W Series lost a whole championship last year due to the Covid pandemic
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W Series will trial a team championship similar to the Formula One format this season, in what has been described as a "pivotal" moment in the all-female series.
On Thursday W Series announced that it will begin trialling an "unofficial" team format throughout 2021 – beginning at the opening race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on Saturday – before it is formally introduced next season.
The all-female single-seater series has already seen six companies invest in a team for the transition year, including Veloce and Puma, with the hope to eventually finalise a nine-team series for 2022.
It is promising news for the series, especially after it was forced to cancel its entire race schedule last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. CEO Catherine Bond Muir said seeing the impact of the pandemic of women’s sports in particular, with W Series the most severely affected in terms of scheduling, made this commitment from six new partners all the more important.
"It is really a pivotal point in the history of W Series, because it means that we have long term investment, which means that we have a sustainable business plan going forward and we can now undertake long-term planning," she told Telegraph Sport. "Women’s sports were clearly disproportionately affected by Covid. What is incredible is that, 18 months on from Covid, we’ve come out not only fighting but being successful."
Launched in 2019, W Series became the first major motorsport championship to feature only female drivers, with an aim to help them gain opportunities at more established championships.
Since then it has expanded from six to eight races, as well as struck up a partnership with Formula One, which will see their races act as support events to Grand Prix race weekends this season, including at Silverstone in July.
Despite moving to the team format – with two-driver pairings making up each team – Bond Muir insisted W Series would not become a "constructors’ championship" though, as it wants to remain "about the competition of the drivers". As such, all 18 drivers will race in mechanically identical cars.
Analysis: New team element will increase competitive edge
This development is a major one for the W Series, which launched only two years ago. Getting investors to commit to the series, after a year that decimated their schedule, shows the long-term value the all-female championship is bringing to the sport.
Adding a team dimension will also potentially appeal to traditional motorsport fanbases, especially with the new huge exposure W Series is set to benefit from by being a support series for F1.
A key component to their plan is also to keep all the cars identical, in order to ensure the championship remains about the drivers – and not about the mechanics, in direct contrast to other series.
"Last weekend it was such an amazing [F1] Grand Prix, it was fantastic, but there are two clear teams out in front in Formula 1," Bond Muir said. "My hope and desire is that at the beginning of our season it’s not going to be a foregone conclusion which team could win."
W Series teams
This fits with W Series’ commitment to challenge norms in the sport. Though some remain critical of the female-only policy, as motorsport is not typically segregated, there are currently very few female drivers racing at the top level. W Series’ aim is to change that, by acting as a feeder series in helping to elevate the skills and profile of female drivers so they can gain opportunities in F1 and other championships. Success stories have already emerged, in particular Briton Jamie Chadwick.
The winner of the inaugural title in 2019, Chadwick signed on with F1 team Williams as a development driver, and has been part of new championship Extreme-E’s inaugural line-up on Team Veloce.
She and Brazil’s Bruna Tomaselli will now race for Veloce in W Series too, with the drivers informed of the teams and pairings on Wednesday night.
During this transition season, while all drivers will race as usual, 12 have been allocated to the six new partner teams. Drivers were split into two pools, depending on their race results in 2019, and team partners selected a driver from each pool. The remaining six drivers have been assigned to W Series’ three ‘home team’ pairings – Ecurie W, Scuderia W and W Series Academy.
To understand the workings of a team environment will be a new experience for many of the drivers, especially the younger ones, and Chadwick has already called it a "brilliant" move: “We learned so much about the cars and the tracks in 2019, but a teams set-up will take us to the next level, giving us great insight into what it’s like working closely with a team partner and racing with a team championship in mind rather than just for yourself."
The final, obvious point to add is that this will also add another layer of competition. In 2019 the championship was just six races, and it meant Chadwick’s lead – along with runner-up Beitke Visser – was never majorly challenged once she won the first race. Though it has expanded to eight races this year, the team element – even in its transition phase in 2021 – will add a new competitive edge.