Naomi Schiff describes her 2019 W Series season as ‘frustrating’, but she is looking forward to a ‘shot at redemption’ having returned for the brand-new W Series Esports League. In this exclusive Q&A, the 26-year-old reveals how baby photos and a new training schedule are keeping her motivated, and which of the 10 W Series Esports League circuits will ‘separate the women from the girls’.
How has the lockdown been for you?
I live on my own in Battersea, London, UK, but I’m feeling good. My neighbours are a similar age to me, and my apartment is on the same floor as the residents’ terrace so they often come to my window for a chat. My family and friends are quite scattered. I lived in Germany for a few years, so my best friend is there and we speak every day – she’s been my quarantine partner! I have other friends in Holland, my dad is in South Africa and my sister is in Belgium. She gave birth in April, so there have been lots of baby pictures and videos on the family WhatsApp group to keep us all going. Just before lockdown I got a new trainer. He works online with lots of drivers, including Red Bull F1 star Alex Albon, so I’m feeling fit and strong. I have more of a routine than ever because he’s put me on a strict schedule. I have meals at specific times and drink a certain amount of water each day. I’m working out five days a week and really enjoying the structure. I have a goal to lose weight for when I get back into a racing car. My trainer wants me to gain muscle, so my calorie intake has increased and I’m doing lots of strength work. Then we’ll start reducing the calories and, with that extra muscle, it will be easier to burn fat. I know I’ll be feeling hungry soon so I’m enjoying the extra calories for now! I’ve got kettlebells, slam balls and resistance bands at home. Getting a spin bike is proving tricky, but I get some cardio through interval training. Away from training, I’m working from home in my role as W Series’ Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador. I’m incredibly proud to be part of the W Series workforce and movement in the drive and ongoing commitment to widen the participation of women in racing. Downtime is spent walking or reading in Battersea Park, but, with the W Series Esports League about to start, I’m spending about four hours every day on the sim.
How do you reflect on your 2019 W Series season?
It was an amazing opportunity and I would do it all again, but it was quite a frustrating season because I knew I was arriving at each race less prepared than the other girls. It was like going to battle with a spoon when everyone else had a gun, but that was completely my fault. I had an intense schedule last year – managing a racing team in two championships [not W Series], hosting a TV show in Germany and stunt driving for the James Bond film – and I arrived at races feeling tired and playing catch-up. I enjoyed the people, the car and the format, but I wasn’t at the top of my game and I don’t enjoy driving in the midfield, so it wasn’t always fun and I wish I could have made more of the opportunity. I was fourth-quickest in practice for the first race at Hockenheim which showed the potential, and I scored points at Zolder and Norisring. The reverse-grid race at Assen was where I learned the most because I was competing with new drivers. Beitske Visser was behind me early on and I had Jamie Chadwick on my tail at the end, managing to keep her behind to finish seventh. It was great fun.
How pleased are you to be back as part of the W Series Esports League?
It feels great. I didn’t have the best season last year, so this could be a shot at redemption – I want to take it seriously and do well. We don’t really know where everyone stands. Some of the girls who were at the front last season will be good on the sim, but it’s not going to translate completely. It’s a new competition, a new discipline and I hope I can redeem myself. It’s the next best thing to being on track. This is different from the sim racing I’ve done before, so I’m still understanding it and developing new habits to perform well. You use at least 50 per cent of your on-track experience on the sim – the lines and braking styles are the same, but the feel is different. If you put a normal person on the sim against a racing driver, the driver will do a lot better. But if you put a sim racer against a racing driver, the sim racer will do better initially because of that difference in feel. It’s like getting used to a different car, but I’m loving it. I practise online with Alice Powell and Fabienne Wohlwend and we chat while we’re driving. That social element in this period of isolation has been great too.
How familiar are you with the 10 circuits on the W Series Esports League calendar?
I’ve driven at Monza but I haven’t raced there. I’ve raced at Brands Hatch, Spa and Nürburgring Nordschleife. My four favourite circuits are Spa, Nordschleife, Sepang and a private circuit in Germany called Bilster Berg, so to have two of those on the W Series Esports League calendar is exciting. Nordschleife will separate the women from the girls – it’s going to be epic! I did the 24-hour race at Nürburgring in 2018, finishing second in class, and there were more than 140 cars all going at different speeds. It was crazy, but one of the best experiences of my career. The circuit is a massive challenge. There’s very little margin for error, it’s very narrow, there’s no run-off and there are so many variations of corner. Most circuits have a few corners and then a straight to let you take a breath before the next section, but at Nordschleife you feel like you’re holding your breath for eight or nine minutes [depending on the car] and all 170-odd corners!