W Series: Jamie Chadwick keeps the crown
With a flawless weekend at COTA, Jamie Chadwick sealed her back-to-back W Series titles, ahead of Abbi Pulling - at her maiden podium - and Emma Kimilainen.
That's it. The 2021 W Series season flashed by: we had to wait over two years after the inaugural edition, but the all-female championship delivered once again. In its first year as a support series of F1, on the biggest global stage, we witnessed some spectacular competitions among some of the world's top female talents in single seaters. And less than five months later, here she is, standing on the podium: the 2021 W Series champion – Jamie Chadwick. Chadwick, the 2019 defending champion, was pushed to her limits by Alice Powell throughout the season, with her compatriot coming into the final race weekend on top of the standings and one more victory than her rival. But, with two races left to run at the Texas double-header, the Veloce Racing's driver had a flawless weekend and capitalized on every opportunity: despite being put to the test by reserve driver Abbi Pulling, Chadwick took the lead at Turn 1 in Race 1 and never looked back. On the other hand, Powell had to face a nightmare of a weekend: from technical issues on Friday – where she also missed most of FP1 due to an engine problem – to more issues in qualifying, Alice had a mountain to climb having set the 10th and 9th fastest laps in Saturday's only qualifying – which shaped the grids for both races based on the fastest and second fastest lap from each driver. Drivers arrived at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday morning and found very different weather conditions compared to the previous days: a very light rain overnight and overcast skies. While all the eyes were on the title showdown, pressure was on for the whole field: the top-8 in the standings would in fact gain automatic entry to the 2021 grid. Ahead of Race 2, two high profile drivers were forced to end their seasons early: Marta Garcia sat out the final race after feeling unwell overnight, while Abbie Eaton is currently being treated at Dell Seton Hospital for a T4 fracture suffered when hitting a kerb in race 1. Chadwick lined up on the front row alongside Abbi Pulling, ahead of Sarah Moore and Beitske Visser. When the lights went out for the final time this year, Chadwick had a rocket start and pulled away, facilitated by a slower getaway by Pulling and Moore. Visser was up to third, while Race 1 runner up Emma Kimilainen had another great launch to slot into fourth. Alice Powell, who was able to charge to a podium position after a stunning race on Saturday, made up two positions in the first lap and went again on the hunt of Belén Garcia. Behind her, Fabienne Wohlwend lost positions after a huge hit with the outside kerb at Turn 1, while Bunker Racing's teammate Sabré Cook had her best race of the season and moved from P12 to P8, after a great pass on Jessica Hawkins in the opening stages. Cook showed impressive pace and caught up with title contender Alice Powell – the latter stuck behind the two Scuderia W cars of Moore and Garcia. Similarly to Saturday, though, Garcia was soon struggling for grip and had to work really hard to keep Powell at bay. Sarah Moore, on the other hand, got increasingly bigger in Beitske Visser's wing mirrors: the Brit attempted a move at Turn 1 on lap 5, but had to back off. One lap later, Moore made the move stick at the same corner and moved into fourth place. Visser, 12th prior to the American GP weekend, was able to get into the Top-8 on Saturday and opted to avoid risks on Sunday, safe with a fifth place. Midway through the race, Chadwick led the pack by 3 seconds, ahead of Abbi Pulling and Emma Kimilainen. Powell, still in seventh place, realized she didn't have the pace to progress like in Race 1 and her attacks became increasingly aggressive: with 10 minutes left, Alice went for a desperate move at Turn 1, but went deep and almost left the door open to Sabré Cook. Three laps later, Powell ultimately completed the move and advanced to sixth - but now had over 5 seconds to Beitske Visser. On lap 9, Fabienne Wohlwend started to drop down the order and had to pit, reporting handling issues – likely caused by the first lap hit over the kerb. Luckily, the driver from Liechtenstein had a sufficient gap in the points' table to still finish in the Top-8. In the closing stages, Sabré Cook was set for a strong finish – but a mistake by Jessica Hawkins spun the American around, who ended at the tail-end of the field. To make the most out of the incident was Spaniard Nerea Marti, who gained two positions to slot into eighth place. Ahead, Chadwick was in complete control and, with 2 minutes left on the clock, Pulling was managing from Kimilainen. The final lap turned into a victory lap for Jamie Chadwick, who took the chequered flag to win her fourth win of the season and, in doing so, claimed her second W Series championship. “This means so much. The stakes were so much higher than the first title in 2019 but to top this season off the way that we did, I’m just so happy." – said the two-time champion. “I’m so grateful to everyone at W Series, Veloce and Formula 1 for making this possible this year. It’s been an amazing year and I’m so happy to be finishing it on top", she added. “Alice [Powell] has pushed me all the way and with so few races in the championship, it’s really difficult to make the difference. It’s been really tough all year, I’d like to say a massive congratulations to Alice, she’s had a difficult event this weekend but she’s had a great year." With only three appearances in W Series, Abbi Pulling secured her maiden podium and, outstandingly, made her way into the Top-8. "I didn't quite believe it when I crossed the line." – Pulling said. "I'm gutted that I couldn't put a bit more pressure on Jamie [Chadwick] but she just had the legs on me and I was maintaining the gap behind. Emma [Kimilainen] was trying to put pressure on me, but I kept my head pretty composed and made sure that the tyres lasted the whole race because that's what I struggled with yesterday – I learnt a lot from that race and took it into this one." Emma Kimilainen clinched her fourth consecutive podium and cemented her third place in the standings. The Flying Finn confirms herself as one of the world's top female drivers, despite a couple of difficult few rounds at the beginning of the season that likely cost her a bigger shot at the title. "Another podium finish feels good." – commented Kimilainen. "I was trying to catch Abbi [Pulling], but I ended up with quite a lot of understeer and when you are driving behind someone you get aero wash, especially in those fast corners in sector one." "It was so hard, I couldn't turn the car and lost everything I gained in sector three. I did my best, brought the podium home and, after starting from sixth, I must be happy with that. Third place in the championship is a really good job. Unfortunately, the first half of the season was a little bit flat for me but, luckily, I got to turn it around and it has shown me that I have the potential to win the title next year." Sarah Moore completed a great season with fourth place at Austin and fifth in the standings, ahead of Beitske Visser. An understandably frustrated Alice Powell crossed the line in sixth place and saw her championship ambitions being shattered. Unfortunately, the technical issues suffered during the final race weekend, likely denied her – and the W Series fans - of a closest fight with the equally deserving Jamie Chadwick. Nerea Marti, Sarah Moore, Fabienne Wohlwend, Abbi Pulling and Beitske Visser qualify for the 2022 season. Irina Sidorkova – absent from the COTA weekend after being denied the US visa – also has a safe seat for next year as part of the W Series Academy project. It is currently not clear if the drivers not automatically qualifying will get another chance to defend their seats – or how the next drivers' selections will work under the new team-based format. For the first time in W Series' history, the newly-crowned champion was awarded FIA SuperLicence points – 15 – which will be crucial in Chadwick's potential F1 ambitions. “I’m not sure what’s next for me yet but I’m going to make sure I enjoy this moment first and then go from there" – she said after the race. In case she were to decide to return to defend the title, she won't be able to score more Super Licence points. Either way, the 2022 W Series championship couldn't come soon enough.