W Series: Round 2, drivers' reactions
Two down, six to go: W Series provided plenty of action and talking points over the course of the last two weeks at Red Bull Ring. Here is what the drivers had to say after the Austrian GP round.
The second round of the 2021 W Series season – the second in the championship's history – turned out to be not as chaotic as the previous one, but just as interesting in terms of identifying the main trends of these intense couple of weeks. One of the biggest stories so far seems to be the rise of the newcomers, quickly up to speed and ready to impress in the leading positions. They will have to deal with the return of the established W Series stars: after a challenging start to their campaigns Jamie Chadwick, Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen are not willing to give way, as they were back on top form both in qualifying and race pace. Chadwick's dominant win is a return to the past and most importantly a strong push to her title defense efforts. The Briton was slowed down by a cracked turbo pipe at the Styrian round, but showed her real speed just a few days later. “I’m ecstatic! After a successful qualifying yesterday my aim was to maximise pole position at the start and to have a clean run from there, and that’s exactly what I did." – she commented after her third win and her first grand slam in the series. "It’s still early to be thinking about the championship but this bodes well for the rest of the year." “Given the tough start to the season we had, this result is so important to ensure we leave Austria with a solid set of points." – added the reigning champion.
Irina Sidorkova scored points at debut but her real breakthrough weekend would come with her second place in free practice one week later. She had a great qualifying and masterfully drove to second place – enduring the pressure from the fast and experienced Kimilainen. “I can describe Friday as quite good." – summed up the young Russian, who just turned 18. "I managed to set a good time in training and get to second position. In qualifying, everything was also good. Unfortunately, I could not repeat the success of free practice, but nevertheless, we can see a lot of progress compared to last week. I was able to get to sixth place, which meant a start from fifth [due to Kimilainen's penalty]." "I have done quite a lot of work in practice and qualifying. Of course, there was still something to fix, especially in the second sector", she added after the 30-minute qualifying, anyway confident to solve all her problems and score many points in the race. “First of all, I would like to say thank you to all the fans for watching and supporting me. This, no doubt, helped me a lot", stressed the revelation of the second round. "The race went well. I am happy with my result, happy with the pace. Despite the fact that Emma [Kimilainen] was constantly pressing, I managed to keep my rhythm until the end and hold the second position." "I am very happy with my result compared to last week, because I had a lot of mistakes and problems. But I'm glad I managed to correct all of that this week. And after such a good job I can say that the result was not far away!”.
Fellow Academy driver Nerea Marti was just as impressive in her first two weekends: the Spaniard had a slower start and was stuck behind a group of cars during the race, but qualified on the second row and might emerge as another consistent front-runner coming into the next rounds. Marti took to her social media to comment on her weekend: "We are leaving Austria and we are happy with the work we have done, there has been a great improvement in both pace and speed compared to last weekend! There is room for improvement and this is very positive for the next races." Emma Kimilainen was left on the sidelines in 2020 and had not taken the start of a race since the final 2019 W Series race. The 32-year old Finn – arguably one of the top talents in the series – had a messy first race, but returned at the front-end of the classify with a more-representative second round. "It's been a long time coming for me because I didn't do any racing last year and my last race was the last race of the 2019 season at Brands Hatch." – explained Kimilainen. "Last week wasn't great, but I had a good chat with the engineers to figure out the car and get it working better for me to match my driving style and that’s what we did." Indeed, if there's a driver who's used to remarkable comebacks, it's Emma. Her promising years in single-seaters, where she battled future F1 drivers, were followed by a first stop imposed by the lack of funding. After a second stop for maternity, Kimilainen was immediately up to speed; then, her title fight in 2019 would be again halted by an injury in the W Series inaugural season. Fighting back adversities is Kimilainen's specialty, and yesterday's race proves that we cannot certainly count her out. One of the best surprises of the start of this season was Sarah Moore – second and not far behind Alice Powell one week ago and now fourth despite a difficult Friday. "We tried a few setup changes in practice, which didn’t work in our favour and left us near the back of the grid." – wrote Moore, who then had a technical problem in qualifying. "Unfortunate start to qualifying with a technical problem, but team Scuderia W managed to fix the issue and got me back out." – she explained. "I had to go straight back out on new rubber as I had lost out on so much time already." "Got together what I could, but definitely felt there was more left in the bank." The driver from Yorkshire then striked back in the race and managed to pass Tomaselli for fourth with two minutes left after a prolonged battle with Nerea Marti. "A P2 & P4 is a great start to the season, leaving me P2 in the championship heading to the home race at Silverstone."
Veloce Racing's Bruna Tomaselli has certainly a difficult task to match her race-winning teammate Chadwick, but the Brazilian has so far impressed with a stunning qualifying on Friday and her first top-five in Saturday's race. “It was a really tough battle out there today – I had so much fun racing towards the front of the pack and I gave it everything I had to hold onto fifth." – said Bruna, another representative of the fast newcomers. “Overall though it’s been a fantastic weekend. I’m taking home a lot in terms of confidence from my third-fastest time on Friday and the fact that I could race towards the front. With Jamie finishing 1st and myself 5th, we are looking like a very strong team for the rest of the season ahead." The only South American on the field was aiming for her first podium at the second round of the Red Bull Ring, but Visser's problem at the start paved the way to Sidorkova and Kimilainen. “On the first lap I lost touch with the top three and had to worry about the entire group of cars behind me", continued Tomaselli. "Moore showed a lot of quality in the first round, when she was runner-up, so I knew I was going to have a tough job to keep her behind. I did my best to stay ahead as much as I could." Nevertheless, with her fifth place, the Brazilian scored her first points and is now 9th in the championship standings. “I am very happy with this result. The race circumstances meant I was unable to fight for the podium, but I have to enjoy my first W Series points. Let's analyze this race, see the telemetry data, and think about the next race at Silverstone." Belén García was the star of the first round: the Catalan racer fought for the runner up spot at her series debut – and only at her second full season in single seaters – before a trip to the gravel would force her to a remarkable recovery. At the Austrian GP, García had a quieter race, influenced by some steering problems – yet she was able to score important points with a valuable P9. "It has been a difficult weekend." – commented Belén. "From the first moment, I had a vibration on the front left wheel that we weren't able to solve. In the race it got worse, because it gave the impression that the wheel was loose and I had some major scare", added the Spaniard. "There were some adjustments imposed by the organization, we raised the front height by four millimeters. That totally changed the behavior of my car and it was very difficult for me to get the same performance as last week. I've had a lot of understeer” – she continued. At the start, García had to avoid the stalling Visser and fell to tenth, then had good battles with last weekend's podium finishers Alice Powell and Fabienne Wohlwend – both having a harder time at the second round. "Despite the problems, I think I have saved the situation very well" – she reflects back. "I had a good pace and I felt strong, even though this race did not go well. I'm sure that when we fix this, I'll be up again. I am happy with my performance and everything I have learned this weekend" – concluded García.
Abbie Eaton had a mixed first weekend, including some good battles and good progression, but a contact took her out of contention for points in the final stages. At her second race, Eaton is still coming to terms with the secrets of single-seaters – which have been uncharted territory for the Brit – but improvements were notable and certainly encouraging. "Much better result in R2 after fixing the problem that hindered qualifying on Friday." – wrote Eaton. "Makes up for a rubbish R1 in which I got caught behind a staller, and then got hit off from 9th place. Finally some points in the bag and some understanding about how the car works." Norwegian racer Ayla Agren has often shown great speed in practice and qualifying, but two difficult starts off the line definitely prevented us from fully appreciating her potential in the races: "On a positive note, I managed to fix a corner I have been struggling with the last two weekends. On a different note, yesterday I F**ed up the start and put myself too far behind to get back in the mix of things in Race 2." If Agren can fix her starts, it wouldn't be surprising to see her battling for a top five at the next rounds. A driver that was certainly left disappointed by the Austrian GP was race 1 winner Alice Powell: just a few days before, the former GP3 driver was utterly unreachable, but technical issues put her on the back foot in the second race. "Car issue in free practice and quali means a very frustrating day" – she wrote, after setting the 13th fastest lap, then converted into a start from position 12. "Unfortunately, I still struggled with the issue in the Race, it was slightly better, but still hindered for sure. Anyway, P8 from P12 and points make prizes", she concluded. Powell complained about the lack of straight line speed throughout the race, and was visibly struggling to defend. Already very unlucky in 2019, Powell will hope to fix all the technical troubles ahead of her home race and to return quickly to the positions where she belongs. Still, it takes a talent like Powell's to save the day and bring home points in such circumstances: she's still third in the standings, 4 points behind Chadwick.
Similar emotions were shared by another British driver, Jessica Hawkins. The Aston Martin F1 Team ambassador driver was among the protagonists of the first weekend, where she steadily occupied the top five for most of the weekend. A mistake under braking would cost her a penalty and points but, just like Powell, Jess was left scratching her head – or her bobble hat – in search of that lost performance. "I genuinely don’t know where my pace has gone since last weekend." – she stated. "It’s extremely hard to take but I will be better at Silverstone." What nobody would have expected to witness after two rounds are Beitske Visser and Marta García still stranded at zero points in the standings. Two of the top profiles at the eve of the 2021 season had a nightmare start – both to their season and to the Austrian GP round: Visser was back in the groove after qualifying, having put her #95 M.Forbes Motorsport car on the front row and was ready to resume her battle with her main rival Jamie Chadwick, when a slow getaway relegated her to the back of the pack. "F*** up the start myself", commented Visser. "After, with an engine issue missing straight line speed it wasn’t easy to get back to the front, but we’ll try to fix the problem for the next race! Let’s work hard to turn things around!" Similarly, a problem at the start cost race winner Marta García her first points of the season. The Austrian racetrack has been really devoid of luck for the young Spaniard, after a retirement from seventh last week caused by a problem to the exhaust pipe of her F3 car. Marta was looking forward to bouncing back six days later and a clean qualifying run would put her in fourth place. After qualifying in seventh, Marta had her eyes on a top-5, but a problem at the start left her chasing the pack. She would eventually finish P12. Focusing on the positives, García takes home plenty of advice from her social bubble coach, Warren Hughes: “We work in groups and each group has a coach, ours is Warren Hughes", explained Marta. "He gave me great advice and I noticed it." "Stalling on the grid was a strange thing, we analyzed the data later and everything was correct. It was strange that it happened to three of us. Now we go to Silverstone, another circuit that I do not know. We must continue working to reverse the trend." The Puma racing driver's pace was significantly better though, and we can be sure that the 20-year old Valencian will work hard to turn the situation around.
Having finished on the podium at the Styrian round, Fabienne Wohlwend was very confident about her pace and setup at the eve of the second round: the lady from Liechtenstein told us on Thursday that her main area of focus would have to be improving qualifying in order to become a podium regular. The second leg at the Red Bull Ring turned out a bit more challenging for Wohlwend, who again had to recover after a difficult qualifying. She won a prolonged battle with her Bunker Racing's teammate and finished tenth, to secure more points. "Tough weekend but important points for the championship collected. We analyze, learn and come back stronger in Silverstone", she said. Fabienne's American teammate Sabré Cook endured another rough start to her weekend, but managed to fight back in the race. Cook struggled with pace one week ago, but seemed much more at ease during practice on Friday, before a spin into the gravel in the opening minutes of qualifying meant that she had to start from the very back of the field. However, Sabré's grit and determination surfaced in the first laps of the race, when she made up nine positions and slotted into P9, just ahead of Wohlwend. In the fierce midfield battles, though, she would damage her front wing splitter and drop to P13 as a consequence of the loss of handling. "Progress forward yesterday", she said. "Made my way up from P18 to P10. Then fought for P9 until my front wing flap was damaged causing a difficult balance with the car and fell back to P13." "Bummed to not finish in the points but happy to show better pace! Thanks to all the guys for their hard work with the car and W Series for making all this possible. Lots of knowledge gained from the last two weeks that I’ll use to create a better performance at Silverstone in a couple weeks time."
It has been a similarly frustrating start of the season for Italian Vicky Piria. Vicky was visibly battling with oversteer throughout the weekend and was the protagonist of some spectacular saves and rally-style moments that looked very fun - but not particularly effective. Her qualifying performance was significantly better though, and from P12 she had points in sight. A 3-place grid drop for last week's incident with Abbie Eaton put her in 15th, which made her life a bit harder in the very tightly-fought midfield. "The first two races were a bit uphill and not very lucky but still I come home with a smile." – wrote Piria. "We take home many positives and new learnings. We still have many opportunities, the championship is competitive but I am confident for the next ones." Piria's Sirin Racing teammate Miki Koyama also suffered technical issues in the first qualifying of the season, but then came back strong with an amazing recovery to 5th place in Race 1. A few days later, though, Koyama had to start all over again with technical gremlins holding her up. She described "many problems with the car" being found upon inspections on Friday, while she pitted in the final minutes of the race due to vibrations that weren't solved. She still finished the race, one lap down, stating that "her best wasn't enough". She will now switch her focus to the preparation for the British GP at Silverstone in two week's time.
Polish racer Gosia Rdest was called into action approximately one month from the start of the season, when the drivers gathered again – after almost a year since their last meeting – and climbed back into the W Series Tatuus F3 cars for the only collective test of the season.
Despite a positive season in 2019, Rdest missed out on the automatic entry by 2 points, but had the chance to prove her worth again and was selected as one of the reserve drivers for the 2021 season.
With Tasmin Pepper still unable to race, the second Puma seat was filled by the fast Polish woman for the opening two weekends of the season. Unlike some of the drivers, Gosia was out of a single-seater for over a year and took on driving duties with caution at the season opener. Still, she was able to score two points amidst the hectic final laps, which gave her good momentum coming the second race.
"I certainly feel more confident before this round, because I have already competed here and a week ago." – she noted before Friday practice. "It is true that I ran with various problems on the [previous] Friday sessions, but the race showed that there was potential. I have to use everything I learned in the first round and try to finish even higher."
Unfortunately, Rdest finished down in 17th place after being spun around when she was running solidly in P14, midway through the race.
It is not clear yet who is going to get behind the wheel of the Puma race car at Silverstone.