Alice Powell has won the season opener of W Series at the Red Bull Ring in Austria ahead of Sarah Moore.
Leading a controlled race, pole sitter Powell had a strong start off the line and was able to hold position at the front of the field, despite a late safety car.
Moore comfortably held second position while being put under pressure from Scuderia W teammate, Belen Garcia. But mistakes in the opening laps put Garcia on the backfoot falling down the order and under pressure from Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen behind.
A safety car was required as Marta Garcia pulled to the side of the track and retiring in the closing ten minutes of the race. The safety car restart meant that there was a short two lap sprint to finish the race.
On the restart Kimilianen collided with Visser, sending the M. Forbes Motorsport driver spinning. Kimilainen sustained front wing damage after the incident and struggled to make it too the end, falling down the order with parts flying off the car in the final lap to finish P14. The incident between the two will be investigated after the race.
Defending champion Jamie Chadwick was sent to the back of the field after Jess Hawkins locked up and collided with the rear of Chadwick’s car into Turn 1. Chadwick struggled to make it back trough the traffic but recoverd in the Safety car restart to to finish P7. The incident will be investigated by the stewards after the race.
This weekend eighteen female drivers will climb into the cockpits of their Tatuus F3-318’s and fight it out in the first round of the W-Series 2021 season at the Red Bull Ring.
After a year out in 2020 due to the pandemic W Series, which is designed to be “the world’s most popular and inclusive female sporting series”, is ready to build on the momentum of the inaugural season along with a new partnership with F1 to propel more women into top level motorsport.
But the inaugural season in 2019 was not immune to controversy and the series is hoping to put fans criticism about indistinguishable livery designs behind them with the transition to a team based championship from 2021 including new livery designs and external partners including Veloce, Puma and Miguel Forbes.
First of all, what is W Series?
W Series in an all-female single-seater FIA F3 championship which was launched in 2018. The championship hopes to be able to turn the tide for women in motorsport after more than 45 years since the last female racer in Formula 1, Lella Lombardi.
The series, unlike other junior formulas, aims to remove barriers and provide equal opportunities as it is free-to-enter. Therefore W Series is able to offer a platform for female drivers who have been unable to gather funding throughout their career up to now.
The winner of the W Series championship receives £500,000 to go towards their motorsport career with a further £1m split between the rest of the drivers, depending on championship finishing position.
Not only is the series focused on the current field but also the female racers of the future, with the hopes that, the current stars of single seater motorsport in this years W Series will encourage more young girls to take up karting at the grassroots of the sport.
While W series’ CEO Catherine Bond Muir’s words that; “If W Series does not succeed, we would have let down a whole generation” may seem excessive – they are very much not – the future of women in F1 somewhat depends entirely on the success of this championship. We are currently not close to having a female driver in F1 and the success of this project may not be seen for years to come. However, with ever-growing audience appetite for women’s sport and increasing external partners; the future of W Series looks bright.
W Series move to a team-based championship
W series will become a team-based championship in 2022 with this year’s season operating as a period of transition.
As mentioned previously, W Series faced criticism from fans in 2019 due to indistinguishable livery designs compounded by W Series’ rules that mean drivers change cars in each round.
This season will see six teams branded by external partners with the remaining teams continuing to be branded by the championship, with new livery designs. The new owners range from existing brands, individuals as well as racing teams.
To protect the championships aim for equal opportunities for all drivers, the cars will continue to be serviced and maintained by the championship as well as remaining mechanically identical.
Among the six new teams are names such as sportswear brand Puma, businessman Miguel Forbes and Veloce racing who’s Extreme E team includes W-Series 2019 champion, Jamie Chadwick.
The Weekend format
The Weekend format for the first two rounds begin with a thirty-minute Practice session and thirty-minute qualifying on a Friday followed by the race on Saturday afternoon. The first round in Spielberg is as follows (In local time):
Practice: Friday 25th June 13:10
Qualifying: Friday 25th June 16:30
Race: Saturday 26th June 16:30
Other than the first two rounds in Austria, the exact times of sessions have not been confirmed so we are likely to see some variation of the weekend depending on the schedule of Formula 1 and other supporting categories at events.
Theo Pourchaire will start the Formula 2 Feature Race on Saturday from pole position after going quickest in group A of qualifying around the streets of Monte Carlo.
The challenge of Monaco was no problem for the ART Grand Prix driver, who dominated Thursday’s running. Despite cooler track conditions than those who qualified in the second half of the session in group B, The Frenchman posted a time of 1:20:985. Oscar Piastri will start in 3rd in the Feature race.
In a flurry of fastest laps at the end of group A qualifying, Pourchaire put in a dominating lap which was a far cry away from P11 in the first round of the season in Bahrain. Pourchaire threaded his car perfectly through the twists and turns of Monaco to come out on pole.
Joining the Frenchman on the front of the grid on Saturday will be Robert Schwartzman, who left the problems of Bahrain in his mirrors, putting in a time of 1:21:403 ahead of Dan Ticktum who qualified overall 4th.
The Group B qualifying session saw a trade-off of fastest laps between the drivers. Current championship leader Guanyu Zhou lost out in qualifying, he was 10th overall and Juri Vips in overall 5th. The Alpine and Red Bull junior drivers will be hoping to put in a solid performance in the first revered grid sprint race on Friday in which Zhou will start on Pole ahead of Felipe Drugovich.
To avoid traffic problems in Monaco, Qualifying was split into two groups. As decided before Free Practice, drivers who race with even numbers took part in the first sixteen-minute session (Group A) and those with odd numbers in the second sixteen-minute session (Group B). This does mean however that group B does often have a more rubbered in surface compared to group A.
The circuit around the streets of Monte Carlo is, traditionally, a difficult track for overtaking meaning that the results of today’s qualifying are crucial for the next three races. However, this year’s new format and the two partially reverse-grid sprint races will give more opportunities than ever before for drivers who did not qualify at the front of the grid to fight it out at the front.
You can watch the first FIA F2 sprint race of the weekend from 11:45am (Local Time) on Friday.