With the first-ever W Season complete, fans could be forgiven for thinking that’s a wrap for 2019. But there’s plenty of activity going on behind the scenes, including work on our race cars and the all-important prep for the impending driver selection event at Almeria in less than a month.
We sat down with Racing Director, Dave Ryan for a Q&A session on what’s happening in the world of W Series.
Q: What has W Series been up to since the season finale at Brands Hatch on Sunday August 11th?
A: We’ve been extremely busy, actually. After the Brands Hatch race our inaugural champion, Jamie [Chadwick], immediately embarked on a whirlwind tour of a number of high-profile TV shows – Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, The One Show and the like – and, while she was being whizzed around various TV studios by W Series’ comms/PR team, I was busy working with our colleagues at Hitech, who are now conducting a post-season overhaul of all our Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 race cars, which work has to be completed in time for 12 of them be reassembled, prepped, re-vinyled and shipped to southern Spain ready for a three-day 2020 driver selection test at the Circuito de Almeria, which will kick off on Monday September 16th and which will involve each of them covering some 400 miles [644km].
Q: How many drivers will you be testing at Almeria?
A: As we made clear in the press release we issued on Friday August 16th, the Almeria test will be for new drivers who have applied to race in the 2020 W Series season. We won’t be testing any of the drivers who raced with us in 2019, although we’ll probably take one or two of our established 2019 drivers with us so that they can post a competitive lap as a benchmark against which we can appraise our aspiring newcomers. Having said that, just as we did when we last ran a test at Almeria [March 2019], we’ll be looking for a lot more than just lap times. Yes, granted, sheer speed is of course important, but we’ll also be looking for all the other elements of a racing drivers’ skill set.
Q: How many aspiring newcomers have applied?
A: Altogether we’ve had more than 40 new applications. Inevitably some look quite promising and others rather less so, so there’s no way we’ll test anything like 40. We’ll more likely test about a third of that number. The reason for that is that, whereas prior to the 2019 W Series season we were looking to find and appraise drivers about whom we didn’t necessarily know very much at that stage, things are very different now. The first W Series season has been a roaring success – it was hugely popular and it was televised to more than 300 million households in more than 60 countries globally – so most female drivers have made themselves known to us by now in one way or another. So we’re not proactively recruiting, if you like.
Q: So what will you be doing at Almeria then?
A: We’ll be embarking on a rigorous driver selection programme, the object of which will be to make sure that W Series will in 2020 be contested by the very best female racing drivers in the world. So some of the 40 hopefuls who’ve applied this year won’t even be invited to Almeria, sadly, simply because we haven’t got space for all of them and we can already see from their racing CVs that they haven’t got what it takes. That may sound harsh, but that’s racing, and racing can be harsh sometimes, as can all top-class sport. Besides, it’s actually a good thing, because it’s a by-product of W Series’ increasing competitiveness, and that’s as it should be. That’s progress. So I’d say to any driver who’s thinking of applying to race for W Series in 2020: obviously you have to be female and you have to have an FIA International C licence or better, but such is the quality of our existing and aspiring drivers that it really isn’t worth your while applying unless you’ve also got recent racing experience at a pretty decent level. So to those who haven’t raced for three or four years but have applied anyway, I’d say: get some racing experience over the next 12 months then apply again this time next year for the 2021 W Series season.
Q: Is there an age limit for applications?
A: There’s a lower age limit, which is 16, but there’s no upper age limit. Having said that, as teenage prodigies such as Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have shown recently, even Formula 1 is increasingly becoming a young man’s game. So, in the same way, as W Series becomes ever more competitive, it too will inevitably become a young woman’s game. However, to be clear, we certainly won’t disregard applications from drivers in their 30s – indeed one of the best drivers of the 2019 W Series season was 30-year-old Emma [Kimilainen] and she’ll surely be one of the drivers to beat next year too.
Q: Could you give us a clue as to the identities of any of your new applicants?
A: No, sorry, no can do. But we’ll announce them before too long, don’t worry.
Q: And who’s your tip to win the 2020 W Series championship?
A: By the end of the 2019 season half a dozen drivers – Jamie and Emma, whom I’ve already mentioned, and also Beitske [Visser], Alice [Powell], Marta [Garcia] and Fabienne [Wohlwend] – had established themselves as consistently competitive, and during the season all six of them either won races or scored pole positions or indeed achieved both those things. So they’ll surely all be in the mix when we go racing again in 2020. In addition, a few other drivers either showed flashes of brilliance – Miki [Koyama] for example – or finished the season an impressive margin better than they started it – Jess [Hawkins] for instance. And that last quality – the ability to improve – is a key element of any good driver’s skill set, and at Almeria next month we’ll definitely be looking for that attribute among a number of other important attributes. Obviously it would be great if a number of our new applicants were to show real promise when we come to test them, and it would be wonderful if some of them were able to mix it with the established W Series stars I’ve listed above when it comes to next season’s races. But that’ll be tough. That’s as it should be though. Racing is a tough game – always was, always will be.