Alice Powell (C) celebrates winning the first W Series race of the season
Credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC
Briton Alice Powell kept her cool up front to win the W Series opener, as chaos ensued behind her with reigning champion Jamie Chadwick sent spinning out of contention in the second lap.
Powell was never overtaken from pole position at the Red Bull Ring in Styria, as she took her second race win nearly 700 days on from her first back in 2019, the last time a W Series race was contested.
She topped the grid in every session over the race weekend, and backed up the potential she showed in 2019, when she finished third overall. "To have a weekend that I have is incredible," she said. "I’m going to keep my feet firmly on the ground, as we’ve still got seven race weekends left. I’ve not seen, but I’ve heard that the race was pretty crazy and really enjoyable and you just never know what can happen."
Compatriot and "best friend" Sarah Moore also held onto second and her first podium, becoming the first openly LGBTQ+ driver to stand on a podium during a Grand Prix weekend, as the all-female championship made its debut as a support series for Formula One this season.
But their top-two finishes were the only ones that remained secure throughout a wild race, where Chadwick was the earliest and highest profile victim of the drama.
First placed Alice Powell (L) and third placed Fabienne Wohlwend spray champaign on the podium after the W Series Round 1 race at Red Bull Ring
Credit: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC
Chadwick started the race already feeling hard done by, after a mechanical fault with her car in qualifying on Friday saw her place in eighth. But minutes into the race on Saturday her luck went from bad to disastrous, after fellow Briton Jess Hawkins rammed into her rear on the second lap, to send her spiralling down to 16th.
She spent the best part of the 30-minute race struggling to make her way back, but her fortunes turned after Spain’s Marta Garcia’s car ground to a halt and forced a safety car onto the track for five minutes, significantly closing the gap between the field. It meant Chadwick could pick her way back up the leaderboard and into the points for a – considering the circumstances – miraculous seventh place. She moved up to sixth when Hawkins’ received a post-race 30-second penalty for the incident, dropping from fifth to 16th.
For others though, the compact restart for the final four minutes of the race was catastrophic, as last year’s runner-up Beitske Visser and Emma Limlainen fell from third and fourth to 13th and 14th respectively, after a collision. Fabienne Wohlwend of Liechtenstein benefitted though, jumping from fifth to third place and the podium, after only qualifying in ninth.
It made for a tense finish to the race for Powell up front, whose near-three second lead over Moore and the rest of the grid was cut down. "When I saw the car on the side of the track I thought, that will get cleared hopefully, but then saw the safety car boards illuminated and was like, damn," Powell, 28, said post-race. "But I got an okay safety car restart, and from then on it was about trying to keep consistent. I didn’t expect this to be honest, I made sure that my prep – physically, mentally and learning the circuit – was good, so it seems to have gone down pretty well."
‘Thrilling opening race is perfect advert for W Series’
Alice Powell’s victory and position at the top of the leaderboard after the first weekend is the perfect advert for W Series’s mission – to give women in motorsport a free opportunity in the drivers’ seat.
When the all-female championship launched in 2019, Powell had spent four years in purgatory and was working for her father’s bathroom renovation company, having all-but given up on her career.
As a teenager she was one of the UK’s leading talents, and aged just 17 was the youngest driver, male or female, to win a Formula Renault race in the UK. By 22 though, she had been pushed out of the sport through lack of financial backing. She is the exact kind of driver W Series was built to showcase, and has previously said the championship’s launch "saved me".
"I know that some people still slate [W Series] but it got me back out racing and gave me the opportunity to be driving again," she said post-race. "If you told me in 2015, 2016, 2017 or 2018 that I’d be back out, racing on an F1 support weekend and getting to experience these great feelings again, I wouldn’t have believed you."
Race winner Alice Powell of Great Britain and Racing X (27) celebrates on the podium during the W Series Round 1 race at Red Bull Ring
Credit: Clive Mason – Formula 1
Sarah Moore, 27, who finished on her first podium this weekend is a driver who similarly has not had the benefit of huge financial backers or support to see her through – and even had to crowdfund the £3,000 for her helmet to compete this season, after losing her income as a driver and coach in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Her and Powell’s climb up to the podium for the opening weekend is a marker of the benefits the W Series is bringing to female drivers who struggled for opportunities previously. That it seems set to be hugely competitive based on the thrilling opener, and the added element of trialling teams this season, only adds to the value the series is bringing. Additionally, all eight of this season’s races will be run on the F1 bill, making it set to attract new audiences.
Powell is now the clear frontrunner as they prepare for round two next week at the Red Bull Ring. In 2019 she finished a respectable third with four podiums, but two DNFs blighted her chances of properly cultivating a rivalry against eventual champion Jamie Chadwick. Having the strongest start possible in Styria this weekend sets up what could be a hugely competitive and exciting battle at the top of the leaderboard.
"People say it’s like riding a bike and I can assure you with four or five years out, it’s definitely not like riding a bike," Powell said of her numerous years out of the sport. "I feel definitely more prepared going into this year [than 2019] and I’m looking forward to the season ahead to take it race by race and being consistent as I think that wasn’t a great thing for me in 2019, with two DNFs."