the three selected drivers to test the Richard Mille Racing Oreca LMP2 car at the WEC rookie test in Bahrain. She joined W Series superstars Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell, as she is now evaluating her options for 2022.
The Belgian 32-year old driver spent several years in GT cars – especially on home soil – before being selected as reserve driver for the first ever season in the all-female W Series championship. On the day of her birthday, Bovy was supposed to make her racing debut in F3 at her home race in Zolder, but a technical issue on the starting grid meant that she had to postpone her first race to Misano – where she actually impressed and finished just outside the points.
But, as she often told us, single seaters were always a means to improve her skills and return to sports cars with one big aim in mind: the 24H of Le Mans. That was Sarah's dream, and had always been since starting out in motorsport. But, despite several starts at another popular 24-hour race – at Spa Francorchamps – Bovy knew it would have been not an easy task to find enough financial support to turn her dream into reality.
Fast forward two years and there she is, on the grid of the most legendary endurance race in motorsport, as part of the #85 crew in the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo by Iron Dames.
Her involvement with Iron Dames dated just a couple of months back, when the team was on the hunt for a bronze-rated driver with the ELMS season quickly approaching. Bovy got the seat, and shared the #9 GT3 Ferrari with French teenager Doriane Pin in the Michelin Le Mans Cup. The duo had some great results and Bovy, after a podium in Monza, was promoted to the main line-up, for the World Endurance Championship debut at the Temple of Speed.
Sarah delivered brilliantly, with a strong qualifying performance and an amazing stint in the race, which convinced the team to confirm her for the biggest race of the year at Le Mans. For Bovy – who had also worked in the media at the event – it was a career-defining moment.
The Belgian continued her progression within the team and was also part of the final two races in ELMS, at Spa and Portimao – where she stepped on the podium in both occasions.
Sarah Bovy is now very much part of the Iron Dames' family and her rise at the echelons of international endurance racing is just another reminder that, with proper support, some drivers will never disappoint.
Last year, as Esports quickly became the only form of motorsport for the first half of the year, we decided to include nominations to the real-world racing drivers that showed the most commitment in simracing and, alongside some of the W Series Esports League colleagues, we mentioned Gabriela Jílková as one of the most active drivers in both realms.
After a promising start in single seaters and touring cars in northern European championships, Jílková had to put her racing career on hold for a few years due to a lack of funding – and that's where she successfully started to put more serious efforts in simracing and built a good online following.
"Quick Gabi" – her self-explanatory nickname – returned behind the wheel in the 2019 in a couple of appearances in the 24H Series, before taking part in the second assessment tests for the 2020 W Series championship. When the season was canceled and moved online on the iRacing platform, Jílková was invited as a guest starter and showed her talent at the sim with two podiums and a victory.
But 2021 was the year of the return to the track: and Gabi did return in style. The young Czech racer signed with historic German team Zakspeed for the GT Winter Series, sharing a Mercedes AMG GT4 with Robert Haub. Gabriela and Robert not only won in spectacular fashion the GT4 class, but they also claimed the overall title – as they prepared for the jump in ADAC GT4 Germany.
Jílková's debut in one of the most competitive GT4 championships in Europe was extraordinary: she claimed a podium at the season opener at Oschersleben, was back in the top-5 in Austria and was the protagonist of a spectacular recovery in Zandvoort, ended with a second place at photo finish.
Unfortunately, a few issues marked Jílková and Haub's second half of the season, but the duo still finished eighth in the championship standings. They were also able to join the continental series GT4 Europe at Nürburgring, in a one-off that resulted in another impressive podium in class.
Gabriela Jílková emerged as the most promising female talent in GT4 machinery in Europe and, in her second year in ADAC GT4 – plus in the European series – she can now really target the big prize.
If there was an award for most titles in a year, that would certainly go to Canadian driver/owner Samantha Tan. The young Canadian's outstanding season in fact brought her team the impressive number of six titles in the Creventic 24H Series, including GT4 teams and drivers' championship, overall teams and drivers' championship, Junior Cup and Ladies Cup.
Samantha, whose ST Racing was entering its first international campaign after a few years in North American motorsport, led the team flawlessly to four wins and seven podiums – including class victories at the 24 Hours of Dubai, the non-championship race in Abu Dhabi, the 24H of Barcelona and 12H of Hungaroring.
Tan started racing in touring cars in Canada, before founding ST Racing in 2017 and moving to the Pirelli World Challenge TC class. As a BMW customer team, they stepped up to the M4 GT4 machine in the SprintX championship in 2018.
2019 saw Tan and teammates finishing second in GT4 America ProAm class and kept momentum in 2020, when they secured third in the GT4 SprintX Silver category.
Throughout these years, Samantha made significant progress and learned a lot alongside experienced GT racers, which prepared her for the leap in 2021: an international campaign on all new tracks. The only circuit she had visited before was Dubai Autodrome, as ST Racing had attempted to conquer the famous endurance race in 2020 before the competition was interrupted due to heavy rainfall.
Tan's 2021 thus started with back-to-back victories in the Emirates, before claiming second place in Mugello. After an unfortunate DNF for a technical issue at Paul Ricard, she bounced back at Hockenheim where she returned to the podium, and two more wins at Barcelona and Budapest crowned her GT4 champion. At the 24H of Sebring, then, the shower of accolades: with second place in class, ST Racing sealed the overall titles and Samantha became the first woman to do so in a series that has historically featured many female talents.
In 2022, ST Racing decided to go a step further and acquired two brand-new BMW M4 GT3 cars – the first delivered by BMW Motorsport globally – to race in both the 24H Series and the SRO GT World Challenge America. Samantha will in fact combine a double programme to move her first steps in GT3 machinery and continue her path towards her ultimate dream: becoming the first Asian woman to win Le Mans.
MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Girls Only team wins ADAC 24 Hours of Nürburgring
Endurance races are supposed to be demanding, but the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring at the Nordschleife takes the concept to another level.
The 2021 edition of the biggest GT race on the planet was a classic example of what can happen at the mighty Green Hell, where weather conditions play such an integral part of the race and, in a fraction of a second, the work of several months can be shattered.
But this time, it wasn't the case: the all-female team "Girls Only by Giti Tire" accomplished a near perfect weekend and claimed class victory in the SP8 class, bringing across the line the Audi R8 LMS GT4 in first place after six changes in the lead.
The race was heavily disrupted by the weather, with heavy downpour followed by a lengthy red flag overnight for a thick layer of fog. When the race finally did resume, a four-hour sprint race meant that no one could afford mistakes or technical issues; the Girls Only team – the first experiment of an endurance squad entirely composed of women, both behind the wheel, mechanics, engineers and managerial staff – completed a masterclass in reliability and good choices.
The drivers line-up was seriously exciting but not without its challenges: Indycar superstar Pippa Mann made her debut at the Nordschleife, together with two-time IMSA champion Christina Nielsen, German GT specialist Carrie Schreiner and Frenchwoman Célia Martin.
Mann and Nielsen, despite having experience in some of the world's fastest race cars, were Nordschleife rookies and had to complete the race permit.
The plan of gaining mileage in slower categories in the NLS championship was partially hampered by weather once again, as a few races were called off towards the beginning of the year – meaning that the prestigious 24-hour race became the first opportunity for the four women to actually work together.
"I know several years of hard work have gone into this win." – told us Pippa Mann after the weekend. "I feel very fortunate to have been part of the team as everything came together this year."
Schreiner, the most experienced in the car, took the start in the rain, before handing over to Martin, Mann and Nielsen. Célia restarted on Sunday and took it across the line. The plurality of backgrounds contributed to the success, as well as the perfect delivery by the whole mechanic and engineering team.
"To be able to stay calm, with cold blood, to master it is the key I guess" – perfectly summed up Martin, who was able to seal the victory at her second participation of her dream race.
Paretta Autosport makes it onto the Indy 500 grid
135.000 spectators were cheering from the grandstands when the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 had its green flag waved. But history had already been made, during a thrilling Bump Day.
Among the biggest stories of the Biggest Spectacle in Racing, it was certainly the debut of Paretta Autosport – a female led team, founded by a prominent woman in the industry, lining up one of the most influential female racing driver worldwide and over 70% of women in the pit crew.
The team that bears the name of Beth Paretta – an automotive executive with a long experience in motorsport – qualified the #16 machine with Swiss racing star Simona De Silvestro behind the wheel after a breathtaking Bump Day, on the very final minutes. Despite very difficult conditions for all the Penske-engineered cars, De Silvestro had a stunning run and made the grid.
Simona was leading a solid race and had climbed in the top-20, when an unfortunate braking issue resulted in a spin in the pitlane and, ultimately, in an unfortunate DNF for the rookie team. Nevertheless, Paretta Autosport proved a point and left its mark on the most important race in American motorsport.
The entire crew – which included talented and passionate female mechanics and engineers coached by Team Penske, as well as W Series racer Ayla Agren as the Turn 3 spotter – had won their personal race by showing the world and the many young female race fans that they were not there to make up the numbers.
"We had a terrific first outing", commented team owner Beth Paretta. "The women on the crew did a great job. The pit stops were pretty smooth. We need a little improvement in some places and there’s some work to do on our consistency, but great job overall. I want to thank everyone at Team Penske for the technical alliance. I can’t wait to be back on the track and with this team.”
Immediately after the big race, the team stated that the Indy 500 entry was not meant to be a one off. Paretta Autosport belongs to the sport and is here to stay, despite no announcements followed.
The project is one of the several that saw women-only teams taking over motorsport in the past couple of years, both with all-female crews in endurance as well as teams including mostly-female personnel. Furthermore, Paretta Autosport distinguished themselves for brand involvements and marketing campaigns that specifically targeted the growth of women in STEM and in the financial sector.
Hopefully, 2022 will see Paretta Autosport making a deserved come back on track, as the team proved in such a short appearance in 2021 to have a massive potential to inspire the much-needed change at the top level of the sport.
2021 was also the year when Extreme E saw the light of the day – a revolutionary all-electric off road series that aims to raise awareness on environmental issues. The series has also introduced a very innovative approach regarding gender equality: each team has to line up a male and a female driver, who take turns behind the wheel in each session and thus both equally contribute to the team's success.
The first season ended with the victory of RXR – Nico Rosberg's own team – which lined up Australian rally champion Molly Taylor and rally-cross driver Johan Kristoffersson. Taylor revealed to have first got in touch with the 2016 F1 World Champion when the latter wrote her an email via her website; after the initial shock, things got real and the team went on to take three wins out of the five races, sealing the title. Spaniard Cristina Gutierrez – who gained international attention when she won a stage at the Dakar Rally – was also among the Extreme E protagonists and Molly Taylor's closest rival until the season finale. Gutierrez shared the X44 electric SUV with rally legend Sebastien Loeb and led every qualifying combined sessions all season, as well as took victory in the final race in Dorset, UK.
To stand out from the grid, though, was also young Swede Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky: the JBXE driver joined the series late and, despite very little to no experience of off-road racing – she had always competed in track specialties in touring cars – she was protagonist of a proper impressive season and was likely the driver that showed the most development. Towards the end of the year, Kottulinsky was a constant presence in the top-three and very close to her teammate's performances; she came home from a one-off appearance in the American Nitro RX championship with a win, further proof of her quick adaptability to any kind of car and form of racing.
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky's impressive season in off-road did not mean she abandoned her racetrack commitments either: with 11 podiums and two race wins in STCC, Scandinavian's premier touring car championship, Åhlin-Kottulinsky made history and finished runner up in the championship, the highest finish ever for a woman in the series.
Another series that certainly brought women under the spotlight – and on the biggest stage ever – was W Series, this year for the first time sharing the track with Formula 1. As mentioned, Jamie Chadwick and Alice Powell put on a show and came into the final round at Austin equal on points. Powell was able to win the season opener in Austria, almost one year and a half after taking victory at the previous W Series race, the 2019 finale. Chadwick responded one week later – before Alice could reclaim the lead of the championship with a spectacular win at the full-attendance British GP at Silverstone, following a great battle with Liechtenstein's Fabienne Wohlwend.
In a race marked by the scary qualifying accident on Friday in qualifying, the mixed-weather conditions of Spa Francorchamps saw Finnish star Emma Kimiläinen flying to victory in the Ardennes, but the battle for the title returned to be a British affair in the final three rounds: Zandvoort went to Powell, but a back-to-back victory at COTA handed the second title to Williams Development driver Jamie Chadwick, in a thrilling finale. Both deserved the win – and both certainly deserve to be mentioned in our year review. Jamie and Alice were both part of the WEC rookie test and are considering options for 2022, as they have little to prove now in the all-female series – and will likely try to move up the ranks.
One driver that deserves a special shout-out is Sarah Moore. The British racer – a Ginetta Junior champion in 2009 and Britcar Endurance Champion in 2018 – had a very solid season in the W Series inaugural year in 2019, always finishing in the points in the races she finished and with two top-5 to her name.
But it really was in 2021 that Moore stepped up her game: she was second at the season opener – claiming her maiden podium – and battled in the Top-5 for most of the season, eventually finishing fifth in the championship standings. In a season where very strong candidates struggled to get within the Top-8, Sarah Moore was one of the most pleasant surprises and likely one to watch next year.
More and more young female drivers have made their debut in Formula 4 championships around the globe. Among them was the first winner of the Girls On Track - Rising Star programme, who was thrown in the deep end in the Italian F4 field and still managed to impress with a very solid progression. Maya Weug was increasingly closer to scoring her first points weekend after weekend – and certainly was unlucky in a few races where she could have achieved her goal. But keeping in mind the big picture, she battled at the top-end of the rookie classify – which she also led towards the start of the season – and learned a lot in the fierce wheel-to-wheel battles.
She will be joined in the Ferrari Driver Academy by Laura Camps Torras, 16 year-old from Spain, who emerged as the winner in the second edition of the selections. "Winning the final stage of the FIA Girls on Track - Rising Stars has made me realize that I did the right thing pursuing my goal over the past years", said Laura after the announcement, adding that she will give her all to prove her worth within the FDA. 2022 will also be her year, as she will step up to single seaters.
Lola Lovinfosse and Emely De Heus battled for the female trophy in Spanish Formula 4 – a championship that often prepared very talented women and improved greatly – as well as Chloe Chambers and Emily Linscott in the US-based championship. Both Shift Up Now athletes, Chloe and Emily had character-building seasons, but both scored points. Linscott deserves a special mention, as she battled all season with a lack of funding that made her life extra difficult – and at one point almost terminated her season prematurely. This – together with the challenges of a teenager living alone on the other side of the Atlantic while pursuing a professional career in a ruthless sport – took its toll and we would like to wish Linscott the very best for her future as she announced to have taken a pause from racing.
In the smaller but increasingly competitive Danish F4 championship, a record-breaking number of six female drivers took the start of at least one round. Mille Hoe gets our honorable mention: the young Dane finished 8th in the standings, with 17 overall top-10 and often right behind the top-5 despite racing in a Formula 5 car.
In TCR-sanctioned championships, the female presence was also particularly felt in 2021. Young Swede Jessica Bäckman made her WTCR debut, scoring points at the Nordschleife and turning her dream of racing at the highest spheres of the World Cup into reality.
But arguably the series that saw the most female success was the brand-new TCR Spain, where Michelle Halder and Alba Cano took podiums and victories throughout the season.
The championship itself grew considerably towards the end of the season, but both Michelle and Alba remained among the leading protagonists: the German finished third in the drivers championship and conquered two wins and seven podiums, while Cano followed closely with four podiums and one victory. Race 3 at Valencia was particularly special, with a female 1-2. Additionally, Spanish racer Lydia Sempere made her touring cars debut in the CET class.
In the Danish series – one of the biggest national TCR fields in Europe and with the most manufacturers – Louise Frost had a promising campaign, marked by highs and lows: the Dane was forced to miss several rounds due to health reasons as well as technical problems, but she greatly impressed in the few rounds where she did make the start.
The already-mentioned Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky made waves in the Scandinavian series, while in Italy Carlotta Fedeli took the title in the DSG class of the Coppa Italia Turismo. Fedeli, an experienced racer with several years of touring cars under her belt, had fought for the title in the endurance series in 2019, and was finally crowned in 2021 behind the wheel of the RC Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR.
Fedeli was not the only Italian female driver to be crowned champion in 2021, as Francesca Linossi, 29 from Brescia, doubled up and secured her second title in the highly-competitive Italian GT Championship. In 2019, Francesca had in fact won the Endurance series ProAm class, sharing a Mercedes AMG GT3 with her life partner Stefano Colombo. In 2021, Linossi returned to Italian GT with the aim of winning the Sprint series – and achieved the mission with a remarkable season with Daniel Vebster in the Easy Race Ferrari 488 GT3 Cup.
Another fast rising driver in the world of GT cars is certainly Ashton Harrison. The American has been climbing the ranks since 2019, when she became the first ever woman to win the Lamborghini World Finals in the LC class and stepped up to the ProAm category in 2020, where she was third alongside factory driver Andrea Amici. In 2021, Harrison went solo in the Am class and seriously impressed: the Wayne Taylor Racing driver was again third-placed in the points standings, collecting two wins and seven podiums.
But her most remarkable result came late in the season, when she made her GT3 racing debut at the GT World Challenge America season finale, contested in conjunction with the 8 Hours of Indianapolis. Harrison – a member of HPD academy – stormed to victory at her first race, claiming the ProAm and the overall win in the three-hour segment of the race, as well as the class victory in the 8H valid for the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Worthy of an honorable mention is certainly also Erin Vogel – whose debut season in GT3 machinery was just as phenomenal. Vogel's first full time season in SRO was in 2020, when she raced in GT4 America SprintX series in a Flying Lizard Motorsports entry. Sharing the McLaren 570S GT4 with teammate and coach Michael Cooper, Erin had a learning-oriented season, but already showed fast progress and consistency. Her big break came in 2021, when she joined DXDT Racing in a GT3 campaign in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America.
The switch to the Mercedes AMG GT3 proved a very natural one for Erin, who seemed immediately at ease with the car and with the team. At the third round of the season, Vogel made history and became the first woman to win a race in SRO in GT3, securing a victory in ProAm and an overall podium at VIRginia International Raceway. She would add two more class podiums and finish fifth in the ProAm category.
Last but not least, the GT4-based DTM Trophy – the second season of the German series' stepping stone – featured three full-time female drivers. A shout-out goes to Dutchwoman Stéphane Kox, who was able to score points in five races – with a personal best of seventh in Hockenheim – in a very competitive field, despite missing a round. Kox is now expected to race in a GT3 entry in the upcoming Asian Le Mans Series.
This seasonal round-up highlighted how women made outstanding progress across all areas of motorsport in the last couple of years, at unprecedented pace. Hopefully, the trend will continue under the constant support of the FIA Women In Motorsport Commission, which proved to be unmatched during the 12 years since its foundation. The new presidency will have big shoes to fill, but Mohammed ben Sulayem's plans to increase diversity and inclusion couldn't be more promising.