With our 2020 line-up almost complete, we sat down with W Series Racing Director, Dave Ryan for an exclusive Q&A on the selection process and next steps.
Just over a week ago, on October 21st, W Series announced the names of 18 of the 20 drivers who will compete in the 2020 W Series championship. Why did you not announce all 20?
“We tested and appraised a number of drivers at Almeria [southern Spain] last month, and selected six of them to race in the 2020 W Series championship: Ayla [Agren], Abbie [Eaton], Belen [Garcia], Nerea [Marti], Irina [Sidorkova] and Bruna [Tomaselli]. With the exception of Ayla and Bruna, who entered but weren’t selected for the 2019 W Series championship, they were all newcomers to W Series. We were impressed by them all, and we’re now looking forward to finding out just how good they’ll be next year when it comes to coping with the pressure of competing against our established high-performers.
“However, those six weren’t the only drivers who impressed us at Almeria last month, but some of the others have scheduling issues that we wanted to allow them – and us – more time to work out. So they may race with us next year, but they may not. As I say, it depends on the scheduling issues I’ve mentioned. To be clear, and to clarify some media speculation on the subject, I’m not now referring to Katherine [Legge] or Michelle [Gatting]. A very experienced driver, Katherine performed extremely well at Almeria, as you’d expect, but, despite being favourably impressed by the quality of the W Series operation, she decided to remain focused on her USA-based racing programme in 2020 and as such hasn’t put her name forward to race with us next year. Michelle performed extremely well at Almeria too, but also elected not to race with us next year but instead to concentrate on other series.
“Last but not least, the eight drivers who failed to finish in the top 12 in the 2019 W Series championship were all considered for inclusion in the 2020 W Series championship, and it’s possible that one or two of them may yet be reintroduced. It all depends on the scheduling issues I’ve already mentioned.”
On October 21st you included Jamie Chadwick on the published list of drivers who would compete in the 2020 W Series championship. Some social media critics have suggested that, as the 2019 champion, she should not have been permitted to defend her crown.
“It’s an interesting point, and we spent some time debating it internally prior to the start of the 2019 W Series season. But we decided that, since the 2019 W Series season had been set up rigorously to address a specific need – namely to provide racing opportunities for a group of female drivers many of whose careers had hit the buffers owing to lack of opportunity rather than lack of talent – it would defeat the object of our ambition if we were to withhold from our first ever champion the chance to defend her crown. In a sense, in the absence of suitable race drives that a W Series champion’s prize money [US$500,000] would have made available, to do so would have been to punish her for her success.
“Having said that, as W Series becomes more established as a crucial step via which female drivers can ascend the ladder of professional motor racing, which is already occurring I’m glad to say, I hope that our best drivers – our winners and champions – will find suitable race drives in more senior championships than W Series, and perhaps their accumulated prize monies will enable them to afford those suitable race drives too. Indeed, if that were to happen, it would represent compelling proof of the value and validity of W Series, because it would mean that W Series had equipped a group of female drivers with the necessary skill-set with which they could compete against male drivers in the likes of the International Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships, which support Formula 1 races.
“I should also add that, from the 2020 W Series season onwards, W Series has been granted FIA Super Licence points eligibility, and one of the criteria attached to that is that the winning driver of the W Series championship may not compete in consecutive W Series championships – and that restriction will apply going forward. But, just to be clear, that didn’t apply to the 2019 W Series champion [Jamie Chadwick] since no FIA Super Licence points were awarded in respect of the 2019 W Series championship, but it does mean that whoever is W Series champion in 2020 will not be permitted to take part in the 2021 W Series championship, and so on.
“So, in summary, we haven’t yet discussed exactly how we’ll decide the entry criteria of the 2021 W Series championship, but I’ll say two things now. Our 2020 W Series champion won’t be competing in it, and we’ll surely include in it a mix of our best drivers from the 2020 W Series championship plus the best of a new group of drivers whom we’ll select using a method or methods that we haven’t yet worked out.”
How do you know that you will be in receipt of enough new applicants to race in the 2021 W Series championship?
“Women’s sport is gaining in popularity, in terms of participating as well as in terms of spectating, all the time. Motor racing is part of that positive sea-change. In Almeria last month we tested and appraised a number of drivers, and two of the six we selected to compete in the 2020 W Series championship were teenagers: Irina [Sidorkova], 16, and Nerea [Martin], 17. There will always be new youngsters coming through, and that’s exactly as it should be. But, as I say, we haven’t yet discussed exactly how we’ll decide the entry criteria of the 2021 W Series championship, and it’s actually too early to do so now.”
When will you announce the race schedule for the 2020 W Series championship?
“We’ll announce it in due course. I can’t be more precise than that because there are a number of variables on which our decisions depend, which in truth is often the case when it comes to finalising race schedules. I worked in Formula 1 for the best part of 40 years, so I know a lot about that. We’ll still race alongside our great partners DTM, for the majority or perhaps even the totality of our race fixtures, but, as I say, we’ll make the appropriate announcement in due course.”
Will the drivers who compete in the 2020 W Series championship be allowed to race in other series?
“Yes, but only with specific permission, just as many of the drivers who competed in the 2019 W Series championship were allowed to race in other series, but also only with specific permission. W Series’ ethos isn’t one of segregation, which is why we were so delighted to see some of our drivers performing so well against male drivers in other series over the past few months. We’ll allow our drivers to test in other series too, also only with specific permission, including tests over and above any pre-season tests that W Series may or may not arrange early next year. We want our drivers to do whatever they can to make themselves better, faster, fitter, more competitive and more professional – that’s the point. However, in the interests of fairness, no W Series driver may race or test in a restricted period beginning four weeks prior to the first W Series race of the season on a circuit included in the forthcoming W Series championship until after the W Series race at the circuit concerned has taken place.”
Will the 2019 W Series championship include any reverse-grid races of the type that proved so popular at Assen [Netherlands] last season?
“Maybe… maybe not… again it’s too early to say.”
Which drivers do you think will be the front-runners in the 2020 W Series championship?
“Well, I’d be surprised if the five drivers who won races in the 2019 W Series championship aren’t very competitive again next year – Jamie [Chadwick], Beitske [Visser], Alice [Powell], Marta [Garcia] and Emma [Kimilainen], whom I’ve listed carefully in 2019 W Series championship order in case you were wondering – but I think it’s possible that some of the drivers who made good progress last season may also get a look-in and I also reckon some of our new entrants may possibly shine too. But one of the great things about any sport is its unpredictability, and I’m sure we’ll therefore see some surprises next season. In truth, yet again, it’s simply too early to say.”