W SERIES YEAR IN REVIEW
With the second season of the W Series firmly wrapped up, I look back to see if the increasingly-popular championship is the rare second album we all hoped it would be.
Rookie seasons can be tough. New blood with high expectations and the world's attention on their shoulders, attempting to break into a packed pool of top talent whilst praying all the while that they won't fall flat on their face. You might be picturing the likes of Yuji Ide or even Alex Yoong, and I'm not even talking about just one driver - I'm talking about 18. Rookie seasons can be likened to a first album release - a great start and a few hits doesn't guarantee a long career. But when the W Series concluded it's inaugural season in Aug 2019, the championship looked less like a one-hit-wonder and more like an Adele. Alas, after almost 2 years away, would the sophomore season be the iconic 21 follow-up we all wanted?
The irony of success is that whilst Adele's 21 is one of the greatest albums of all time, it initially followed an anxious thought that its predecessor couldn't possibly be beaten. Now nearing the end of the year 2021, the W Series follow-up season has not only managed to out-shine its first run, it did so on the largest of all stages - during a Grand Prix Weekend. Not a bad step up from following the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Championship first time out.
"What amazed me most about the series finale in Austin was the sheer buzz around the season conclusion"
Once more British driver Jamie Chadwick reigned supreme, though with the stakes heightened and the stage brighter, so was the competition. Unlike 2019, this season counted for more than just trophies, it counted for Super License points. 15 would be given to the series champion, a good 37% of the points needed to drive in Formula 1 - the ultimate goal that these women are racing towards. Jamie's win - with the additional 10 she earned in the Asian F3 Championship in 2020 - means she is now eligible to test for a team in FP1, something that any F1-hopeful would dream of. Her intense competition with Alice Powell in 2021 went down to the wire, but her victory now drastically increases the chances of seeing a woman in a F1 car much sooner, even if, for now, it is limited to a practice session.
The best of the on-track action firmly belonged to 3 drivers who, not only finished in the top 3, but entirely dominated the top step of the podium. Of the 8 races, only Emma Kimilainen was able to snatch a victory away from sparring contenders Alice Powell & Jamie Chadwick. Other notable podium sitters included Abbi Pulling who impressed after debuting 3 races into the season and Nerea Marti who was the only driver outside the top 2 to have a unbroken points finish and a bonus P3 in Hungary.
Whilst the quality of driving and confidence of the woman was clear to see, spare a thought for Beitske Visser who, at the beginning of the season, looked to be a title contender. Marred by a horrifying accident in Spa that followed an unfortunate collision at Le Mans 24 Hours, Beitske has more to show than her 8th place finish. What was concerning for Visser was the announcement of automatic qualification for the 2022 W Series Championship - just 8 of the 18 would be guaranteed a seat. Following a dreadful 12th place finish in Zandvoort, Beitske calmly recovered in time for the double header finale with a comfortable 5th place in both races securing her seat for next year.
What amazed me most about the series finale in Austin was the sheer buzz around the season conclusion. The drivers were signing autographs, bothered for TV interviews and posed for photos with fans. Fans who had shown up in abundance for F1 action stayed to watch the women's race. Throughout the year, F1 drivers including Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton have posted their support of the series to millions of their fans - a statement of intent from those at the highest level. Now where does the sport go from here? To me, the only way is up with a balancing act between the hype train that is carrying the series from race to race and the grounded attitudes that started the series in the first place. Second album flop? I don't think so. W Series, it seems, will have a long and successful career.
Photography provided by Phil Ibarrola - not for public use without permission