W Series: Belén García completes outstanding debut
Belen Garcia missed out on a podium at her W Series debut, but her pace throughout the weekend was nothing short of remarkable. Will the Spanish rookie be able to build on this momentum and sneak into the title fight?
While Alice Powell took a storming victory and is looking as strong as ever, at the 2021 W Series season opener in Austria one of the major talking points was certainly the outstanding rise of one of the new-entries: 21-year old Belén García. Only in her second season in single-seaters, the driver from Barcelona made headlines in 2019 when she became the first woman to win a Formula 4 race in Europe. Following a season that went beyond her own expectations, Belén claimed the Spanish F4 'Female Trophy', having battled with compatriot Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova. As a testament to the quality of that season, all three of them would later be selected for the sophomore W Series season, following a selection process at Almeria in September 2019. When the global pandemic halted the world and W Series cancelled its 2020 plans, García was sidelined for the whole year and went back to the Spanish karting championship. But, behind the scenes, García was laying the foundations for her exceptional on-track return. Crucially, Belén secured a part-time deal in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine at the beginning of 2021, joining Swiss-Spanish squad G4 Racing. At Imola – where she made her debut in a F1 support series – García shaked off the rust and had a very promising second race, where she could recover several positions and finished P22 in one of the most competitive junior categories worldwide. Her home round at Montmelo would prove more challenging due to a series of unfortunate contacts, but she bounced back at the second race at Paul Ricard, where she showed good pace and had good battles after a chassis change the day before. The preparation in FRECA was surely the right move for the young Spanish lady, who finally made her debut at Red Bull Ring in the all-female championship and displayed enough pace to battle with the front-runners early in the weekend. She was seventh in the only free practice session and put on a show in qualifying, where she led the timing screens before finishing third, two tenths off pole position and 0.030s away from a front row start. "I am really surprised to see myself third at the end of the session." – Belen commented on Friday. "I never expected this at the first race. I knew I had the potential to cause surprises throughout the season, but to do it at the first race is just amazing. There are so many emotions right now and I just want to thank my team for helping me". "My recent spell in the Formula Regional European Championship has helped me for sure." – she added. "It was risky to enter that championship so late and a big effort from everyone to make it happen, but standing here after this result makes all that work worthwhile."
The race was a rollercoaster of emotions for Belén García: she initially managed to get back ahead of series Vice-Champion Beitske Visser on the first lap at Turn 4, before hunting down her teammate Sarah Moore for most of the first half of the race. Having set the fastest lap, Belen was determined to grab the second place, but went into the gravel trap of Turn 6 and dropped to ninth.
“It was a tough race today at the end." – she explained. "The start was not very good, but I managed to hold the third position from Visser. I was quite aggressive and I think it worked."
"Then I tried to pass my teammate, but it was difficult because she also had a good rhythm. I tried to push a lot to find a gap, because I didn't want to settle for third position. But this is where it went wrong; I didn't know these tyres in racing conditions and I made a mistake”, noted Belén.
On dirty tyres, García still managed to defend from the fiery attacks of Nerea Marti, Bruna Tomaselli and Miki Koyama, before the intervention of the Safety Car gave her the opportunity to complete a remarkable recovery in the hectic final stages of the race.
She completed a sensational run to quickly gain four positions, leaving her just sixt tenths from a podium finish across the finish line.
“At the end I looked strong. After the Safety Car, I made a good restart and I saw I had a lot of pace. I wanted to keep pushing forward and take advantage of the other drivers' battles to gain positions." – she recalls.
"Had there been any more laps, I could have claimed back the third place. I'm happy with how it went - but also a bit disappointed that I lost the podium, but I think it will come."
"I have shown myself and everyone that I can be there, even as a 'rookie' in W Series, which is only my second single-seater season. I have to be happy with it and I will come back stronger for the next race ” – concluded García.
Belén García will indeed have another chance in just one week's time on the same track, as W Series hosts its first back-to-back round in conjunction with Formula 1 on Austrian soil.
Will the Catalan driver be able to build on this momentum and sneak in the title fight? Only time will tell – but so far, her debut remains one of the highlights of the first round.