Alice Powell crowns perfect weekend with lights to flag win in wild season opener
700 days apart, the same winner: Alice Powell completed a perfect weekend in Austria and converted a pole position into her second W Series win, as Sarah Moore and Fabienne Wohlwend step on the podium in wild season opener.
W Series is back.
After a wild season opener at the Red Bull Ring - the first ever event ran in conjunction and on the Formula 1 platform - Alice Powell started off where she left off in 2019 and climbed on the top step of the F1 podium, having led from lights to flag for 20 laps of pure racing spectacle.
Under clear skies at the hilly Styrian venue of Spielberg, 28-year old Alice Powell started from pole position after a dominant Friday, where she topped both free practice and qualifying. With a good start off the line, Powell led compatriot Sarah Moore into Turn 1, as the latter was able to fend off Beitske Visser. The series Vice-Champion was in fact protagonist of a masterful start and was temporarily ahead of rookie Belen Garcia, but the impressive Spaniard soon managed to swap back positions and started chasing her Scuderia W's teammate Sarah Moore.
At the back of the pack, Ayla Agren stalled from 10th - resulting in Abbie Eaton almost having to stop in order to avoid a collision. Eaton had enjoyed a solid qualifying in 12th at her single-seater debut, but soon found herself chasing the rest of the pack.
There were more troubles for Sabré Cook: the only American on the grid tangled into Turn 1 with newcomer Irina Sidorkova and damaged her front wing.
While Cook had to pit for a new wing, more drama unfolded on the opening laps: Jessica Hawkins crashed into the back of reigning champion Jamie Chadwick at Turn 1 on the second lap: Chadwick, who had started from eighth after a cracked carbon pipe on Friday, had already made up a few places, but had to build everything from scratch as she was sent into a spin and rejoined at the back.
The accident paved the way for Emma Kimilainen and Fabienne Wohlwend, both advancing into fifth and sixth place.
Dropped to eighth, Hawkins escaped the incident without visible damage to her car and soon attacked Marta Garcia for seventh place: the Brit made a move stick into Turn 6 after a brilliant wheel-to-wheel battle that also allowed Bruna Tomaselli to close in and join the action.
With a series of fastest laps, Belen Garcia was on the move and started to put pressure on Sarah Moore. Moore held off her teammate, but gave Alice Powell the chance to open a safe gap into the lead.
On lap 5, Belen Garcia made a small mistake on the yellow kerb outside Turn 2 and lost momentum in her assault to second place: the 21-year old from Barcelona had to watch her mirrors from the return of Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen.
The midfield provided then some of the most jaw-dropping action in recent single-seater racing: from P8 to P15, drivers were separated by fractions of a second. Bruna Tomaselli tried to go around the outside of one of the most highly-ranked drivers on the field, Marta Garcia, but was overtaken with an opportunistic move by Miki Koyama - with Nerea Marti also ready to pick up the pieces. Marti did get ahead of the Veloce Racing's driver on lap 7 with a clean move, after the fellow debutant was struggling to pick up the pace after a lock up.
Jamie Chadwick's race, though, was far from over: approximately 2 seconds per lap faster than the midfielders, Chadwick caught up with Gosia Rdest, but was repeatedly denied 15th place after solid defensive driving from the Polish racer.
Belen Garcia's race suffered a major blow when the Spaniard went off into the gravel at Turn 6, leaving Visser in third place. Having rejoined in ninth, Garcia had a stunning wheel-to-wheel fight with fellow countrywoman Nerea Marti - something that felt like a deja-vu from their previous battles in the 2019 Spanish F4 championship. Garcia held off Marti, but Miki Koyama jumped ahead of both of them.
In another pivotal moment, Marta Garcia visibly slowed down and had to park her Tatuus T318 car in the grass due to a mechanical issue.
With 8 minutes left on the clock, the Safety Car was called out and Alice Powell saw her comfortable gap disappear.
The track was clear with less than 4 minutes to go and we witnessed to a sprint-race to the flag: Powell managed perfectly the restart despite having Moore close behind, but it was disaster for both Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen: the Finnish racer hit Visser under braking - sending the latter into a spin. Kimilainen initially hung on to third, but her damaged front wing would turn her final laps into a nightmare. Wohlwend moved ahead, as well as Hawkins and most of the bunched-up field. Ultimately, Kimilainen's front wing would detach at high speed, almost hitting the Bunker Racing's car of Sabré Cook.
Another incident with 3 laps to go saw Vicky Piria and Abbie Eaton making contact - just as the Italian was breaking into the top-10. Piria was out; Eaton continued, at the tail end of the leaderboard.
After 20 wild laps around the Red Bull Ring, Alice Powell took her second win of her W Series career, less than a second clear of Sarah Moore.
Moore scored her first podium in the series - and became the first openly LGBTQ+ to step on the Formula 1 rostrum.
From ninth on the grid, Fabienne Wohlwend was third - equalling her best W Series result.
Despite her mid-race off-track moment, Belen Garcia had an outstanding debut and finished fourth, 0.6 seconds away from a podium finish at her first race.
Jessica Hawkins enjoyed a strong weekend throughout and was fifth across the finish line, but her accident with Jamie Chadwick resulted in a 30 second time penalty that dropped Hawkins to P15.
Japanese racer Miki Koyama finished fifth and was the biggest mover of the first race, having gained nine places from her starting position.
The final hectic stages allowed Jamie Chadwick to seize the opportunity to charge through the order and limit the damages: the reigning champion was P6, still collecting a good amount of points after her second lap incident.
Nerea Marti scored points at her debut and, after a very solid and action-filled race, was seventh across the line. She preceded W Series Academy teammate Irina Sidorkova, Gosia Rdest and Ayla Agren who rounded out the point-paying positions.
Rdest, a reserve driver flying the colours of Puma W Series Team, had started at the back of the grid but managed to climb the order and also made up 9 positions.
Ayla Agren hit trouble at the start, but was able to make the most out of the Safety Car neutralization and kept it clean at the end, collecting her first point.
Two of the leading contenders at the eve of the championship - Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen - were P12 and P13 respectively, with Sabré Cook and Abbie Eaton rounding out the finishers. Vicky Piria and Marta Garcia were the two DNFs of the first race, as they will try to bounce back in a week's time on the same track.
W Series' second round will in fact get underway on July 2-3 at Red Bull Ring, for the series' first ever double header.
* Jessica Hawkins received a 30 second time penalty and was classified P15.