Preview: W Series season reaches half-way point with Hungaroring round
From early contenders Alice Powell and Jamie Chadwick to the rise of Fabienne Wohlwend and the impressive rookies; W Series reaches its half-way point of the 2021 season at Hungaroring, where Beitske Visser and Marta Garcia will look for a fresh start and Belén Garcia aims her first podium finish.
We waited almost two years, but W Series' second on-track season has already proved to be action-packed and with plenty of surprises.
With over 600 days between the last race in 2019 and the first of its sophomore season on the support bill of Formula 1, it is now hard to believe that, one month after the season opener at Red Bull Ring, W Series has reached its half-way point in the 2021 calendar.
This weekend's round at Hungaroring will in fact be the fourth out of the eight scheduled races.
The first three events saw Alice Powell – who had finished the 2019 championship on a high with her maiden victory at Brands Hatch – taking two dominant victories, while the second Austrian race went to reigning champion Jamie Chadwick.
At the Austrian GP, many of the drivers that had impressed just one week before struggled, either for technical issues or with setup changes; none of the top-five finishers – with the exception of the really solid and consistent Sarah Moore – were able to repeat their performances and were left scratching their heads just six days later, while drivers like Irina Sidorkova shone.
At the British GP, Alice Powell and Fabienne Wohlwend were back on top and battled for the win in an exciting duel that went in favour of home driver Alice Powell – who re-claimed the championship lead with a career highlight victory in front of the Silverstone crowd.
Incredibly, the first points of the season for Beitske Visser came only at Silverstone, following a very unfortunate start for the 2019 runner up.
Visser, though, is one of the drivers that enters the fourth round with the most extensive experience of the Hungaroring circuit: from 2014 onwards, the Dutchwoman has raced at the 4.381 km long circuit four times – both in single-seaters and in GT cars – and has claimed a victory in the European GT4 Championship, as well as scored points in two out of the three participations in the Formula Renault 3.5 championship.
"I think Hungaroring suits my driving style" – Visser told us before flying to Budapest.
"It's a bit like a big karting track and it should be good for us. Any experience you have at a certain track is always good value, but the [Formula Renault] 3.5 car is a very different car to drive", she added. "I'm pretty sure I will have to drive this car [the Tatuus T-318] quite differently."
"But at least I know my way around and I spent some time at the simulator to prepare."
Having to make up ground after the troubled first rounds is also Marta García. The Spaniard was one of the protagonists of the inaugural season and clinched a breakthrough victory on the streets of Norisring in 2019, but a series of technical issues and misfortunes has left the 20-year old with no points on the table after Silverstone.
García feels particularly motivated and says that the Hungarian track is also going to fit her driving style. The valencian has trained at CETDM – a centre for motorsport training located in the Ricardo Tormo Circuit, also attended by compatriot Nerea Martí – where she analyzed data and completed extensive simulator work.
“The Hungaroring is a very technical track." – said Marta. "It features medium-speed corners and some slower turns; there are quite a few hairpins and I think it can suit my driving style quite well."
"It is not a very wide circuit and the feeling, after a few simulation sessions focused on where to position the car and how to get a reference, seems like it is a track that can work for me. Every kilometer completed in free practice will be essential to give that push I need in qualifying, and get the best results." – explained García.
Certainly, Veloce Racing's Jamie Chadwick will also want to maximise her chances to get back on the top step of the podium and fight back for the overall points leadership.
“It’s great to be going racing again after just one weekend off." – said the 2019 champion.
"I think it’s really important to keep that momentum rolling and not to lose focus."
“The Hungaroring is a circuit I’ve always wanted to race at but never had the opportunity, so I can’t wait to get on track. Obviously, I’ve brushed up on my knowledge in the simulator so that has helped with my preparation", added the Briton, whose main rival so far has been compatriot Alice Powell.
“We have to go into this weekend on the front foot. Alice [Powell] did a fantastic job at Silverstone but now we have to come back stronger and fight for the win if we want the championship lead back.”
Powell has previous knowledge of the track, but dates back to 2012 at her first season in the GP3 Series - now rebranded FIA Formula 3 – just like Vicky Piria, who scored her first this season points two weeks ago.
The more experienced driver on the grid - 32 year old Emma Kimiläinen – has only tested once in Budapest, but the Hungarian Grand Prix might be considered her home race, as the race is historically attended by many Finnish fans.
“Fans from Finland have always flocked to Budapest for the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix, and I’ll be trying hard, alongside my compatriots Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen, to give them lots to cheer about this weekend." – said Kimiläinen. "I am the most experienced driver on the W Series grid at 32, but Kimi is 10 years older than me and watching him perform consistently at the highest level is so inspiring."
Emma is one of those drivers that can never be counted out of contention and she feels confident for the upcoming weekend. “The Hungaroring is a twisty, technical circuit and, with overtaking chances limited, the W Series qualifying session will be crucial." – she said.
"As a driver who relies on feel and instinct, I often find my rhythm early in the weekend’s running so that suits me.”
Kimiläinen was on the podium in Austria when she challenged newcomer Irina Sidorkova for second, as the young Russian has also expressed optimism for the Hungarian race, after a challenging round in Silverstone. After the British GP, she explained how the inherent fast nature of the Silverstone layout proved to be the main area where to improve, as her career on home soil started on small, technical and twisty circuits and she rarely had the chance to drive on bigger, faster tracks. In this case, we might see the 18-year old from Karelia back in the front-running positions in Hungary.
Another rookie that certainly turned heads for her remarkable debut in Austria was Belén García. The Catalan was fourth at her first race in the all-female series, but then battled with steering and gearbox issues in the following rounds.
Belén – a born fighter – is now confident that, with the technical gremlins off her back, she can be back in contention for the podium positions.
“I really want to drive in normal conditions again, enjoy the track and compete as I know, because in the last two races I have not been at my best level due to technical issues." – said Belén. "At the Hungaroring I hope to be at least in the top 6 and to be able to fight even higher.”- she commented.
"Hungaroring is a complex circuit, where it will be important to get around the tricks of the corners. I think I can do quite well thanks to the experience I acquired in Formula Regional, in which we worked a lot on these aspects." – she acknowledged. García feels like the last couple of rounds have hurt her chances in the standings, but is looking forward to getting back to the positions where she belongs. "I know I can be much further ahead in the championship." – Belén added. "It is difficult, but I don't think it's impossible and I will do everything in my power to climb positions. I am looking strong and I will not stop fighting.” While compatriot Nerea Martí said her "progression is is noticeable race after race, and will continue to work to maintain this trend", another rookie that impressed in Austria knows where to work in order to get back to the top: “My qualifying at Silverstone was the problem", stated Bruna Tomaselli on Thursday. "I started too far behind and the race itself was uneventful. As a result, it was not possible to climb the order to reach the points" – she explains, having finished in P11 at Silverstone. "We are working hard so that we can get a good qualifying and start more towards the front of the grid.” “It will be my first time competing here. Today [Thursday], we did the track walk and got as much information as possible, since it's another technical track," continued Tomaselli, who also took advantage of the 15 days between the British and the Hungarian GP to train on the simulator. "It's the resource I have in order to get to know the tracks, so it's important to use the time I have for that," said the only South American on the grid.
Alternating in the driving seat of the second Puma W Series Team's car, two reserve drivers have so far raced and scored points: Gosia Rdest was ninth at the Styrian round, while 18-year old Abbi Pulling finished eighth in a remarkable W Series debut on home soil.
Pulling – who is this weekend returning to British F4 commitments at Oulton Park – will hand the seat to returning driver Caitlin Wood.
The British-based Australian missed out on the automatic entry by 1 point in 2019, but impressed in pre-season testing and was handed the opportunity to get back in the Tatuus F3 car two years after her last race.
“I’ve been at every round so far this season watching and learning from the other drivers and I know I need to work as hard or harder than all of them." – she said ahead of the event.
"After the disappointment of just missing out on automatic qualification at the end of season one, I have a very refreshed outlook for 2021 and I feel comfortable and confident in my ability to do a good job."
Wood is also among the few drivers to have raced in Budapest, which she describes as one of her favourite tracks as she entered the 2016 European GT4 championship.
"The circuit is quite technical so you have to know where to position the car to get the most out of it, but the rhythm is really cool."
"It’s going to be tricky because I haven’t had the three rounds of seat time that everyone else has had. The fact that I know the circuit helps, but I’ll need to be smart and focus on myself.", commented Caitlin. "There is pressure because I want to perform. I’m preparing myself well and working with the right people to set myself up to do a good job. Hopefully that rewards me with more drives this season because I’m loving being here and I want to be in the seat."
The single 30-minute free practice session starts at 12:55 (CEST) on Friday, with qualifying getting underway later on the same day at 16:30.
The fourth round of the W Series season is scheduled for Saturday 31 July at 16:30 local time (CEST).