The women that made 2020 bearable
Updated: Aug 17
2020 is done and dusted and won't be missed. In the midst of all difficulties, motorsport provided us with some welcome relief in the past months and we'd like to take the opportunity to express our gratitude to the women that made it bearable: here are our nominations in our very own "end-of-season awards".
It is no secret that 2020 has been a challenging year on so many levels and has caused unprecedented worries, loss, tensions and uncertainty.
2020 opened with the brightest of promises: plenty of upcoming talented female racing drivers to follow and many planned trips to the racetracks.
Fast forward a few months and, while the world was standing still, we were almost certain that we would have not witnessed to any racing happening at all.
Of course motor racing is just a sport – some would define it entertainment – and the world was coming to terms with far more serious matter. But, as an industry that employs thousands of people, we'd lie if we say that 2020 wasn't challenging and worrying from a professional point of view.
When sports and entertainment did find a way back into our lives – albeit in limited and restricted forms – motor racing surely was a welcome relief that managed to bring some light in an otherwise very dark year.
When we finally got the opportunity to attend our first live race in August, the seven-months hiatus had felt like a decade and, as trivial as it might seem, watching cars go round, hearing their noises and feeling those smells again, definitely provided a sense of hope.
While we certainly have never been more grateful for technology's advancements and opportunities that somehow allowed us to remain in touch with our families and friends, the return to the paddock felt like a family reunion. Because the motorsport paddock is very much like a family, sharing the same passion and dedication; an amazing group of people that helped us get through this nightmare of a year.
2020 might be remembered for things we'd rather forget, but we'd also like to remember it for the remarkable achievements by talented women in our beloved sport: drivers that continued to break down barriers and inspire people around the world.
To show our gratitude to these women, our main website's contributors Simone, Daniele and Vivien voted their personal "awards" in the following categories:
PERSON OF THE YEAR
2019 marked her return to the racetracks following her infamous crash and, after a notable season in the Formula Regional European Championship (completed by finishing every single race in the top ten and with the seventh overall place in the standings), young German racer Sophia Floersch made an emotional comeback to the streets of Macau which granted her a Laureus Award for best "Sporting Comeback of the Year".
In 2020, Floersch carried momentum and despite all the uncertainties, she managed to pull together one of the most remarkable racing programs to date: the 20-year old from Munich secured a seat in the FIA Formula 3 Championship and became the only woman racing in the Formula 1 weekend after Tatiana Calderon's F2 campaign. She then added endurance racing to her resumé by making her sportscar debut in the European Le Mans Series, in the brand-new all-female Richard Mille Racing crew in LMP2.
Floersch finished her rookie season in the International Formula 3 category pointless, but fought hard in the midfield in one of the most competitive fields in all feeder series and, after overcoming a series of unfortunate technical issues, scored a 12th place finish in Monza.
Her endurance debut at the 240 Event at Le Castellet was arguably one of the most impressive performances of the year, which preceded her rookie entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - completed with a ninth place across the finish line.
Whether you like her or not - she has often made headlines for her straighforward attitude - Sophia Floersch remains one of the most competitive female racing drivers out there, currently building the foundations for a successful future in the sport either in formula or sportcars.
The Richard Mille Racing crew
Joining Sophia Floersch at the wheel of the LMP2 Oreca Gibson prototype were Tatiana Calderon and Beitske Visser, as the trio formed the star-studded line-up for the new FIA Women In Motorsport-supported Richard Mille Racing project.
The outfit, which should have included also veteran racer Katherine Legge, claimed a top five at the season opener at Le Castellet, few days after the crash that sidelined its team leader for a serious injury.
Calderon and Floersch were joined by W Series runner-up and BMW factory driver Beitske Visser, who adapted quickly to the car and supported the squad in the remaining rounds at Spa Francorchamps, Le Mans, Monza and Portimao.
The team, operated by endurance powerhouse and multiple title-winners Signatech, became the first all-women crew in a prototype class to finish the legendary Le Mans 24 hours race and, with three top-10 finishes out of the 5 ELMS rounds, were tenth in the team's standings.
We cannot but praise the determination of Richard Mille - chairman of the Endurance Commission within the FIA and successful entrepreneur in the exclusive watchmaking industry - and of his daughter Amanda, who believed in such a project from the get-go and created such a platform for talented females to shine: despite the emergence of new talents every year, access to the highest levels of motor racing remains in fact challenging. By providing top equipment and personnel to four of the leading female figures in the sport, Richard Mille Racing established itself as the new benchmark in 2020.
Already among the most famous American names in motorsports, NASCAR young talent Hailie Deegan impressed in her rookie ARCA Menards season and is our last nomination in this category.
The 19-year old was already coming from a great 2019 K&N campaign - one of the important steps in NASCAR's ladder - and made the progress up to ARCA to further advance her name as one of the most promising upcoming talents in the American stockcar scene, as a member of the DGR Crosley team.
The Californian lady started with a second place at the Daytona season opener and continued her run with an impressive streak of Top-10 finishes.
Out of the 20 rounds, Deegan clinched 17 top-10 and four Top-5, just marginally missing out on a race victory which slipped away from her in a couple of occasions, but finishing nonetheless third in the final overall standings.
Despite the 2020 difficulties and a couple of controversies off-track, Hailie Deegan further elevated her status and increased her fanbase, also extending her experience to GT racing (in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge) and Trucks, where she will move for her first full season in 2021.
YOUNG UPCOMING TALENT OF THE YEAR:
17-year old Abbi Pulling was surely one of the most impressive drivers to make her debut in single-seaters this year.
The switch from karting to cars is always one of the critical points in a racer's career but Pulling quickly came under the spotlight when she started to claim podium positions in her maiden British Formula 4 campaign, starting from her second weekend at Brands Hatch.
Joining JHR Developments team and with the help of fellow British star and W Series race winner Alice Powell, Pulling would secure four podiums and sixth in the final standings, often being the fastest within her team. While the race victory only just slipped away from her in a couple of rounds, Abbi Pulling was awarded with the Joe Tandy Memorial Trophy in recognition of her achievements in her rookie season.
At the end of 2020, Pulling also got the chance to taste F3 machinery, as she entered the eighth round of the Formula Renault Eurocup in Imola, in the Formula 1 supporting weekend. Alice Powell's expertise in a coaching role proved to be on par with her ability behind the wheel and, combined with Pulling's natural talent, could turn into a winning formula coming into 2021.
With another season in the competitive British F4 championship, Abbi Pulling can in fact realistically aim to be a title contender and, with more F3 testing under her belt, it would be no stretch of the imagination to predict Abbi Pulling joining the W Series ranks in the near future.
At only 14 years of age, Japanese sensation Juju Noda signed her name among the most promising new drivers on the global stage.
Daughter of former F1 driver Hideki Noda, Juju made her European debut in the Danish F4 championship - the only F4 category accepting drivers under 14 - and immediately confirmed all the hype sorrounding her name by claiming a pole position and a race victory in the first round at Jyllandsringen.
The young lady completed her first European racing weekend with a third place in Race 2 (then resulted in a disqualification for a team's tyre mishap) and a P4 from twelfth on the grid in Race 3.
Just like most of the international competitions in 2020, the Danish F4 championship suffered heavily from the pandemic and could only complete three out of the previously eight scheduled weekends.
Nevertheless, Juju Noda conquered all the pole positions, two further podium finishes in Padborg Park's races and two Top Ten in Pederstrup.
After impressing in her home country, Noda endured masterfully the huge pressure and media attention, becoming the one to watch when she will get the chance to race in a more competitive F4 series next year.
17-year old British racer Emily Linscott might very well be the symbol of persistance and determination in the midst of the pandemic: after a successful crowfunding campaign Linscott secured a seat in the Lucas Oil School of Racing Formula Championship to effectively kick-off her American dream in the Road to Indy ladder.
Mentored by Indy 500 veteran Pippa Mann, Liscott had to defy all odds and managed to travel to the US in the hardest months of the COVID crisis to pursue her dream. In what looked like a movie screenplay, Emily made it across the Atlantic and remained Stateside four months away from her family, completing the racing season and overcoming all the logistic challenges.
Despite she was forced to miss the opening round of the Lucas Oil School of Racing Formula Championship, Emily made significant progress throughout the season and finished on a high in Sebring by claiming her first podium - the first female to do so. She ended the season with two fastest laps, a pole position and five top-5 finishes.
Her achievements resulted in a "Young Inspiration Award" nomination from the Sunday Times, in recognition of her 2020 perseverance.
After completing a promising two-day test in the F4 US in November, Linscott is working to lay the foundation for an equally strong 2021 in the US.
MOST COMMITMENT IN ESPORTS:
In the toughest months of the global pandemic, it became quickly apparent that eSports would have been the only form of racing available to both professional racing drivers and racefans.
Many racing series jumped on the opportunity and created their official virtual championships, both featuring real racing drivers and simracing professionals.
When W Series cancelled its 2020 season, its 18 drivers were left without a seat and with no plans - until W Series Esports League was announced. All the drivers entered the iRacing-based competitions but before the season opener at Monza, the competitive levels in the first all-female simracing league were impossible to predict.
From the field, Beitske Visser emerged as the undisputed series dominator: the Dutchwoman would clinch the inaugural Esports League title in spectacular fashion at the Nordschleife, one round in advance.
But Beitske's simracing commitment wasn't only focused on W Series, as the BMW works driver entered countless races online before being announced as part of the Richard Mille Racing LMP2 squad and spent hours and hours on the sim.
Visser was among the few women in "The-Race All Star eSport Battle", one of the best virtual events to dominate the scene in March-April and to attract a huge number of real-life drivers on its rFactor 2 races. While the packed fields not always provided fair racing, Beitske trained like a professional and took the simracing events very seriously, laying the foundations for the W Series Esport success. Whether that will translate into more victories in 2021 is not known, but certainly Visser was able to create some great interaction with fans during her streams in a time of global worry.
When travelling became unviable and competing on real racetracks seemed a distant past, eSports quickly became a temporary solution in order to reach the many motorsport fans around the world.
Forced to cancel its second season after the very successful 2019 inaugural campaign, the all female championship W Series decided to join the trend and made the most out of the situation by launching its own virtual competition, which involved almost all the drivers that were set to join the field in 2020.
Beitske Visser's outstanding dominance marked this virtual W Series edition, but with an equally impressive second half of the season, 20-year old Marta Garcia really challenged the points leader and put on a show.
Fourth at the end of the 2019 W Series championship, Marta Garcia was among the top drivers in the series' opening season and claimed a dominant race victory at the Norising.
On the other hand, Garcia started the W Series Esports League with no prior experience of the virtual world and without knowing what to expect. The young Spaniard improved round after round and, after joining SIRIO Academy - a development program focused on esports - she was able to elevate herself to main title contender, challenging Visser up until the penultimate round.
Not only a talented woman in real race cars, Marta Garcia trained hard and, in a very short time, became a competitive sim racer as well.
Australian Emily Jones might not be the most well known name on this list to fans of traditional motor racing, but she sure is a big name in the simracing world.
Coming from a background in karting, Jones specialized in the virtual competitions and, when she joined Katherine Legge, Sophia Floersch and Tatiana Calderon in the Richard Mille Racing's effort to tackle the Virtual Le Mans 24 Hours - the biggest simracing event in history - she was brought to international attention. Emily shone in the rFactor2 24-hour race and had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the all-star team throughout the two-week preparation for the big race, helping them to the top-20 among one of the most competitive fields to date.
Oh, and she won the iRacing version of the race few weeks later.
Particularly active in the Gran Turismo circles, Emily Jones had a busy 2020: she kept momentum and won races in the most prestigious online competitions, as she became the first female simracer to win a FIA Gran Turismo Top16 Superstars race, won a race in the iRacing Porsche Esports All-Star starting from the back of the grid and was part of the official Supercars Championship eSeries among the others.
Just like the IRL motorsport, simracing is a heavily male-dominated environment and competitive women like Emily Jones do make a difference in promoting diversity in the sport.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT OF THE YEAR:
Hamda Al Qubaisi's maiden victory in F4 UAE
The UAE-based Formula 4 was among the very few championships that went underway before the global crisis hit.
The category had already made headlines in its non-championship round at YAS Marina, run in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2019: it marked in fact the first victory for a woman on a F1 weekend. Amna Al Qubaisi also teared down all the records for Arab women in the sport and rose to international acclaim.
Few months later, it was her younger sister Hamda to top that result: the 17-year old from Abu Dhabi, at her first full formula racing season, claimed 6 pole positions in a row in the opening three championship rounds and elevated herself on the top step of the podium in Abu Dhabi race 3 on 15th February.
Hamda, one of the brightest personalities of the F4 paddock, would finish fourth in the championship, adding two more race wins and 12 podiums to her name.
Esmee Hawkey crowned Porsche Carrera Cup UK Pro-Am Champion
Clinching the title on your home circuit: this is what British lady Esmee Hawkey was able to achieve in 2020.
The former W Series driver entered her third Porsche Carrera Cup GB season in a row, this time in the ranks of Team Parker Racing. Thanks to an impressive streak of victories and more consinstent performances throughout the fastest one-make championship in the UK, Hawkey was crowned 2020 Pro-Am class Champion in Brands Hatch, few miles away from her home.
It was the perfect way to end a season that confirmed Esmee among the fastest drivers of GT competitions in Britain.
Double all-female top-10 at 24 Hours of Le Mans
One of the proudest moment for women in motorsport has to be the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours. The legendary endurance race, this year unfortunately contested without its fans along the 13,626 metres-long circuit de La Sarthe, featured two fully-female entries: the all-new Richard Mille Racing team in the LMP2 category and the returning Iron Dames, with Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting behind the wheel of the Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo in the LMGTE-Am class.
The biggest and most challenging races in the motorsport calendar turned into a real success for both crews: Tatiana Calderon, Sophia Floersch and Beitske Visser finished the race in ninth class position, P13 overall. An impressive effort for experienced drivers, let alone for three Le Mans and endurance rookies.
The #85 Ferrari run by Iron Lynx was also P9 across the finish line, repeating the same result of 2019. It marked a double all-female top ten at the most prestigious and demanding motor race on the planet.
There certainly were several other amazing achievements by women racers in 2020. Among them, we'd like to treasure Michelle Halder's boundary-breaking victory in TCR Europe at Zolder, the first ever female victory in the top continental TCR series. The German driver made a late switch from the ADAC national series - where she had already clinched two race wins - and had a stunning campaign in 2020 for her family-run team.
The Girls Only by WS Racing team had a solid second year in the pandemic-affected Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie (formerly known as VLN). The project features an all-women team of racing drivers, engineers, mechanics and managers and is currently planning to further step up its game by extending its program in LMP3 with a crowfunding campaign.
Coming from a challenging season in the FIA Formula 2 championship, Colombian star and Alfa Romeo F1 Team Development Driver Tatiana Calderon managed to bounce back and completed a very demanding double-program in the European Le Mans Series and in Japan's premier single seater championship SuperFormula. Calderon made endurance debut in January at Daytona, performed very well within the Richard Mille Racing team and scored two P12 finishes in SuperFormula: a very promising start to more exciting adventures.
Jade Edwards and Jessica Hawkins made history when they entered a round of the extremely popular BTCC championship for Power Maxed Racing. Competing in the Silverstone and Snetterton rounds respectively, they were the first women to enter a round of the British Touring Car Championship since 2007.
The only Italian W Series driver Vicky Piria also wrote a small page of motorsport history when she finished P10 in the uber-competitive Formula Renault Eurocup at Magny Cours. Piria subbed for the injured Nicola Marinangeli at Bhaitech and, after a learning round at the Nürburgring, she became the first point scorer in the series after Rahel Frey in 2006 - the first ever since the championship moved to F3 machinery.
After a stellar season in 2019, multiple-championship winner Jamie Chadwick had a character-building season in Formula Regional European Championship, but was nonetheless able to secure a podium finish in the season opener at Misano and was among the frontrunners in the F3 Asian series. After becoming the first woman to win a Formula 3 regional race at Abu Dhabi, Chadwick was later penalized for a starting infringement. She would re-claim the record a few rounds later at Buriram, adding 5 more podiums to her name.
To make her racing cars debut was also Swiss former karting sensation Léna Bühler: following a very solid rookie season in the Spanish Formula 4, Léna was often in contention for a top-five finish, but couldn't capitalize on her pace and had to wait the fifth round of the season in Aragon before securing her first P5. Bouncing back from the Jarama weekend - where she qualified second but bumped into three DNFs - she would score another fifth place in the Barcelona season finale and is now expected to progress to the Formula Regional Championship by Alpine in 2021.
The perfect link between real-life racing and simulation platforms, Gabriela Jilkova - aka "Quick Gabi" - made her W Series debut in the Esports League after she didn't make the final cut at the Almeria selection process in September 2019. Jilkova proved her point with a streak of notable results in the few rounds she entered as a guest driver: a second place at Suzuka and a race victory at the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife established the 25-year old Czech racer as one of the most talented female drivers active in both the real and virtual realms.
It is to these women that we say thank you for being daily inspirations. To all of them - and many more new entries - we wish the most exciting and success-filled 2021.