In the quest to find the best female candidate for a shot at the Formula One junior ladder, the finalists for the inaugural W Series have been named, following a qualifying event in Austria.
Through a series of tests in front of a judging panel including Alexander Wurz, David Coulthard, Dave Ryan and former Indycar driver Lyn St James, a list of 54 drivers was reduced to 28.
Those 28 drivers will now be cut to a final 18 (plus two reserves) who will contest the opening round of the championship at the Hockenheimring in May.
The list of qualifiers (see list below) includes five British drivers; Jamie Chadwick (British GT GT4 class champion), former GP3 driver Alice Powell, LMP3 competitor (and Ginetta Junior champion) Sarah Moore, Porsche Carrera Cup GB driver Esmee Hawkey and Mini Challenge competitor Jessica Hawkins.
The competitors were met with tricky conditions at the snow-hit Wachauring, with the hopefuls using Ford Fiesta ST and Porsche Cayman S road cars in a Race of Champions-style format, on top of their tests in fitness, mental agility and media skills.
A similar programme was put in place in the Young Driver Excellence Academy, which also included Alex Wurz as a judge and ran from 2011-2015.
“All W Series’ qualifier-drivers here at the Wachauring [Melk, Austria] are superstars, every single one of them,” said Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir.
“But the sad fact is that not all of them will continue to the next stage of our driver selection programme. That’s competition. That’s sport. That’s racing.
“So to all of them who’ve made it through to the next stage, I say: congratulations and good luck in Almeria [Spain] in March, the final stage of our driver selection programme.
“And to those of them who haven’t made it through to the next stage, I say: obviously, today is a sad day.
“But one thing I’ve seen over the past three days, and that I’ve been massively impressed by, is that each and every one of our qualifier-drivers is tough, brave and strong. And of course we’ll therefore encourage them to work hard on their driving for the next few months and then consider re-applying for the 2020 W Series season when the time comes.”
Judge Dave Ryan confirmed that the next phase of the assessments – which will include driving the W Series’ Tatuus F318 Formula 3 car – will take place in Spain.
“For those who’ll now go through to the next stage of our driver selection programme, which will take place at Almeria [Spain] in March, the next few weeks will be crucial. In particular, they should focus on improving their strength and fitness levels, because single-seaters are tough to drive. But we wouldn’t have selected them if we didn’t firmly believe they had the ability to race them – and race them well.”
Qualified Drivers (and backgrounds):
Sarah Bovy, Belgium, Lamborghini Super Trofeo
Jamie Chadwick, UK, British F3, British GT (GT4 champion)
Sabre Cook, USA, Road to Indy, US F4
Natalie Decker, USA, ARCA
Marta Garcia, Spain, Spanish F4
Megan Gilkes, Canada, F1200 Canada
Grace Gui, China, Asian Formula Renault
Esmee Hawkey, UK, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
Jessica Hawkins, UK, Mini Challenge
Shea Holbrook, USA, Lamborghini Super Trofeo
Francesca Linossi, Italy, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Porsche Carrera Cup Italy
Vivien Keszthelyi, Hungary, Audi SS R8 Cup
Emma Kimilainen, Finland, STCC
Natalia Kowalska, Poland, Formula Two
Stephane Kox, The Netherlands, GT4 European
Miki Koyama, Japan, Japanese F4
Milou Mets, The Netherlands, LMV8 Oval Series
Sarah Moore, UK, LMP3, Ginetta Junior (champion)
Tasmin Pepper, South Africa, VW Engen Polo Cup
Vicky Piria, Italy, GP3, European F3 Open
Alice Powell, UK, GP3, Formula Renault UK (champion)
Gosia Rdest, Poland, Audi TT Cup, GT4
Naomi Schiff, Belgium, Formula Renault 2.0, GT4 European
Shirley Van Der Lof, The Netherlands, German F3
Beitske Visser, The Netherlands, Formula Renault 3.5, GT4 European
Alexandra Whitley, Australia, V8 Utes
Fabienne Wohlwend, Liechtenstein, Ferrari Europe
Caitlin Wood, Australian, Blancpain GT
Jorda cites “sponsorship issues” as reason for withdrawal
One of the headline inclusions in the initial 54-driver list of candidates for the inaugural championship was former Renault F1 development driver (2015-2016) Carmen Jorda.
More recently, she took on a role within the FIA as a member of the Women in Motorsport Commission in 2017, but has not participated in a recognised motor sport event since the Renault Sport Trophy in 2016.
She participated in the in-season test in Ad Diriyah following the opening Formula E race of the season but, apart from that, she frequently documents her test days in various single-seater cars and karting events.
She has championed women competing in a separate motor sport series for some time, so her initial inclusion on the provisional list came as no surprise.
However, Jorda was absent from the W Series trial day, and took to social media to say that sponsorship requirements had prevented her from competing.
“I’ll like to announce that I won’t be part of the Women Series for its first season in 2019. It has been a pleasure for me to help promote a championship for women as @wseriesracing during the past months but unfortunately we couldn’t find an agreement that could fulfil my sponsors’ needs,” wrote Jorda.
“I’ll like to wish the very best to Women Series and all its competitors! Motorsport is my passion and my way of life. News about what I will be doing for my 2019 season will come soon!”
Given that one of the primary reasons for the creation of the W Series was to ease the pressure on the ever-present need to sponsorship in motor sport, her reason is a bizarre one.
The W Series will be a support race for several rounds of the DTM Series, so it’s not inconceivable that a calendar clash has been found with her as-yet-publicised plans for 2019.
However, as somebody who has been (for better or for worse) a leading figure in the campaign for women in motorsport, her sponsors may believe that her elevated status may be hampered if she is unable to become a leading contender in the series.
By: Luke Murphy
Title Image: W Series
Remaining images: Motorsport Images
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