W Series Singapore: Drivers' Reactions
The seventh round of the 2022 W Series season is in the books - and there were plenty of talking points on track: from the first night session, heavy rain, a returning race winner and the championship leader's first mistake in over three years. Here's what the drivers had to say after the Singapore GP.
The seventh round of the 2022 W Series season turned out to be a rather chaotic but spectacular one, with many turns of events throughout the weekend.
The all-female championship was back on track after its longest summer break ever, racing for the first time in its history on Asian soil.
The logistical partnership between W Series and the Toyota Racing Series New Zealand meant that the fleet of 18 TRS Tatuus made their second appearance of the season, after the Spanish round at Barcelona: sharing cars between the championships helps manage logistics and enables the use of sea transportation instead of air freight.
With only 30 minutes of practice time, though, drivers had to quickly learn the track - which was new for everyone, as only Bianca Bustamante had partially raced on a different layout of it - and adapt again to the Toyota-powered cars, which also feature some differences, mainly in the weight distribution.
Friday practice was also the first ever time that W Series cars hit the track under the lights, with the scenic backdrop of the Singapore skyline offering spectacular images.
Conditions, though, were significantly different on Saturday, as heavy rain disrupted the qualifying, delivering some unexpected results.
Or maybe not so unexpected, as Marta Garcia - already a polesitter and race winner on another street circuit, the Norisring in 2019 - took pole position in extreme weather conditions. Garcia and Visser shared the front row and were two of the few drivers able to set their fastest times when the rain had already increased, topping Alice Powell's initial benchmark.
"I like the rain. I am really, really happy with P1." - said Marta. "This is an amazing track and I already loved it yesterday during practice."
"It looked as though it was going to be dry at the end, but it was quite wet. I went out early and was trying to find the limit on the first laps. I pushed on the first lap trying to put in a good time. I felt really comfortable out there in the rain, it was quite stable, and I had so much fun."
Garcia clearly stated she wanted a wet race on Sunday, as she had found her rhythm in the rain and was really comfortable in those conditions.
Unfortunately for the Valencian racer, the seventh round of the 2022 season was contested on a fully dry track on Sunday afternoon, just before another heavy downpour before the start of the F1 GP.
Beitske Visser took the lead at the start and opened a small gap, before Alice Powell made a successful move at Turn 18 on Garcia and hunted down Visser for the lead. The two main championship rivals to Jamie Chadwick - albeit at 75 point distance - tried to make the most out of Chadwick's difficult weekend and battled for the win, but Visser held on and returned to victory three years after her previous win in the championship.
"I was very happy with that one", commented Beitske Visser, who now stands at a 50 point distance to Chadwick with three races to go.
"It is such a relief to get the win and I've been waiting for it for a long time. I think it's been coming for the last few races as we've always been there. I got a good start and in the first few laps I was very strong", explained the Dutchwoman. "Alice was a bit quicker after that, but I managed to hold her off and at the end I was strong again."
"I had to defend from her once, but after that I knew at which points I had to push to make sure she couldn't try a move and then it was fine. I was a bit worried about the start of the race as they changed my clutch a bit from yesterday for the biting point and it was a bit of a guess, but thankfully we guessed right!"
Alice Powell had a really strong weekend once again after breaking Chadwick's dominance in Hungary before the summer break. The Briton had set the early pace in qualifying, before Garcia and Visser managed to find those extra tenths. Powell had gained track position on her Bristol Street Motors teammate Jessica Hawkins but made a small mistake in her only timed lap that cost her pole position.
"[I] just made a mistake when I needed to not make a mistake", she said. "I struggled even before it started to rain with traction."
"It was a really good job by the guys in the pit-lane as it was frantic, and no one knew what was going on", she described. "The guys on my car did a really good job making sure I got out in the right spot, and we were on it."
Powell was also confident about her dry pace, as she was the fastest of the drivers starting on the front rows from the practice pace.
Having cleared Garcia with a great pass, though, she couldn't find the gap to overtake Visser in the tricky streets of Marina Bay. Eventually, her tyres worn out from following closely the Sirin Racing driver and, after the Safety Car restart, she had to settle for second.
"The start was really good and once we got past Marta the gap to Beitske was two and a half seconds, but we pulled it in and had the fastest lap by five tenths", Powell said.
"The car was amazing but when we caught Beitske it was so hard to follow and I couldn't get past."
"Fair play to Beitske, she drove fantastically, kept her cool and it was up to me to make her make a small mistake or for her car to really go off. Then, my car went off and the front tyres totally gave up as we were following her so closely for so long."
"A big shout out to Daz, Tom and Cameron – they have done an amazing job for the Bristol Street Motors Team all weekend", she continued. Entering the round tied on points with Visser, Alice Powell is now 7 points behind her rival for the runner up spot.
"Obviously, we have dropped down a little bit in the championship, but there are still three races left and this is W Series where anything can happen. I'm looking forward to it."
It was the second time that both Bristol Street Motors cars finished in the top-ten - and the first time that both were in the Top-5, after a remarkable performance by Jessica Hawkins. Jess claimed her best result after the season opener at Miami - where she was second - and was consistently in the top-five throughout the weekend. She defended well from championship leader Chadwick and ultimately pushed her into a rare mistake. A weekend to build on. Although she was not able to convert her second ever pole position into her second race win in W Series, Marta Garcia was back to her usual standards of clear front-runner after a very tough 2021 season. Garcia clinched her first podium of the year - having lost one for a post-race penalty - and now climbed to sixth in the standings. Her wet-weather pace would have potentially resulted in a race win, but after initially struggling to keep Powell behind, Marta defended well from Belén Garcia and eventually brought home a very positive third place in CortDAO home race in Singapore. "It was a really tough race, and really hot out there", Marta said. "I think it's one of the hardest races physically." "I was on pole and I had a good start, but Beitske had a better start so I was P2. In the first laps I was struggling a bit because I was not amazing in the dry in free practice, so I knew I had to improve some stuff." "Beitske was not that far ahead, but I knew Alice was really fast behind me. I tried to defend, but it was difficult because she was quite fast and she ended up overtaking me. When I was P3 I was able to find more rhythm and I'm still happy with third." Her second half of the season clearly shows a big upward trend, as the Spaniard will try to carry momentum in the final rounds of the season: "It's been hard work getting to this point, last year was really tough and I'm getting there now. I'm happy I got a podium and a pole position, and that shows I'm able to be there at the front." Just ahead in the points' standings is her compatriot Belén Garcia, who is having a remarkable campaign and leads the three Spanish drivers. Belén secured her first podium earlier this year at Paul Ricard and was fourth at both Miami and Singapore. Her only non-point scoring result has been the unfortunate Hungarian round, where she was victim of a collision in the opening lap.
In Singapore, Belén Garcia was fast straight from practice and finished all sessions in fourth place. A 720° spin in qualifying - when conditions had significantly worsened and aquaplaning forced the race direction to deploy the red flag - did not stop Belén from earning a spot on the second row of the grid, from where she would battle with Alice Powell and then Marta Garcia.
“I lacked a bit of pace", she commented, still satisfied by her performance. "It was very difficult to overtake here. I wasn't very comfortable under braking, so I didn't want to risk too much."
"I am very happy to have maintained fourth position, which means a good handful of points that will go very well for me in the championship", Belén added, also highlighting how she still felt confident in wet conditions, to her surprise.
"I did my fastest lap on a track that was wetter than the others, so I'm very happy with the position and the driving, because it was really risky", she explained. "This Grand Prix has been an incredible experience”, concluded the Catalan.
With her sixth place finish in Singapore, Abbi Pulling still remains mathematically in contention for the title - but realistically, the Alpine Academy driver will try to close in on her mentor Alice Powell for third in the championship.
Sarah Moore's last non-point-scoring race dates back to Spa 2021 - when she was involved in the infamous crash. After that, Moore is on a streak of 10 consecutive top ten finishes, in yet another very strong season for the British racer.
Moore ended eighth in qualifying after having her final lap hampered by the second red flag, having sat in third place until that moment. She still showed good speed in the rain in qualifying, but was unable to do higher than seventh after catching traffic in the third sector in the crucial first minutes before the rain increased.
"[I] felt like I had a lot more in me", Sarah commented. "I unfortunately timed the gap from the cars ahead wrong and caught them as I came into sector 3, which cost me a lot of time on my best lap."
After what she described as a "horrendous start", though, she lost a few positions and eventually finished seventh.
"Annoyed with myself as I felt so confident with my pace coming into the race", Moore continued. "Really felt I could have pushed for a podium today. I think Singapore may have creeped to the top of my favourite track list", she also added - a sentiment shared by many drivers that visited the Marina Bay Street Circuit for the first time.
Another driver on a good streak of positive results is also Fabienne Wohlwend: the driver from Liechtenstein was once again in the top ten - for the fifth consecutive race - and also really enjoyed the track.
It was soon clear after practice that Wohwlend was potentially in contention for the top-five, having sat in second on the timing sheets until the second red flag - after which she couldn't improve due to a yellow flag in her final attempt.
"I had a positive session", she told us on Friday. "The track is simply amazing, so much fun to drive in the dark."
"We started really well into the session, I improved lap by lap and then we got a red flag. After the first red flag, I could improve very well and then I was second", she recalled. "And then unfortunately we got a second red flag, after which we only got one flying lap."
"At Turn 5 there was a yellow flag so I couldn't improve in the end, which made me drop to P7. But I felt very confident in the car and the track was amazing."
In qualifying, unfortunately, things did not perfectly align for Fabienne, who was left disappointed with a ninth place on the grid.
With a good start, though, she fought hard for positions, settling in seventh for most of the race. A small mistake cost her a position to Sarah Moore towards the final stages, but nevertheless Wohlwend continued to score important points for the championship.
"I'm disappointed as I feel I couldn't show my potential this weekend and starting ninth after the limited laps we got in qualifying wasn't ideal", she said. "Anyway I had an amazing time in Singapore."
Emma Kimiläinen – in one of her unluckiest seasons in her racing career – had a scary brake failure at Turn 18, only three laps into the practice sessions.
"I'm fine", she told us, "luckily I anticipated that something was wrong in corner 17 and tried to brake on the straight on my way to corner 18.", she explained. "The pedal just went down and despite bumping it, nothing happened – no brake pressure whatsoever – and nothing I could do to make the car to stop other than downshifting to first gear."
"Luckily, I didn't have much speed and just slightly hit the soft mattress on the wall."
Her bad luck carried on onto Saturday, as she wasn't able to get out on track in the opening minutes of qualifying and, once she was sent out, it was already too late for a competitive time.
"It would have been very important to get on track instantly when the lights went green as the rain was getting heavier", - she wrote. "Instead the car wasn't ready and we got on track a lap later to a very poor track position."
The Finnish racer qualified tenth, but carried a grid penalty from the previous round, which put her 12th on the grid on Sunday. Kimiläinen won W Series' previous wet race - in Spa 2021, after a spectacular recovery - and could have been someone to watch in rainy conditions but, as the race turned out to be dry, the nature of the track didn't allow for major recovery opportunities.
A potential title candidate at the eve of the 2022 season, Emma is now eighth in the drivers' standings.
While Abbi Eaton struggled to find her rhythm up until the race, a clean run on Sunday earned the Briton her third point-scoring finish of the season, with a 10th place ahead of Chloe Chambers.
The American, racing for Jenner Racing, was the fastest of the rookies throughout the weekend and fought for points, but had to settle for P11 - which still represents a major result after the limited track time in practice and qualifying.
Having found the wall on Friday, in fact, Chambers lined up on the grid on Sunday with literally 9 laps around the 5.063 km of one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar.
A contact with Juju Noda at the start limited her chances to further moving up the order, but Chambers will now look forward to her second home race at Austin.
2021 rookie of the year Nerea Martí was eyeing a positive result at Singapore in order to redeem herself after her most difficult race of her W Series career just before the summer break.
“It's my first time in Asia and I'm really looking forward to this weekend", she stated before the Singapore GP. "I've been working really hard all summer and I'm aiming to gain positions in the overall championship standings."
Unfortunately, the talented Spaniard again faced a rough weekend: an encouraging sixth place in practice was not met with an equally positive qualifying, after Martí was sent out late while the rain increased - in a similar issue as Kimiläinen.
The Quantfury driver left pitlane late due to last minute changes that were being made to her car and, once on track, there was already too much standing water to improve lap times.
During the race, Martí managed to climb three positions - despite a collision with Juju Noda on the first lap. Ultimately, she crossed the line in 12th position.
“I'm not happy with the result, I expected better here but we're going to keep working as usual, I'm still motivated for Austin" - Nerea said. "Anything can still happen and we will continue to fight."
From 14th on the grid, Emely de Heus was looking strong to gain a few more positions in the race, but the Dutchwoman dropped to the tail end of the pack in the opening laps. From there, she was still able to put on a fight and recovered to P13 - in possibly one of her best performances of the season so far.
Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli's weekend was off to a good start, with a very promising pace in practice. Unfortunately, two mistakes in the two timed laps in qualifying ended up thwarting her weekend: "Qualifying was atypical, with red flags due to the rain, but in the two laps I had at the beginning of the session I ended up making two mistakes and that cost too much", she commented. "Starting from the back of the grid was a bad thing for the race, because I knew it would be very difficult to overtake." From 16th on the grid, Tomaselli had to take evasive action to avoid Noda's accident and lost momentum: “I managed to start well, I positioned myself well, but there was a tangle between two drivers right in front of me", she continued. "I had to brake so as not to crash. This made me lose even more time, as I had to gain two positions in addition to the ones I would already have to conquer in the race." “There wasn't much to do", said the Brazilian, disappointed. "Nerea herself, who also started from the back and is always there at the front, ended up in the back pack. It was a totally different race than what I needed and planned for." "Now, it's about focusing on the US and Mexico and doing as much as possible so that I can score points to stay on the grid in 2023." Bianca Bustamante, on the other hand, was more satisfied with her weekend. The Filipino driver - one of the only two Asians racing in W Series first race in the continent - had a remarkable practice, where she ran in the top ten for most of the session until a mistake in the final minutes. "Our best practice session so far" - she stated. "Was running P10 most of the time until I pushed just a little bit too much and grazed the wall." Qualifying was a tougher one, as both Bustamante and Noda - the two youngest drivers on the grid - struggled to get within the 107% in the extreme weather, but were clearly fast enough to qualify based on practice pace. "We qualified P18 unfortunately with the super tricky rain condition I wasn’t able to put a good lap together as the session was put into a very early stop. Regardless we didn’t let that stop us from moving forward, and so we did." Pushed by local support, 17-year-old Bustamante made good passes and moved up the order - gaining one last spot on the final lap after the Safety Car restart, when she overtook the returning Ayla Agren. "Made positions on the start overtaking 3 cars which got me up to P15", she summed up. "Although I locked the brake on lap 4, dropping back down to 17th, but I kept fighting for each tenth. My pace improved in the closing laps, eventually giving me the chance to overtake one car in the final lap dash after a short safety car period." "It was such an amazing experience to race here in Singapore, the support was overwhelming and I feel I am continually growing as a driver. I can't wait to get back behind the wheel very very soon! This has been such a memorable ride", she concluded.
Replacing Tereza Babickova - who is also likely to miss the next round at COTA due to an injury sustained in last month's Austrian round of the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine - Norwegian Ayla Agren was back on the W Series grid after almost one year from the 2021 season finale.
Agren did a fine job in getting back in the car at a short notice and for one of the most physically demanding races of the calendar. Having finished 17th in the drivers' standings last year, Agren was in fact not part of W Series pre-season testing and the Singapore GP was her first race of the year in any car.
One of the biggest stories of the weekend was, obviously, Jamie Chadwick's first ever retirement in W Series. The British racing star in fact missed her first match ball in Singapore - but the point margin remains huge. Chadwick led free practice, but traffic in the final sector in her only flying lap in qualifying meant that she could not start better than eighth - in her worst starting position of the year.
Chadwick gained two positions on the opening lap, but was stuck behind Jessica Hawkins for the remainder of the race. On lap 11, the two-time champion attempted a late dive at Turn 7 - but went deep and hit the wall, in her first mistake in over three years in the series.
The picture she posted after the race best described her feelings.
Juju Noda was coming off a really strong Hungarian round before the summer break, where the Japanese 16-year-old racer scored her first points with some elbows out battles.
In September, Noda raced her Formula Regional machine at Vallelunga to a spectacular fourth place in the TopJet F2000 Trophy, in order to gain more experience in racing conditions.
Unfortunately, the Singapore GP turned out to be a really tough one for the W Series Academy driver, who was a bit too hot on the first lap of the race and hit Chloe Chambers and Nerea Marti, ending her race with suspension damage.
She was handed a two place grid drop for the next race at Austin.
The all-female championship will continue its busy month of October with the final stretch of the season: the eighth round is scheduled for October 22/23 at Circuit of the Americas, USA, followed by a double-header at Mexico City one week later.