Tuesday, October 19

“We create a little magic”: W Series returns to the track on a great new stage | Motor sport

When the champagne flowed for the drivers in the finale of the inaugural W Series season in 2019, the championship itself was positively bubbling with its own success.

That first season was revealing. After six races that concluded with a final at Brands Hatch, where Britain’s Jamie Chadwick took the title, he sparked great interest and made a genuine difference for the competitors, proving that the principles on which the women’s championship was founded were sound. .

And then the pandemic came, canceling the entire 2020 season and at one point leaving the show’s executive director Catherine Bond Muir worried about her future.

But the W Series returns on Saturday in Austria. All eight races will take place on the grandest stage, as Formula One support races. His new status is fitting. The series, which involves single-seater F3 cars and covers all costs of the participants, was created to provide opportunities and promote women in motorsport: drivers and engineers. His ultimate goal is to help propel a woman to F1, who hasn’t had a female driver compete in a grand prix since Lella Lombardi raced Austria in 1976.

Following her success in the inaugural season, Chadwick was hired by the Williams F1 team as a development driver, a role she maintains. Fabienne Wohlwend from Liechtenstein became a household name in her home country with the backing of the full-time career, while the enormously talented Marta Garcia, whose career had stalled due to lack of funds, has seen his profile skyrocket in Spain. Britain’s Alice Powell, who almost believed her racing days were over, found a number of new paths that were blazed after she was given the opportunity to once again show her skills on the track.

What began next to the track at Hockenheim in May 2019 with intrigued spectators ended with a flurry of girls, women and families swarming the Brands paddock. Speaking ahead of the first race of the season here in Austria on Saturday, where Powell has secured pole position, Bond Muir describes what was an emotional moment.

“We created a little magic there,” he says. “We had a large number of people totally committed to us, looking at our drivers like they were superstars, a lot of love and support.”

For Bond Muir, creating the championship was an exciting project that began in 2015. “The W Series is not just about getting women onto the grid, but about women being more visible in all aspects of motorsport. ”.

A photo from a race in Germany in 2019.
The ultimate goal of the W Series is to propel a female driver into Formula One grand prix action for the first time since 1976. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Chadwick echoes Bond Muir’s belief in the importance of the championship. “There is still a long way to go in terms of the perception of women in motor sport,” she says. “A lot of people still seem surprised that women actually compete in motorsport and the W Series is a completely new concept for a lot of people. What I found most interesting about 2019 was that the audience was largely a women’s sports audience. Not just motorsport fans, it was just a new sport for them. That’s what’s really exciting, the W Series is trying to attract a global audience in all sports. “

Until the pandemic intervened, the W Series hoped to build on the success of its first season, with two races added to the calendar in support of F1. Bond Muir describes the season cancellation as a slow train wreck. But finances proved to be strong and came through, with Bond Muir inspired by the way her drivers surrounded her to offer support as they dealt with the bad news of not taking part in the races.

With the focus set for 2021, broader plans were soon launched. F1 was eager to increase the diversity of the sport and, after a year without races, the W Series will relaunch with eight races in F1 meetings, as well as a new team-based structure. It’s just the promotion Bond Muir wanted rather than a mediocre, Covid-restricted affair. “I had a strong feeling that I didn’t want our second season to be a shadow of what it had been in the first.”

The potential influence of being involved with F1 in terms of publicity and increasing the reach of the series is enormous, while the experience for drivers of being in F1 races and competing on F1 tracks will be invaluable.

Teams and drivers walk the track in Austria before Saturday's race.
Teams and drivers walk the track in Austria before Saturday’s race. Photograph: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

“For us being in the same package as them, experiencing racing up close and having that first-hand experience will make a huge difference in what we can learn and understand about F1,” says Chadwick. “Access to the sport is quite limited for young drivers, so this is a huge level up for all of us. It gives girls a clear view of where they can potentially find themselves if they play sports. It is very difficult to inspire young girls if there are no role models at the top level. That’s where the W Series, from a perception point of view, is so important. “

With 18 drivers on the starting grid in every race this season, the W Series hopes its influence will once again be felt in the farthest reaches. “I spoke in a school a few weeks ago with eight-year-olds,” recalls Bond Muir.

“When the teacher wrote to me to thank me, she said that one of the girls had told her that now she was going to work much harder in math because she wanted to become an engineer in the W Series. That is crucial to who we are. “


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