2021 W Series season review

Following a hugely successful inaugural campaign in 2019 and the COVID-19-enforced postponement of season two, W Series’ 2021 season was eagerly anticipated. Pre-season announcements of new drivers, sponsors, a teams-based structure, and a landmark partnership with Formula 1 increased the excitement levels.

The international single-seater motor racing championship for female drivers would break new ground in 2021, supporting the world’s premier motor racing series for eight races in six different countries across Europe and, for the first time, the Americas. W Series’ drivers seized their chance to shine on motor racing’s greatest stage, captivating crowds from Austria to Austin with their skill and determination, and producing unforgettable drama right to the end.

Here’s the story of W Series’ remarkable 2021 season…  

Round 1 | Red Bull Ring, Austria

Austria’s Styrian mountains provided a fittingly dramatic backdrop as W Series returned to the track after nearly two years away. W Series had not raced since the dramatic conclusion to the inaugural season at Brands Hatch in August 2019 which saw Jamie Chadwick crowned the maiden W Series champion. Resplendent in their new team colours and having reacquainted themselves with W Series’ Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 race cars during pre-season testing at the Anglesey Circuit, Wales, in May, the drivers were well prepared for season two.

Alice Powell made the perfect start by taking the first pole position of her W Series career. The 28-year-old continued where she left off 685 days previously – when she won the 2019 season finale at Brands Hatch – with a flawless display on Friday at the Red Bull Ring where she topped both the practice and qualifying sessions. Alice’s friend and compatriot Sarah Moore completed the front row, while defending champion Jamie qualified eighth after suffering a turbo issue.

Alice took full advantage of her pole position, leading all the way from lights out to the chequered flag – and recording the fastest lap along the way – to complete a clean sweep in Austria and make it back-to-back W Series victories. Sarah finished second to become the first openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on the podium at a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, while Liechtenstein’s Fabienne Wohlwend took advantage of a flurry of late incidents to complete the podium despite starting ninth. Early contact relegated Jamie to 16th, but she too benefitted from that frantic end to the race to complete a fine recovery drive and finish sixth.

Round 2 | Red Bull Ring, Austria                  

Having limited the damage a week earlier, Jamie carried her momentum into round two at the same circuit by topping both the practice and qualifying sessions for round two. Jamie edged out her 2019 title rival Beitske Visser by a tenth of a second in qualifying to secure the fourth pole position of her W Series career. Race one winner Alice was brought back down to earth by a brake bias issue which consigned her to 13th in qualifying.

Jamie went on to match Alice’s feat in Austria – topping every session, leading every lap and setting the fastest lap of the race – to complete a perfect weekend and seal her third W Series race victory more than two years after her last at Misano in June 2019. Jamie took advantage of Beitske stalling from second on the grid to beat W Series rookie Irina Sidorkova – who claimed her maiden W Series podium finish in only her second race – by six seconds as Emma Kimiläinen completed the podium.

With a quarter of the season gone, Jamie held a three-point lead over Sarah, who backed up her runner-up finish in round one with a fourth-placed finish a week later. Alice was a further point behind after finishing eighth, meaning British drivers held the top three spots in the championship standings ahead of the third round of the season at Silverstone in support of F1’s British Grand Prix.

Round 3 | Silverstone, UK    

W Series came home as the UK-based all-female single-seater motor racing championship headed to The Home of British Motor Racing – Silverstone. Six British drivers lined up on the starting grid for their home race, as 18-year-old Abbi Pulling made her W Series debut alongside her mentor Alice, plus Jamie, Sarah, Jessica Hawkins and Abbie Eaton.

Alice produced a stunning lap at the end of a fiercely contested qualifying session to take pole position. Alice beat Fabienne by almost four tenths of a second to claim her second pole position of the season. Championship leader Jamie would start behind title rival Alice from third on the grid, while Abbi impressed on her first competitive day of W Series action to qualify eighth.

More than 100,000 fans flocked to Silverstone on a glorious Saturday at Formula 1’s British Grand Prix weekend, and a dramatic W Series race kept them on the edges of their seats. Alice lost the lead on the opening lap, but recovered to pass Fabienne in the closing stages and take her second victory of the season. Alice finished two seconds clear of Fabienne to regain the championship lead from Jamie, who completed the podium at Silverstone where all six British drivers scored points.

Round 4 | Hungaroring, Hungary 

W Series’ topsy-turvy title tussle continued as Jamie dominated Friday’s running in Hungary to take pole position at the last race before the summer break. Jamie beat Alice by a quarter of a second as the leading contenders prepared to line up alongside each other on the front row for the first time in 2021.

With overtaking notoriously difficult at the Hungaroring and tyre preservation crucial on a track surface of more than 50 degrees Celsius, the race’s opening exchanges would be crucial. Jamie got off to a flying start and never looked back, leading all the way to the chequered flag to beat Alice by more than 10 seconds. Jamie’s second victory of the campaign saw her match Alice’s tally of wins and took her one point clear of her compatriot as the season reached halfway.

Nerea Martí finished on the podium for the first time in her W Series career and, in the process, moved into third place in the championship having improved her result at every round so far. The 19-year-old was followed home by her team-mate and fellow rookie Irina who passed Beitske at the start.

Round 5 | Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

The timing sheets may have looked the same as they did in Budapest four weeks earlier, but Friday at Spa could not have felt more different as a wet qualifying session was overshadowed by a dramatic accident involving six cars. Jamie Chadwick edged out Alice to take pole position by three quarters of a second after a 30-minute delay to the session which was red-flagged six minutes in. Sarah, Abbie, Beitske, Fabienne, Ayla Agren and Belen Garcia were involved in an accident at Eau Rouge and all six drivers were taken to the circuit’s medical centre. Four were released, but Ayla and Beitske were referred to hospital for further checks and would miss Saturday’s race due to injury.

The race was rain-affected too, with the opening 13 minutes taking place behind the safety car, but the wheel-to-wheel action was worth the wait. The pole-sitter had won each of the first four races of the season, but Emma broke that run in spectacular style. The Finn started fourth on the grid but earned the second victory of her W Series career by passing Jamie and Alice to score a dominant victory. The win moved Emma into title contention, 31 points behind championship leader Jamie who finished second to extend her advantage over Alice – who finished fourth – to seven points at the top of the standings. Marta Garcia crossed the line in third place to stand on a W Series podium for the first time this season, while reserve driver Caitlin Wood was fifth on just her second appearance of the campaign.

Round 6 | Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands

Beitske and her team-mate Ayla returned to the W Series starting grid, the former to much fanfare at Zandvoort. The Dutch seaside resort last hosted an F1 Grand Prix in 1985 and, on a warm and bright Friday, swathes of orange-clad fans packed the grandstands to cheer on Beitske at her home race.

Emma continued her fine form to grab pole position with her final lap of a dramatic qualifying session. The Finn pipped Alice by seven one-hundredths of a second to take her first pole position of the season and the second of her W Series career. It had seemed an unlikely prospect just a few hours earlier when her practice session was curtailed by a technical issue, but Emma responded in stunning fashion. Jamie was third, two tenths of a second behind Alice.

A bold overtake in Saturday’s race would give Alice her third victory of the season and a share of the lead in the W Series title race. Alice passed Emma in the early stages before beating Jamie by three seconds. The fourth win of Alice’s W Series career moved her level on 109 points with defending champion Jamie – who scored a fifth consecutive podium finish – at the top of the championship standings. Emma completed the podium, as Nerea finished fourth and Jessica fifth – the best result of her W Series career.

Round 7 | Circuit of the Americas, USA

With title contenders Alice and Jamie level on points and the top eight in the championship standings qualifying automatically for the 2022 season, it was all to play for as the drivers headed to Austin, Texas, USA, for W Series’ season-ending double-header, first races outside of Europe and first race on an F1 Grand Prix Sunday in support of the United States Grand Prix.

On a scorching Friday at COTA, Jamie made a blistering start by topping both of Friday’s practice sessions. The Briton was a quarter of a second clear of the field in the morning, and two tenths quicker than the rest in the afternoon. Struggling with her car, Alice was only 10th and fifth quickest respectively.

The theme continued in Saturday’s qualifying session with the drivers’ best time determining the starting grid for the seventh race of the season and their second-best time determining the starting grid for Sunday’s eighth and final race of the season.

Jamie would start both races from the front row. Abbi set the fastest time in qualifying to edge out Jamie by seven one-hundredths of a second and earn the first pole position of her W Series career in just her third race weekend with the series. Jamie secured pole position for race two when she would again be joined on the front row by Abbi, the youngest W Series driver on the grid at COTA at 18. Alice would start the two races from 10th and ninth on the grid respectively.

Jamie Chadwick moved a step closer towards retaining her W Series title by winning her third race of the 2021 season on Saturday afternoon. Jamie overtook pole-sitter Abbi at the opening corner and led all the way to the chequered flag to beat Emma by 1.2 seconds and take the fifth victory of her W Series career. Alice came from 10th on the grid to take the final podium spot from Abbi on the last lap of the race.

Jamie led Alice by 10 points in the championship standings going into the final race of the season, while Emma’s third consecutive podium finish ensured that she would finish third in the championship.

Round 8 | Circuit of the Americas, USA

Sixteen drivers started the final race of the season in front of a capacity crowd of 140,000 at COTA following the withdrawals of Abbie and Marta. Abbie suffered a T4 compression fracture during Saturday’s race at COTA, while Marta was unwell.

A flawless performance saw Jamie take her second consecutive race victory and become a two-time W Series champion. The 23-year-old Briton completed a perfect weekend by leading from lights out to the chequered flag and recording the fastest lap in Sunday’s race. Jamie beat Abbi by five seconds to claim her fourth victory of the season, successfully defend the title she won in 2019 and scoop the $500,000 top prize and maximum 15 FIA Super Licence points on offer.

Alice finished sixth to end the season 27 points behind Jamie in the championship standings, while Emma scored her fourth straight podium finish. Abbi continued her run of improving in every W Series race she has competed in by getting her maiden podium finish on her fourth appearance. That result saw her end the season in seventh place in the championship.

The top eight drivers qualified automatically for the 2022 W Series season, and Beitske claimed the eighth and final spot by finishing fifth in Sunday’s race. Sarah finished fourth in the race and fifth in the championship – one place behind Nerea and one ahead of Fabienne.

Champion Jamie Chadwick (GBR) celebrates by raising her trophy on the podium