Vicky Piria – "I want to enjoy every moment, every lap to the fullest"
A lightning rise up the ranks, a long hiatus, an emotional comeback: formula cars is where Vicky Piria feels at home. We caught up with the Italian racer and TV personality ahead of the third round of the 2021 W Series season.
When Vicky Piria entered the inaugural season of the revolutionary all-female championship W Series, she had been sidelined for over five years from international racing.
Her journey at the highest levels of junior formulae was a fast and intense one, which brought the young Italian star to GP3 Series – today’s world renowned FIA F3 – at the age of 19. In just over three years, Vicky had gone from making her debut in race cars to the biggest motorsport stage that a junior driver could dream of: the F1 paddock.
Piria rose through the ranks of the national Formula Renault and Formula Abarth series – which now have been merged under the Formula 4 regulations – and went on to compete with Italian powerhouse team Prema in 2011.
In 2012, her big international breakthrough would see the Italian-British racer becoming the first woman to join the GP3 Series, under the banner of Italian outfit Trident.
Thrown in at the deep end, Vicky still managed to grab a 12th place at her first ever participation on the legendary streets of Monaco as her best result and was often around the top-15 in a hugely competitive field. From there, Piria continued to extend her experience in formula cars, most famously in the 2013 F3 Open where she claimed a fourth place at Le Castellet and added eight top-10 finishes to her resumé.
After what was probably her most competitive season, Vicky got attracted by the ‘American dream’ and moved to the US, entering the Pro Mazda Championship as part of the Road to Indy Program. Two races in, though, she lost support of her backers – and that was it.
Her beaming career had just flashed by and, with no funding, she had to put her racing dreams aside – and with that, everything that she had been working on since being a young girl in karting. For such invested athletes, devoting all their existence to the big goal, it can be brutal.
But, of course, you can’t run away from passions.
Vittoria, her real name – nomen est omen would say the Latins, or nominative determinism in more psychological terms – was ready to fight back and, five years later, would come out of the first ever W Series selection as one of the 18 racing drivers out of over 100 entries.
With its pioneering free-to-entry concept, W Series crucially gave a second chance to deserving talents such as Vicky Piria, Alice Powell, Emma Kimiläinen, Marta García, and proved what adequately backed women could do in F3 machinery.
At her racing return, Piria had a bumpy start at the first ever W Series race in Hockenheim, but quickly bounced back, consistently scored points from Zolder onwards and had a remarkable home race at Misano, where she was fifth across the line. With her sixth place at the Brands Hatch season finale, the Italian secured her slot on the grid for 2020.
Then, the pandemic hit.
“2020 was a difficult year – not just for me but for the whole world of course.” – Vicky tells us.
“After 2019, when I finished with a good place in the standings and after Brands Hatch, I really couldn’t wait to start again, because I was carrying momentum”, she continues.
“Then everything changed and things got cancelled. This led us to 22 months between one race to the next. All this time away from the car was very hard for me; there are drivers that need less track time, while on the other hand I need to be in the car quite a lot.”
“It was indeed hard – you see, one day you have the best opportunity of your career, and the next it was all difficult again.
But hey, now it’s 2021 and we’re slowly finding a way out, even if the road is still very long ahead, but motivation is back.” – she says.
Whoever has met Vicky on the racetrack, knows that she is a remarkably humble and honest person, very articulate, media friendly and with a big heart for motor racing. All qualities that led her to stints as a TV personality with a growing fanbase.
“In 2020, I had to reinvent myself: I focused on myself, I improved a lot on the fitness side, I worked a lot on the mental side; I worked with the media, with broadcasters, with several programmes."
"I tried to grow as a driver but mostly as a woman – so in the end it was a very important year.”
While Piria was forced to another season away from the racetracks, a last minute call brought her back in the driving seat of the Tatuus T318 Formula 3 car: standing in for an injured driver, Vicky headed to Nürburgring and Magny-Cours, and once again made history, becoming the first woman to score points in the uber-competitive and now-F3 based Formula Renault Eurocup.
“The experience of the Formula Renault Eurocup was surely an important one, I spent quite some time in the car and I worked with a team.” – she explains, as we ask if this could potentially help in her sophomore W Series campaign. “It can definitely help me, but mostly it was a great gift after a very tough year: to be back racing, also with a team in the traditional sense it was a great gift.”
Vicky is indeed a driver that thrives with mileage and the only pre-season test at Anglesey was thus a crucial opportunity to get back in the rhythm.
“The Anglesey test surely was about shaking off the rust”, she continues – “the second day especially was really intense. The third was rained out and the fourth was in mixed conditions. But as I say, my main goal was to get acclimatised again, and then the second goal was to approach the races in a better mental state compared to 2019, when I was maybe a bit too emotion-filled – but I have to say that, during the test, I was successful in that.”
On that specific occasion, some of the returning drivers had their first taste of an F3 car in almost two years, while others were fresh out of other F3 or F4 championships and impressed. With this trend extending into the first double-header of the season, we witnessed outstanding performances by some of the newcomers, but we can probably expect drivers like Piria or Garcia to pick up the pace and further level the playing field as the season progresses.
“Props to the rookies" – Piria says. "They were probably a bit more ready, having been racing at the end of last year or at the beginning of this year. Those who had the chance to be in a formula car will probably have a small advantage in the first few races.”
“My progression throughout 2019 was likely down to the fact that I had the chance to make the most out of the time in the car and I improved. Unfortunately, a similar thing is happening in 2021, but I’ll try to make sure that the progress will be as fast as I can.”
A really tight field characterized the two opening races of the 2021 W Series season, with a really exciting mix of expected front-runners – Alice Powell, Jamie Chadwick – and newcomers, such as Bélen Garcia, Irina Sidorkova, Nerea Marti and Bruna Tomaselli.
For Vicky Piria, it was an uphill trip to Austria, as the Italian collected her first DNF in the series with a late contact in Race 1 and was P15 one week later. Still, the results are currently not representative of what she displayed at the 4.318 km track in the Styrian mountains.
“My race pace was definitely good” – she comments. "You know, when you’re starting a bit behind you have to be careful and avoid the messy situations. But overall my race pace is always very good, yet I am struggling a bit more in qualifying.”
“I just need to work in order to improve my qualifying and get sooner up to speed in the free practice sessions – this is what I’ll be focusing on. In the races I felt good – except for the mistake at the end of race 1, I made some smart decisions and completed some good moves, so I’m happy about my performance."
The nature of the track layout translated in most of the grid being separated by barely a second, but Piria expects this level of competition to continue into the next rounds.
“The Red Bull Ring is a racetrack that surely tends to have tighter gaps among the field, as there are not many corners. It’s a relatively ‘easy’ track – but it actually becomes harder when you have not many corners and you have to master them to make the difference.
I was expecting such a competitive field and I’m sure it will be very competitive also coming into the next races."
“[The championship] this year is tough because it’s a world championship and the level is really high. To be fair, I feel honored and also proud of myself to have gotten up here and I want to enjoy it."
"I want to enjoy every moment, every lap to the fullest, because what we’re doing is nothing short of revolutionary.”
W Series has launched a series of innovations for the 2021 season and beyond, starting from a gradual shift towards a team-based structure. Drivers are now competing also in a non-official team standings and are working on a more steady basis with the same group of engineers and mechanics.
“Having the same engineer throughout the races is certainly a positive thing because you create a bond as you work together", observes Piria. "You can get a bit luckier with a more experienced engineer or, on the other hand, you can get a younger engineer that you work well with, so I definitely like it and it gets us closer to a team-based concept.”
The consistent liveries also help fans to better recognize the drivers, with Piria's team 'Sirin Racing' sporting a deep blue and gold livery with her now iconic #11.
Sharing the track and the paddock with Formula 1 is obviously also one of the biggest additions to the revamped W Series platform – and something that will certainly feel like yet another second chance for the 27-year old Italian.
"This is a unique chance, really." – she comments. "I still remember in Turn 6 at the Red Bull Ring, having passed another car and as I was catching up to the group ahead – I had a huge smile under my helmet and I was truly happy."
"I felt at home; I felt where I wanted to be, I felt fast and powerful. Those were all feelings that I had missed a lot. It’s really a huge emotion."
Her passion transpires from every words, every nuances; Vicky Piria breathes motorsport and, in spite of her journey's difficulties, she will find a way to fight back.
W Series now heads to Silverstone, one of the most iconic places in world's motorsport, for what is the home race of the early championship contenders.
For Piria, who is among the 11 drivers to have previously raced on the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, it will be the chance to start anew and capitalize on her potential: "Right now, the main goal for the next rounds is to score some good points. That’s simply it."
W Series' schedule for the British GP will see the cars hitting the track for the single 30-minute practice session on Friday at 11:00 (BST, 12:00 CEST), followed by qualifying on the same day at 16:05 BST (17:05 CEST). The third round of the season is set to get underway on Saturday 17th July at 13:05 local, 14:05 CEST. You can find out how to watch the live coverage in your area at this link.