W Series: Jamie Chadwick's recovery makes up for rough start
The long-awaited W Series season opener turned into a bittersweet weekend for reigning champion Jamie Chadwick: a technical issue in qualifying and an early accident triggered a strong fightback that still gained the British star important points for the championship.
The first round of the 2021 W Series season was surely a rollercoaster for reigning champion Jamie Chadwick. The British driver came into the Austrian weekend as the favourite, having completed a full season in Formula Regional European Championship in 2020 with top team Prema Powerteam, which gave her invaluable experience in the Tatuus F3 car ahead of her second season in the all-female series. Chadwick, who is also racing in the brand-new off-road Extreme E championship for electric SUVs, was paired with her long time partner 'Veloce' – a London-based organisation that also manages the career of the young driver – when W Series announced a switch in its strategic plans to include private teams. The team founded by former racer turned manager Rupert Svendsen-Cook jumped on the opportunity to extend its on-track presence to the single-seater universe and selected Brazilian newcomer Bruna Tomaselli as Chadwick's teammate. "I’ve worked with Jamie for many years now; she is our lead female in the Veloce Extreme E team and of course the reigning W Series Champion." – said Svendsen-Cook. "Although still early in her career, she possesses a wealth of talent and when paired with Bruna Tomaselli the two will be an incredible force carrying the Veloce banner."
“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." – echoed Chadwick. "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." Among the few drivers on the grid with a full season of F3 under her belt in 2020 – and strong of her groundbreaking successes in W Series and Asian F3, Chadwick will inevitably be the benchmark for many new and returning drivers. Jamie, though, plays down the expectations and remains focused on a week-to-week target. “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", she noted. "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.”
At Red Bull Ring – W Series' first race meeting in 686 days following the cancellation of the 2020 season – the 23-year old racing driver was ready to tackle the new season with determination, as she returned to the circuit where she had shown the most promising speed in her Formula Regional campaign in 2020. In the single 30-minute free practice session on Friday, she was often to be found on top the timing screen, ultimately finishing fourth in a very compact classify. But it was in qualifying that Chadwick's weekend would start to go a bit sideways: a cracked pipe hampered her chances in the hunt for pole position and she could not do better than eighth. At the start of the session, in fact, the Veloce driver had traded the top position with Alice Powell, but once the issue became apparent and the track conditions improved dramatically, Chadwick's best effort would only put her on the fourth row of the grid, alongside fellow race winner Marta Garcia. Jamie had a good start off the line but early drama forced her to rejoin from the back of the pack: at the first corner on the second lap, Jessica Hawkins made a mistake under braking and hit the #55 Veloce racing car, sending Chadwick into a spin.
In clear air, Chadwick started a furious charge to close the gap from the cars ahead: by setting the provisional fastest lap, she caught up with 15th-placed Gosia Rdest, having annihilated a 20 second gap. A Safety Car bunched up the field and gave Chadwick the opportunity to complete her comeback assault once the green flag waved again: chaos broke loose and the reigning champion made the most out of her experience and pace to navigate through the pack, recovering until seventh place across the finish line despite an issue with straight-line speed that made her recovery even more impressive. “I’m feeling mixed emotions after that race. Firstly, I’m happy to get points on the board but massively disappointed at the same time, I had a really good start and first lap but then got spun around." - explained Chadwick. “We got a bit lucky with the carnage that unfolded after the Safety Car but I think it was damage limitation today given the circumstances we found ourselves in. Our potential was much more than that this weekend. Luckily there isn’t long to wait so we’re already looking ahead to the next race.” A 30-second penalty for Jess Hawkins would later promote Chadwick to sixth – completing a strong fightback that nevertheless leaves the young driver with a bittersweet aftertaste: never before she had finished below fourth in W Series. Crucially, several other drivers accredited with title ambitions also had a rough time at the Styrian GP: Marta Garcia was out for mechanical gremlins, series Vice-Champion Beitske Visser was also punted out in the latter stages and couldn't score points, while Emma Kimilainen was involved in an accident and broke her front wing – only to receive a grid drop penalty for the next race. Alice Powell's dominant start is likely to cause some worries to her Veloce Racing's compatriot but, having still scored a decent amount of points despite the circumstances, Chadwick's damage limitation weekend might reveal crucial at the end of the season with such a tight field. The Red Bull Ring will host the second race of the W Series double-header in just 7 days, on June 3-4, where Chadwick will undoubtedly be looking to build on her promising pace.