W Series Racing Director Dave Ryan gives you the low-down on the W Series Esports League’s 10 great circuits.

A former speedway racer, Dave Ryan left his native New Zealand in his teens and joined McLaren in Colnbrook, Berkshire, UK, as a Formula 1 mechanic in 1974. Initially working with the solid German driver Jochen Mass, then with that hugely talented but languidly posh Brit, James Hunt, Dave was soon promoted to Chief Mechanic and then to Sporting Director. By the time he left McLaren 35 years later, he had worked closely with world champions Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen and Lewis Hamilton.

He then set up his own race team, Von Ryan Racing, winning races in the Blancpain Endurance series and British GT series. After a brief return to Formula 1, as Racing Director of the Manor F1 team, he became one of the founding pillars of W Series, as Racing Director, in which position he remains.

So he has seen a hell of a lot of racing in his time, and indeed he has been involved with wins at eight of the 10 circuits on which the W Series Esports League will race this summer. Here is his verdict on all 10.

Monza – the superfast cathedral of speed

“First built 98 years ago, Monza drips history. As you drive in, cross the old banking, park up, then walk to the paddock, you can almost feel the presence of the ghost of Alberto Ascari, the great Ferrari driver who died there, testing a Ferrari 750 Monza, in shirt, tie, jacket and borrowed helmet, in 1955. The corner at which his fatal accident occurred, which is now a chicane, was renamed in his honour: Variante Ascari.

“Monza was then, and is still, superfast. Indeed it’s the fastest circuit on the modern Formula 1 calendar. It’s hard on engines therefore – drivers are typically flat-out on the throttle for 80 per cent of the lap – but its seven corners can be tricky too. Because of the very high straight-line speeds, there are quite a few very heavy braking areas. 

“In 2018 Kimi Räikkönen bagged the pole with a lap of 1min 19.119sec, at an average of 163.785mph [263.587km/h], the fastest lap ever recorded in a world championship Formula 1 event.

“Monza will host the first races of the W Series Esports League, and it will be interesting to see how accurate the simulation will be. If it’s authentic, I expect our drivers to have to perfect the art of slipstreaming, which isn’t as easy as you might think.”

COTA – Austin – very taxing and very Texas

“The newest home of the United States Grand Prix, the Circuit of the Americas, usually abbreviated to COTA, in Austin, Texas, is a fine racetrack. It was opened in 2012, it hosts or has hosted Formula 1, IndyCar, the American Le Mans Series, the World Endurance Championship, the IMSA Sports Car Championship, even Aussie V8s; oh and MotoGP [bikes] too, of course.  

“It was designed by the prolific circuit architect Hermann Tilke, who also designed the state-of-the-art circuits in Sepang, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Bahrain, Mokpo and New Delhi, all of which host or have hosted Formula 1 Grands Prix. 

“An anti-clockwise circuit of 20 turns, characterised by its very steep uphill start-finish straight leading to a hairpin [Turn One], followed shortly by a very challenging sequence formed by Turns Three, Four, Five and Six, COTA is popular with all drivers and will be a stern test of ours. It’ll host the second lot of W Series Esports League races, and it’s a more taxing drive than Monza, which will have hosted our first lot.”

Brands Hatch – demands courage and precision

“Brands Hatch is a truly classic circuit, built shortly after World War Two in a naturally undulating Kentish hollow. The result is a serious test for drivers, demanding courage and precision, and Paddock Hill, a long, fast, awkwardly cambered right-hander, is one of the world’s great corners.

“Brands was the home of the British Grand Prix between 1964 and 1986, hosting the race on the even-numbered years while Silverstone did the honours on the odd numbers, and almost all the greats won there – Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Jochen Rindt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jody Scheckter, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Alan Jones and Nigel Mansell among others.

“The W Series drivers know the place well – our season finale was held there last year – and I reckon it should be a good, testing and entertaining W Series Esports League venue.”

Interlagos – Ayrton Senna’s spiritual home

“The current 2.7-mile [4.3km] Interlagos circuit isn’t quite as majestic as the 4.9-mile [8.0km] original, which was the home of the Brazilian Grand Prix until 1989, but it’s still a mighty racetrack. 

“Located in one of the less salubrious districts of São Paulo, it consists of two straights and 15 turns. The left-right Senna S-bend at the end of the start-finish straight offers the best overtaking opportunities, while the fast downhill left-hander, Turn 12, or Mergulho, always sorts out the men from the boys in Formula 1 and may well sort out the women from the girls in the W Series Esports League.

“Interlagos is now named after Carlos Pace, the local hero who won the Brazilian Grand Prix there in a Brabham BT44B in 1975 and was killed in a light aircraft accident not far away two years later. The circuit means a hell of a lot to all Brazilian drivers, and I well remember how thrilled Ayrton Senna was when he won there for us [McLaren] in 1991 and again in 1993.

“W Series’ one Brazilian driver, Bruna Tomaselli, has big boots to fill!”

Spa-Francorchamps – the Formula 1 drivers’ favourite

“Ask most Formula 1 drivers to name their favourite circuit and the majority of them will answer with one short syllable – Spa – and it’s easy to see why. 

“As historic as Monza – it hosted its first race in 1922 – it’s a mighty racetrack laid out over an undulating Belgian hillside and running to 4.4 miles [7.0km] in length. Some of its corners are truly legendary – Pouhon, Stavelot, Blanchimont and, most famous of all, Eau Rouge. 

“The list of past Formula 1 winners is a veritable Who’s Who of racing royalty – Rudolf Caracciola, Hermann Lang, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen and of course W Series’ own David Coulthard, who won there in 1999, a great day for us McLaren guys that I remember very fondly. More recently, Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won there too.

“Spa should be a real highlight of the W Series Esports League, and I know that it’s a circuit on which all our drivers will be particularly keen to do well.”

Watkins Glen – home of Seneca Lodge and ‘the 90’

“The United States Grand Prix has been run on a large number of circuits over the years, none better than Watkins Glen, which hosted the race 20 times, between 1961 and 1980. 

“Jim Clark and Graham Hill both won there three times, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Carlos Reutemann twice each. I loved going there, and I have wonderful memories of staying, and celebrating McLaren wins, at the legendary Seneca Lodge.  

“The Glen has been comparatively little changed in layout since those glory days, which means that it’ll pose a real test for our W Series Esports League drivers. It’s fast, it’s hilly, it rewards both accuracy and bravery, and it consists of 11 tricky corners and no very long straights, the so-called Inner Loop chicane breaking up what used to be a superfast straight between Turns Four and Five. 

“Turn One, ‘the 90’, is a very important corner to get right because it leads to the fastest section of the lap, which takes in Turns Two, Three and Four, and the back straight that leads to the aforementioned Inner Loop. The turn-in for ‘the 90’ is difficult and, from what I remember, you need to ride the apex kerb to be quick there.”

Suzuka – the famous figure-of-eight

“Modern Formula 1’s famous figure-of-eight racetrack, designed by John Hugenholtz and opened in 1962, Suzuka is a fantastic test for cars and drivers alike.

“Measuring 3.6 miles [5.8km] in length, it contains 18 turns of which the esses formed by Turns Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven are particularly difficult to get right. The two Degner Curves are deceptively difficult too, while the long double-apex Spoon Curve is an easy place to lose time. 

“Turn 15, the legendary 130R, was at one time one of the most daunting corners on the Formula 1 calendar, but it’s now what drivers call ‘easy-flat’ and it’ll therefore be easy-flat in the W Series Esports League too.”

Mount Panorama – thunder Down Under

“A brilliant mountainside switchback 3.9 miles [6.2km] long, Mount Panorama is an old-school circuit made up of public roads that are temporarily closed twice a year for the famous Bathurst 1000 and Bathurst 12 Hours races.

“Its elevation variation is remarkable, its highest peak 571 feet [174m] above its lowest point, and some of the grades are seriously steep: one-in-six in places.

“Mount Panorama has never staged a Formula 1 Grand Prix and surely never will, although non-championship Australian Grands Prix have been run there four times [1938, 1947, 1952 and 1958]. Modern Formula 1 cars have been demo-driven there though, mostly recently in 2011 when Jenson Button lapped the famous circuit in 1min 48.880sec in a 2008 McLaren MP4-23. The current official lap record is held by the German driver Christopher Mies, who stopped the clocks at 1min 59.291sec in an Audi R8 Ultra in 2018, which shows just how fast Jenson’s 2011 lap was. 

“W Series has only one Aussie driver, Caitlin Wood, and she knows Mount Panorama well. It’ll be interesting to see how she tackles the W Series Esports League version.”

Nürburgring – the green hell

“The Nürburgring Nordschleife last hosted a Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1976, the year of Niki Lauda’s fiery accident there, but many other top-class international motorsport events have been held there since then, and quite a few still are.

“Nicknamed ‘the green hell’, in cryptic homage to the daunting lap that winds its way over 12.9 miles [20.8km] and around 170-odd corners through the forested slopes of the Eifel mountains, it’s by some margin the most difficult of the 10 W Series Esports League circuits, not only to drive but also to learn.

“Many manufacturers of high-speed road cars use the track for testing, and in recent years modern hypercars have recorded lap times of less than seven minutes. In July 2018 Marco Mapelli, an ex-racing driver now employed by Lamborghini as a test driver, and a noted Nordschleife expert, drove a Lamborghini Aventador LP770-4 SVJ around the famous track in 6min 44.970sec, but the car was running on non-standard Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres designed specifically for track testing. And it’s a seriously potent machine, its 759bhp V12 engine capable of propelling it to a maximum speed of 218mph: much faster than a W Series Tatuus race car.

“It will be interesting to see what kind of lap times our drivers will manage in the W Series Esports League: probably somewhere between seven and eight minutes, I reckon, but it’s hard to be sure at this stage.”

Silverstone – the grand finale

“Silverstone, the home of British motorsport, the site of the first ever world championship Formula 1 race 70 long years ago [May 13th 1950], will be the venue for the grand finale of the 2020 W Series Esports League.

“The Silverstone circuit has changed a lot over the past three-score-years-and-ten. In 1950 it measured 2.9 miles [4.6km] in length and contained just eight turns: Woodcote, Copse, Maggotts, Becketts, Chapel, Stowe, Club and Abbey. The modern circuit is a bit longer – at 3.6 miles [5.8km] – but it’s infinitely more complex, comprising 18 turns, some of which share the names of those of the 1950 track but none of which have much else in common. 

“It used to be an extremely fast lap and it’s still a pretty fast one – Lewis Hamilton once compared nailing a pole lap there to flying a fighter jet – and the Maggotts-Becketts sequence is one of the best corner combos in the world. Stowe is likely the best overtaking spot, while the fast right-hander at Copse is probably the corner that has changed least over the years.

“Silverstone is a fitting venue for the final races of the W Series Esports League, and I for one really couldn’t tell you which of our drivers will be the overall series winner by the time we’re all done and dusted there.”