W Series Day 1: Drivers reactions
They waited for 685 days. They prepared physically, mentally and at the simulator for months for this day. The 18 W Series drivers hit the track at the Red Bull Ring for the first day of the 2021 season. These were their reactions.
28-year old Alice Powell started where she left off in 2019: on top of the leaderboard.
The British driver - a former GP3 racer and Formula Renault champion - set the fastest times in both qualifying and practice session at the opening day of the Styrian Grand Prix, the first day of on-track action for the all-female W Series championship since its final race in 2019.
685 days later, Powell - who didn't race in a single seater ever since - was back in full form.
"It's been a crazy and very long build-up to this first race after winning the last race of 2019 at Brands Hatch nearly 700 days ago." - said Alice.
"I've been working so hard to make sure I was ready on the fitness side and the mental side, and I hope I can keep that up tomorrow and finish first again. I knew there was a chance of rain during qualifying, so the plan was to do 10 minutes on the old tyres before coming in for fresh ones, but we shortened that by five minutes as I knew it was going to take more time to get the tyres working and I didn't want to rush that process."
"We got there in the end, and I was really consistent. Now I need to make sure I do the same again tomorrow." - added the pole-sitter, who is racing under the banner of Racing X.
Behind her, fellow British racer Sarah Moore enjoyed her best qualifying in the series to date. The Yorkshire native driver had previously finished fifth at both Hockenheim and Zolder, and was eighth in the 2019 point standings. Moore, who revealed she took on the job of delivery van driver during lockdown, had a really strong start on Friday, finishing third in the 30-minute free practice session in the early afternoon.
"I've surprised myself by finishing second to be honest." - said Moore. "I didn't finish the 2019 season too well, but I've put in so much work over the past 18 months. I just wanted to keep a cool head this weekend and to qualify second at the first race hopefully sets me up well for the rest of the year."
"I was cool, calm and collected – I tend to work better when I'm in that mindset – and I just tried not to overthink it too much." - she observed. "I did some laps in qualifying where I was probably trying too hard, but I think everyone does that."
The 2021 first day of on-track action also marked the debut of Sarah Moore's new helmet, which was at the centre of a crowdfunding campaign. "Maybe this new helmet is a lucky one!" - she stated. "Obviously, all the work that went into getting that helmet makes it very special to me and I can't thank everyone who helped me enough – this result is for all of you."
Belen Garcia's outstanding debut at Red Bull Ring only partially comes as a surprise, after a race-winning campaign in 2019 at her rookie season in single-seaters. At Navarra, Garcia became the first female winner of a Formula 4 race in Europe and would later claim the Spanish Formula 4 'Female Trophy' against fellow W Series newcomers Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova.
Having sat out the full 2020 season - except for a GT4 appearance at her home track of Barcelona - Belen has been preparing for the W Series season through a part-time entry in the uber-competitive Formula Regional European Championship, where she raced at Imola, Barcelona and Paul Ricard in the G4 Racing's Tatuus F3. The track time and experience in these race meetings might have been crucial in gaining confidence with the car.
"I am really surprised to see myself third at the end of the session." - Belen commented.
"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. 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."
While 2019 Vice-Champion - and 2020 Esports league dominator - Beitske Visser commented on how tight the sessions were, Finnish ace Emma Kimilainen was left slightly disappointed with her fifth place.
"P8 at the end of the practice session - we gambled with the setup to start with and it didn't pay off this time" - - wrote Kimilainen, who has been out of a seat throughout the series hiatus. "Not exactly what I was aiming for and I sure struggled." - she added after qualifying. "But I'm happy I could push an ok lap at the end of the session and had a big eureka-moment! I adapted my driving for the setup and found the confidence in the brakes in the end. The best things are usually not given to us easily and luckily the points are given tomorrow. I'll be ready."
Probably among the biggest revelations of the inaugural race in 2019, Marta Garcia finished on the podium at her debut in W Series. The young Valencian took her simracing preparation very seriously and has recently spent time at the Campos team simulator ahead of her racing return. Widely regarded as one of the drivers to look for the title fight, Marta Garcia was excited to share the track with her sporting heroes for the first time.
"In F1 I admire Carlos Sainz, and the giant that is Fernando Alonso, but for years I have considered Lewis Hamilton as my inspiring example." - she revealed before hitting the track.
"I will seek the maximum, I have prepared myself thoroughly for this moment and I know that I am in the most crucial year of my sports career." - she added. "There is a seat in F1 that awaits us and I want to be part of that historic moment when the time comes."
Representing the colours of Puma W Series Team - one of the founding partners of the series - Garcia was seventh in Friday's qualifying and will share the fourth row with reigning champion Jamie Chadwick.
Chadwick, who has spent a season in the single-seater powerhouse Prema team in Formula Regional and thus is one of the few drivers to have recently driven a F3 car around the Austrian track, was fast throughout practice, often trading the top position with countrywoman Alice Powell. Unfortunately, a cracked carbon pipe was revealed to be the issue that prevented Jamie from fighting for pole position.
A fierce fighter, Chadwick will surely try to charge back, but she knows that consistency will play a big factor for the championship and plays down the pressure: “Obviously I’d love to successfully defend my title but there’s a lot of really talented women on this grid so I know it won’t be easy", said the Veloce Racing driver ahead of the first day of running. "Of course, I’ll be giving it everything and be gunning for glory but it’s important to take each race as it comes and not get ahead of ourselves.”
The introduction of teams gave Chadwick the opportunity to work once again with her long-time partner Veloce, founded by her manager Rupert Svendsen-Cook. Having moved its first steps from Esports to real-world racing in the brand new Extreme E championship, the London-based organisation is expanding its roster to W Series, lining up Chadwick and Brazilian rookie Bruna Tomaselli.
“I’ve been working with Veloce and Rupert for a long time so I’m really looking forward to being able to carry our momentum from Extreme E into another series that I’m really passionate about." I’m also really excited to be working with Bruna. She obviously hasn’t raced in W Series before so can bring a fresh perspective to the team which will be really useful." - added Chadwick.
Lichtenstein's fastest woman Fabienne Wohlwend was sixth in practice and often occupied the highest sections of the leaderboard in qualifying. A ninth place on the starting grid thus doesn't feel satisfying enough for Wohlwend - a Vice-World Champion in the Ferrari Challenge and a pole-winner in W Series.
"Qualifying didn't go the way we wanted." - she wrote. "Disappointed with P9 especially after a promising Free Practice, but the field is super close and tomorrow is where points will be handed out."
Norwegian rookie Ayla Agren rounded out the top-10, after spending much of the session in the top-three. Agren, who is a single-seater title winning driver in the US and had been forced to give up her racing career due to a lack of funding before the W Series selection, has already proven to belong at the top-end of the field, but saw some of her lap times being deleted due to a series of track limits infractions.
Agren described her first day of driving at the Red Bull Ring as "decent", and noted that she experimented with setup adjustments that resulted in progress for qualifying.
The first South American driver on the grid also had a very positive first day in Austria, as the rookie was steadily around the top-10 throughout the day: Bruna Tomaselli was eleventh fastest in both the sessions.
"We have some things to improve but I know we can do better in the race" - she commented. Her title-winning teammate at Veloce Racing can represent both a learning opportunity and an ambitious benchmark, but Tomaselli - one of Brazil's brighters hopefuls in junior formulae - is certainly not taken aback.
“She will certainly be a very competitive teammate and that's good”, she said. "As the first-ever W Series Champion, she’s clearly a very fast driver and it will be great to work with her and learn all I can."
“As there has been a year off from the championship, I think that will help me in adapting to the cars and the series. It isn’t as fresh in everyone’s mind as if they had been racing last year, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get up to speed early in the season.” - continued Tomaselli.
“It's a quick schedule, so we should make the most of the track time in the sessions we have. My first contact with the car was at the selections and then in the collective tests carried out a few weeks ago. So, I will make the most of the opportunities I'll have”
Abbie Eaton was probably one of the highest-profile drivers to join the grid in 2021. A fierce GT driver turned TV personality, Eaton effectively made her official single-seater debut on Austrian soil. She was P10 in practice and P12 in qualifying, which left her satisfied.
"I said I’d be ‘happy’ with a top ten to start off with, given my lack of experience so I can’t be too upset!" - she wrote, also mentioning a few issues with pedals hampering her session, but that will surely be fixed in time for her first race in the series.
23-year old Japanese driver Miki Koyama was surely among the best surprises of the inaugural W Series season. Showing great speed as well as determination and racecraft in battles, Koyama was off to a great start in her first races, also collecting a fourth place at Misano. Despite encountering a few more issues in the final races, she finished seventh in the standings.
The opening day of her second season in W Series was unfortunately marked by some difficulties: an oil leakage forced the driver to a long stop in the pitlane in FP1, while she had her best lap deleted for track limits in qualifying, even though in the sector affected by the infraction the Japanese driver had actually lost 2 tenths, she revealed.
With pace probably closer to the top-10, we can expect Koyama to move up the order in the race, having already proved remarkable overtaking skills in 2019.
Another driver not happy with her first day in the office was Russian teenager Irina Sidorkova.
Sidorkova has completed the Asian F3 winter series in the Emirates as preparation for W Series, which gained her a bit more mileage to adapt to the Tatuus T318 car. The 18-year old racer from Karelia made appearances in the leading positions in the early stages of qualifying, but was left 14th as time ran out.
"I am very disappointed with the 14th place in qualifying, but I am not at all disappointed with my pace." - she said. "[In the] first 14 laps I was in the leading group, and then some technical issues killed my quali. But I am learning, conclusions are drawn and knowledge is gained. I understand that I am fast, I have speed and tomorrow I will prove it!" - concluded a confident Sidorkova.
Vicky Piria's first season in W Series - which came five years after her last full season in formula cars - was definitely a growing trend: off to a bumpy start in Hockenheim, the Italian driver, driving instructor and TV personality really saw her season turning for the better at the home round in Misano.
"I will be starting P15 tomorrow for my first race of the season in W Series", she wrote. "Just 3 tenths off from P5 show how competitive this world championship is."
With a P15 in qualifying, Piria will certainly look forward to a few changes ahead of the race but, as she highlighted, the grid was unbelievably tight and everything can happen in the 30-minute competition on Saturday - with experience playing in her favour.
Spanish rookie Nerea Marti was closer to the top-12 in practice but slipped back to P16 during qualifying.
Another driver finishing below her expectations was surely Sabré Cook, the only American on the field and flying the colours of American brand 'The Bunker'.
"Extremely disappointing day today for practice and qualifying. Head down, studying up, eyes forward for tomorrow."
Gosia Rdest missed out on the automatic entry in 2019 for a few points, but was brought back in the mix in the collective test in Wales last month, where she performed well and was selected as one of the reserve drivers for 2021. Rdest was then called back into action straight from the first two Austrian rounds, following Tasmin Pepper's travel restriction difficulties.
Having been one year away from formula cars, the Polish driver rounded out the grid, as she mentioned a technical issue slowing down her qualifying.
"I'm glad that the W Series season has started", Gosia said. "This is another amazing opportunity that happened to me in my life. But unfortunately everything beautiful is born in pain. Today I have driven the whole qualification with a damaged turbo, which resulted in wasting time on the straights."
"Problem already solved, I hope to fight and gain some positions tomorrow."
The 2021 W Series curtain-raiser will get underway on Saturday 26th at 16:30 CEST. You can find the broadcaster for your geographical area here.