W Series Esports League: Round 1, preview
W Series Esports League kicks-off tomorrow, as Monza hosts the opening round of the virtual all-female championship. Learn more about the format, the circuit and the drivers with our round-1 preview.
When the lights will go out on Thursday evening on the virtual Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, it will probably feel a bit strange to witness to a W Series race away from a racetrack.
But, as we learnt in these months, simracing can be a great stand-in for real life motorsport, especially when the series efforts elevate its events to fully professional competitions.
The success of IndyCar over Formula 1 in the early days of motorsport lockdown set the tone for what came next from major racing series, as a large involvement of the real championship grid and an official broadcast proved crucial.
The start of the W Series Esports League comes with the sensible and expected announcement of the 2020 on-track season cancellation, which is of course frustrating news for drivers and fans alike. But, with the promising confirmation of the ROKiT partnership and the programme of an even bigger 2021 season, an official virtual championship is the perfect solution to provide supporters with entertainment and engagement, avoiding a one year hiatus.
Nerea Martí, one of the six drivers that were set to make their W Series debut in 2020, said in an interview with Spanish agency EFE that the "W Series Esports League is an opportunity to learn" in anticipation of the next season, suggesting that this is going to be much more than a game.
As the brand-new W Series Esports League targets a larger female involvement in Esports, the virtual championship will be the first ever female-only Esport competition and will be hosted on the benchmark platform of iRacing.
All the 18 race drivers that qualified for the on-track season are expected to enter the championship, plus the addition of 2019 race drivers Gosia Rdest and Caitlin Wood.
Working together with a global recognized brand such as Logitech, all the drivers were provided with the same hardware and simulation equipment, effectively guaranteeing a level-playing field.
Due to the lack of the Tatuus F3 car in the popular iRacing platform, the W Series Esports League will employ the Tatuus Formula Renault 2.0 cars, specially painted in unique W Series liveries.
The opening round will feature three races: after a qualifying session, the first 15-minutes + 1 lap race will be followed by a reverse grid race, identical in its duration. Then, a 20-minutes + 1 lap race will conclude the Monza round.
Points will be assigned as follows for each of the three races: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 (1st to 15th) +1 point for fastest lap.
With a stunning 10-events calendar, W Series Esports League will bring the all-female competitions to some of the most glorious racetracks in the world: Monza, Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Suzuka, Interlagos, Bathurst, Watkins Glen and the Nurburgring Nordschleife are the places that every racing driver dreams to compete on. With world travelling currently on hold, the amazingly 3D-scanned iRacing versions will do.
Autodromo Nazionale di Monza will host the first round on Thursday 11th June. The Temple of Speed, as it is nicknamed for its super fast layout, is one of the most historic racetracks in the world: built in 1922, the circuit immersed in the Monza park has been the stage of the F1 Italian Grand Prix since its inaugural season (with only a missed appearance in 1980).
Despite its simple and flat layout, Monza presents challenges for its high-speed sections and heavy braking, high kerbs and slow chicanes, alternated by long straights where a good slipstream can be crucial in both qualifying and races.
Every corner on this iconic racetrack carries plenty of history and is still able to offer quality racing today: from the Prima Variante that will see the 20 drivers approaching at full speed after the start, to another passing opportunity at Variante della Roggia, then the two fast right-handers of Lesmo 1 and 2, where it's vital to have a good exit into the Serraglio section that leads to the Variante Ascari. With the right tow, it's possible to attempt a move at Parabolica as well - but without compromising the exit speed, which will gift your opponent a precious chance on the 1.12km start/finish straight.
The opening round, which was set to host an on-track W Series round as well, together with DTM, will be Vicky Piria's home race. The only Italian on the grid recorded her best W Series performance so far last year at the Italian round in Misano, which she considers her real home track.
As we learnt in the past months, simracing can be very different from real-life motorsport. While racing drivers increasingly spend more hours on simulators, this training is usually aimed at circuit and setup learning; online racing on sim platforms introduces many different variables that real-life drivers are just starting to get used to.
It was in Monza that Alice Powell made history in 2012 by becoming the first ever female driver to score points in F1-support series GP3, after an impressive eighth place in the Italian round's sprint race. It was in Monza that Fabienne Wohlwend won from pole position the Ferrari Challenge World Finals in 2018. But it would be a real stretch to make predictions based on non-virtual motorsport results. Uncertainty before the first round will reign.
2019 championship runner-up Beitske Visser spent many hours at her simulator during lockdown, entering several online races on both the iRacing and rFactor2 platforms. Visser showed good speed and consistency, together with an impressive ability to read her Twitch followers' comments during live sessions. The Dutchwoman comes from a good performance in last week's Monaco race in the All-Star Series (rFactor2), where she was often crashed out of the races due to an enormous grid and frankly questionable driving standards. She scored a sixth and an eighth place in the opening round of Renault Esports Series (Interlagos, iRacing), the best for team M2. During some of the private tests with other W Series racers, Visser was fast, but we have no idea how many hours others entrants spent practicing in the last few weeks.
Reigning champion Jamie Chadwick, featuring a golden livery in the W Series Esports League, is among them. We only had the chance to see Chadwick in a handful of online races on the Codemasters F1 game but the Brit was an early advocate for an increased participation of women in gaming and was also named as part of Fernando Alonso's FA Racing Esport team in 2019.
Gosia Rdest has been training daily on iRacing and comes from a class victory in a +50 drivers grid at the Creventic's Monza 12 Hours; Fabienne Wohlwend made great progresses throughout the Virtual Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup full season; Marta Garcia was protagonist of an impressive star-studded race on the Gran Turismo platform; newcomers Ayla Agren, Belen Garcia and Abbie Eaton all made online appearances in different championships and Alice Powell has also spent many hours training on both iRacing and rFactor, recently taking part in the official Formula E Race At Home Challenge season finale.
As other virtual motorsport championships with real-life grids proved, there can be very different levels of simracing experience in the opening rounds. But to understand the competitive level of the inaugural W Series Esports League we can only wait and see.
How to watch
All the races will be broadcasted via the series official channels (Youtube, Twitch, Facebook) on Thursday at 7pm BST (20:00 CET) for the upcoming 10 weeks. In the UK, BBC will show every race in 10 x 90-minute broadcasts across BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and on the BBC Sport website from 7pm BST.
An all-star commentary team including simracing expert Luke Crane, former F1 race winner David Coulthard, F1 and W Series presenter Lee McKenzie and current F3 racing driver Billy Monger will guide you through the racing action.