Can W Series Return? It Must.

Guest blog by Thiemo Albers-Daly

W Series prematurely ended its 2022 season following its seventh round of nine on the twisty and challenging streets of Singapore. It had announced in early October that they’d had to cancel the final three rounds of 2022 due to a lack of funds that they were supposed to receive from a large investor which would have secured their foreseeable future. While W Series is not dead, the outlook is not great as the organization looks ahead to securing enough funding for the entire 2023 season, where it would once again sit on the same race weekends as Formula 1.

It’s a shame for a plethora of reasons, one of which being that for the last two rounds, Jamie Chadwick hasn’t won a race with her closest ever competitors in W Series, Alice Powell and Beitske Visser, claiming victories instead, sparking hope into what had been a very one sided and dominant 2022 campaign. Powell finished second to Chadwick in 2021 with Visser doing the same back in W Series’ inaugural season in 2019. While Jamie had a monumental lead in the Driver’s Standings, there was still a chance that one of these two could stop her from claiming a third W Series title in either Austin or Mexico as W Series entered its final three rounds (Mexico would have served as a double header finale).

But that’s all ifs, buts and maybes now. Instead, we have to focus on the present as well as what’s next. What happened in the 2022 W Series season? What are the chances that W Series returns in glorious fashion in 2023 and what changes should be made to the series to ensure its longevity? If it doesn’t or regardless of this, what will happen to all the drivers and where might we see them all next?

Chloe Chambers

W Series kicked off its 2022 season in Miami alongside F1 for a double header that saw the return of many familiar faces and served as the debut for four and half rookie drivers. I say four and a half because Abbi Pulling made her full season W Series appearance after popping up for the final race in Austin last year where she mightily impressed everyone by claiming Pole Position straight out of the box.

The big question coming into Miami was – is there anybody that can beat Jamie Chadwick? While there were a plentitude of possibilities, the answer was inevitably no. Chadwick stormed to victory in both races that weekend, doing so in such fashion that it looked like it was being done with relative ease. Behind her though, Jessica Hawkins claimed her first ever podium in W Series while Visser took third. Powell finished in second place with Nera Marti taking the last spot on the podium in the second race of the weekend.

Barcelona saw Abbi Pulling and Alice Powell relentlessly chase down Chadwick from start to finish but to no avail. With the cars as they currently are, there’s just no getting past a driver of Jamie’s caliber when she’s in the zone. Silverstone saw Chadwick win at home in what was arguably the best race of the season with action up and down the field. From the CortDAO duo, to Alice Powell being outsmarted before the race even began by her protege Pulling who went on to finish third with Emma Kimilinaen making a welcome return to the W Series podium as she came home in second place, there was something here for just about everyone.

CortDAO

France saw drama from the off with Abbie Eaton launched out of the race in a matter of meters and the rookies near the back tussling hard with one another. Chadwick again won by a comfortable margin but it was Belen Garcia in second this time for her first ever W Series podium with Marti once again in third.

Hungary was where the pressure began to be turned up for Chadwick as Alice Powell became resurgent and there was nothing that Chadwick could do to stop her from taking the win. Although Chadwick finished second, it proved to everyone that she wasn’t invincible and could still be beaten and that perhaps, the fight for the title wasn’t over yet. Visser finished third, keeping her title hopes alive too.

Singapore then turned the drama up to eleven as a mistake from Chadwick in a very soggy and limited qualifying session saw her start down the order in seventh place. Remarkably, not only was Jamie not able to make her way up the order when racing got underway, but an ambitious lunge by the Brit concluded in her taking herself out of the race – remarkably her first ever W Series retirement. Visser instead romped home to victory – her first since 2019. Powell was there again in second with a very strong recovery drive for Marta Garcia who finished in third after starting on Pole for the first time.

The final three races of the 2022 season looked set to be an epic showdown between the three giants of W Series. But alas, it was not to be. Could this early end for the W Series season be a blessing in disguise though? It’s too soon to tell but there is an extraordinary amount of potential here that if handled well, could see W Series come back even bigger and better than ever before in 2023 and make up for the disappointment of the 2022 season ending early.

Formula 1 doesn’t start until March and the second race on the calendar in Saudi Arabia is the perfect place for W Series to kick off its 2023 Campaign. Ahead of the first F1 race there in 2021, Abbi Pulling and Aseel Al Hamad became the first women to drive a Formula 1 car in Saudi Arabia as part of a demonstration held by Alpine. While this is all very well and good, now is the time to build on that and for Saudi Arabia to put its money where its mouth is and keep promoting women in motorsport as well as the opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia to pursue that dream, should they wish to do so. Having W Series debut here would be massive for the sport, for Saudi Arabia and for Formula 1 – who have been lacking of late in their mission to make the dream of a female F1 driver into a reality. Remember We Race As One?

From there, W Series should go to Shanghai – another new market that could open up a world of investment opportunities for W Series as well as being a brand new track for all of the drivers to get to grips with. Monaco would follow because after three seasons, it’s about darn time the W Series drivers got to experience the thrill of racing around Monte Carlo. Their smaller cars would also provide for more overtaking opportunities and show F1 that there’s nothing wrong with Monaco when it comes to great racing, you just need to have smaller cars in order for that to happen. There’s also a very real chance that because of this, the W Series race would be more entertaining than the main event of Formula 1.

Silverstone and Spa would make up rounds four and five of the 2023 calendar simply because they are classic tracks and each W Series race held at both venues in the past have been quite memorable and enjoyable. After the summer break, W Series could then head back to Singapore but actually have the race take place at night this time so as to fully immerse the series into why people watch and love the original night race. Japan would follow after they were originally meant to go there in 2022 with Austin and Mexico serving as rounds eight and nine for the same reason. The W Series season would then conclude…in Las Vegas. Yes, really.  

While I’m not terribly excited about the prospect of F1 in Las Vegas, it’s still going to happen and W Series should capitalize on this. It will be a street circuit with a ridiculous number of people watching trackside and from all around the world. It’ll make the Miami Grand Prix look miniscule in comparison and will rival the SuperBowl in terms of scale and entertainment. Las Vegas has the potential to catapult the W Series drivers (as well as the brand) into a whole other stratosphere which should see money and opportunities to race in other categories, e.g. Formula 3, Indy Lights, etc. pouring in like never before. Is it a gamble? Sure. But it is Vegas. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. With motorsport exploding in the U.S in recent years and showing no signs of slowing down, it seems like a no brainer. Everyone makes money from it and as F1 has continuously proven recently, cash is king.

W Series

The longer gap that now exists until the proposed start of the 2023 season also gives W Series time to evolve in a positive and exciting direction. One of these would be the integration of a DRS or Push to Pass System. Alice Powell spoke of the need for this back in Barcelona when neither her nor Abbi Pulling could get close enough to challenge Chadwick for the win. Other drivers have also expressed their desire for this and seeing as F1, F2, F3 and IndyCar all have one of these, there isn’t really a reason to say no.

Being on the same weekend as F1 should also mean that W Series take on Pirelli tyres with a mandatory pit stop in each race – akin to Formula 2 – which would spice the racing up as strategy and tyre degradation came more into play. W Series should also set a specific number of laps for its races instead of having timed races – it’s one of the few things I don’t like about Formula E but at least there, you can understand why they do it. Speaking of the all electric racing series, W Series should borrow one of their best ideas in Fan Boost. It would allow the viewers at home to get more involved and potentially impact the outcome of the race by giving their favourite driver a limited speed/power advantage during the race. It works a treat in Formula E and I believe it would do the same in W Series.

Outside of the racing, F1 and the FIA need to get more involved and guarantee a promotion into Formula 3 for the top two drivers in the Championship come the end of the season. W Series is seen as a step on the ladder to F1 but there is currently practically nothing to help drivers proceed from it into Formula 3. If for whatever reason, those drivers don’t have enough funding to make that happen, the FIA should make up the difference. It’s not like they don’t have the money. Heck, you could use the money that Hamilton and Vettel have been fined this year for various silly reasons and probably sponsor a driver on that.

The top ten drivers in the Championship should also have affiliations with F1 and/or F2 teams, either to help them progress further up the road to F1 or into other forms of motorsport. This could be through getting time in the cars through test sessions, simulator work, private tests, etc. It’s not tricky to figure out.

Finally, the Constructors’ Championship should be fleshed out more so that those at home actually care about that Championship. In 2022, it hasn’t seemed relevant at all. We don’t know nearly enough about the teams and that feels like a wasted opportunity.

All of this can feel like criticism against W Series – and it sort of is, but in a constructive way and not necessarily at W Series itself. I still love W Series, but to paraphrase Maxwell Lord from ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, “W Series is good…but it can be better.” And it shouldn’t just be up to W Series to make that happen – especially when so many individuals and companies are saying how much they want to help or give W Series praise but then haven’t actually yet stepped in to help W Series out in its hour of need. It’s disappointing and if it stays this way, is an embarrassingly bad miss at one of the biggest open goals in sporting history.

What happens if W Series is dead though?

Every driver on the W Series grid has proved their worth in one way or another this season and regardless of W Series’ future, they deserve to find a home somewhere else in the motorsport world. Here’s where I think everyone should go if the worst happens.

Jamie Chadwick’s future deserves to be a proper shot in Formula 1. She has ties with Williams and is now a Three Time W Series Champion with experience in Formula Regional and Extreme E. But if Formula 3 or Formula 2 don’t see the common sense in signing her, perhaps her recent Indy Lights test is a sign of where she should go next and how she can take an alternate route into Formula 1.

Visser has prior experience in ELMS alongside superstars Tatiana Calderon and Sophia Florsch. Perhaps her future should be there or in WEC. I could see the same for Alice Powell (alongside continuing to mentor Abbi Pulling for Alpine and providing excellent commentary and presenting for Channel 4’s F1 show). Belen Garcia also made her ELMS debut in Portimao recently and I could see Jessica Hawkins and Ayla Agren making the jump over to Endurance Racing too and proving to everyone that it’s not just the Iron Dames that can come into a male dominated sport and succeed. They’ve helped to open the door wide now and these awesome women should come on through.

Formula 3 wise, I’d love to see Abbi Pulling, Nerea Marti and maybe Bianca Bustamante there. Marta Garcia and Fabienne Wohlwend. would also be brilliant additions to the F3 grid too but I could also see both in Formula E, perhaps flying at least partly under the CortDAO banner and breaking even more barriers for women in an arena where there’s surprisingly not been any female drivers yet. There’s easily more potential in that dynamic duo then there is in other drivers on the FE grid.

I could also see Bustamante going stateside and competing in US Formula 4 alongside Chloe Chambers, perhaps with an eye on Indy Lights down the line. Sarah Moore would also be a driver I’d be fascinated to see in an Indy Lights test at the very least.

Back in Europe, now that they’ve broken into it, I could see Juju Noda driving in FRECA along with Emely de Heus and Tereza Babikova. Still being fresh out of the box in terms of their motorsport careers, this could be great for them and might see them alongside fellow Arizona W Series test driver Lola Lovinfosse at some point in the not too distant future.

As for Emma Kimilainen, I could easily see her in Extreme E with Kimi Raikkonen in a brand new team. Or in Nitro RX or American Flat Track racing. I just get those vibes from her. Abbie Eaton too would be great in Extreme E or Touring Cars, she’s got the skills to thrive in both. Bruna Tomaselli would be interesting to see in WRC if she fancied something a bit different and the same can be said for Eaton and Hawkins too as well as Nitro RX. Brilliantly (and perhaps frustratingly, given the lack of call ups these women are getting), there’s so many different possibilities for these drivers and none of them should be relegated to the sidelines.

Of the drivers that have appeared in W Series since its inception, thirteen are not currently on the grid. But despite not remaining with W Series, the category either helped as a stepping stone between series, kept them relevant in motorsport at a time when it’s still notoriously tricky to stay in and move forward as a woman or has allowed them to step onto the international stage for the first time. Regardless, W Series has helped all of them and that’s the bottom line here.

Miki Koyama went on to compete in Formula Regional in Japan and became Champion. Sarah Bovy has since joined ELMS and was part of the all female team that not only got Pole Position at the final round of the 2022 season in Portimao – but also won the race, a first for the history books. Naomi Schiff used her knowledge as a racing driver to become a brilliant presenter both for W Series and for Sky F1. Vicky Piria and Esmee Hawkey went into Endurance Racing. W Series also gave the likes of Tasmin Pepper, Sabre Cook, Caitlin Wood, Vivien Keszthelyi, Gosia Rdest and Shea Holbrook the chance to go racing when they probably wouldn’t have otherwise been given the chance to. The fact that W Series is fully funded is a major part in this and allowed their talent behind the wheel during pre season testing to shine through and enable them to secure a seat for at least part of a season. Megan Gikes transferred her knowledge of single seating racing into the GBF4 Championship this year and Irina Sidorkova proved that she is an incredibly exciting talent and it’s a shame that due to circumstances beyond her control, we’ve not been able to see her thrive in W Series and beyond. A future in F3 at least was surely on the cards for her at least with how well she was performing.

But it’s not just the drivers that will be out of a job if W Series doesn’t return. It will be all of those hard working individuals that operate tirelessly behind the scenes to make W Series happen. Many of them have moved from what can now definitely be viewed as more secure jobs in motorsport because they saw the obvious potential in W Series and the incredible trajectory that it was  – and hopefully still is –  on.

W Series is as much a showcase for women in motorsport who’ve been looking for that vital opportunity to truly establish themselves in their given field as it is for the drivers. From presenting and journalism to engineering and data analytics and everything in between, these are all vital roles which are also embedded in the very fabric of other forms of motorsport, such as Formula 1, ELMS, Extreme E and IndyCar.

Lauren Hughes, Cleo Collins, Hayley Fawcett, Lilly Brame, Catherine Bond Muir, Charlotte Phelps, Amy Reynolds, Linsay Fabienne and Anna Bradshaw are just some of the names you should all be aware of while reading this that have played important roles up and down the W Series Paddock and there are many others too.

It’s important that if W Series doesn’t come back, all of these people are not forgotten about and continue to get the chances to prove themselves in their respective fields. Some F1 teams are already making steps in the right direction to reflect the variety of people who want to and deserve to work in the industry. Mercedes comes to mind, as does Alpine which is on track to have a 50/50 equal gender split between those that work for the outfit. We’ve also been made aware of more women playing crucial roles in F1, particularly  this year, such as Hannah Schmitz for Red Bull and Ruth Buscombe for Alfa Romeo. Positive change is coming and irrespective of W Series’ fate, this needs to continue.

When W Series was first created, many people questioned its existence. Segregated racing frustrated many and for understandable reasons. But given the complete lack of progress on bringing women closer to just getting the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car, never mind actually getting signed by a team for a full season, it became necessary.  

Ultimately, W Series should only ever have existed for a limited time anyway. This is because it would have fulfilled its purpose in showcasing the incredible amount of untapped natural racing talent that exists all over the globe that previously, very few had decided to give an opportunity to. Through this, Formula 3, Formula Regional, Indy Lights and every other feeder series – as well as the mainstream ones in every category – would then instinctually give more women the opportunities they deserve. Has W Series achieved this? Not yet. It’s made significant progress on this front that shouldn’t be ignored but if it is curtains for the series, those who are failing to put their money where their mouths are are the ones responsible for leaving a job half finished. You wouldn’t build half a bridge and leave it. You don’t just read half a book. You don’t only compete in half a season of Formula 1. So why would you not finish this vital piece of work that would not only revolutionize motorsport both behind the wheel and behind the scenes but make it even more incredibly exciting than it already is. How many times in the past have there been drivers nobody has ever heard of that could have been in the epic title fight between Hamitlon and Verstappen last year?? Imagine if it had been a female driver racing for Brawn alongside Barichello in 2009 and not Button and the headlines that would have created when they’d had that fairytale season. Would Schumacher have been so dominant in Ferrari had the right contender come along? We’ll never know and the rationale for this is because we collectively ignored half of the world’s population for no apparent reason. Or because some people said it was a silly idea, or impossible or that women can’t drive cars. Seems pretty stupid huh?

Bianca Bustamante

Should there be a W Series? There is. And we should be doing everything we can to ensure it still exists in 2023. It’s time to stick the Rocky music on. Everyone loves a comeback.

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