W Series cements future with switch to team-based championship

W Series cements future with switch to team-based championship

The W Series has secured its immediate future with a planned switch from solely a drivers’ championship to the introduction of teams ahead of the start of its second season in Austria this weekend.

The sophomore season of the all-female racing series was postponed last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and so will start at the Red Bull Ring this week, with W Series now one of Formula 1’s support categories. Officially this will be a transitional year due to FIA requirements to declare as a team-based championship well in advance of the new season, but a number of teams have committed — bringing investment but also sponsorship opportunities — with a mix of new and existing entities including Puma W Series Team, Racing X, Veloce Racing Sirin Racing, Bunker Racing and M. Forbes Motorsport.

Each team picked its two drivers on a first-come-first-served basis, with only one of the first year’s top nine drivers allowed per team. With space for two partner teams still available, a pair of drivers will run under the Ecurie W and Scuderia W names, while the W Series Academy team will continue long-term.

While the inaugural W Series season was all about the drivers, this year the teams will have their own identities as well.

W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir told RACER the change in structure has been planned for over a year and helps protect the category’s future.

“For me as CEO it means that the business of W Series is underpinned for the next few years,” Bond Muir said. “So me personally it means I do a lot more sleeping at night! But for the business it’s the long-term benefit for the business.

“I think also for W Series there’s another layer of storytelling, which is fantastic. It teaches the drivers to work in a team structure, obviously, since we’re a development platform about developing all the drivers and hopefully pushing them out to as many series as we can, I think that element is going to be important for them.

“Obviously we’ve been developing this for a long time but we’ve got Formula 1 and now we’ve got teams, which brings us financial security, and that’s of crucial importance.

“I think with my investment background, we had achieved so much that we could have gone to investors to get more money from investors. But what getting money from partners does is give us a sustainable future, because that investment money was always going to run out at some point because you need to create proper revenue. For me this is the biggest game-changer for W Series because it gives us security.”

Bond-Muir insists the new structure will not jeopardize the way the series offers opportunities to drivers, because teams are not allowed to demand money or sponsorship for a seat.

“Absolute central to W Series DNA is that it’s free to race, because W Series is not going to become the billionaire girls club. So in the contracts with all of the teams they can’t ask the drivers for money or sponsorship.

“That is absolutely essential, because otherwise that means we wouldn’t get people like Emma Kimilainen or Alice Powell going forward — they came back to racing because they couldn’t find the money and we gave them the opportunity to race properly again. And they’re in the top four favorites.”

Kimilainen and Powell will race for Ecurie W and Racing X alongside Abbie Eaton and Jess Hawkins respectively, while defending champion Jamie Chadwick has been selected by Veloce Racing and U.S. racer Sabre Cook will drive for Bunker Racing.

As part of its calendar as a support race at certain Formula 1 events, W Series will make its debut in the United States at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas later this year ahead of a planned season finale in Mexico.

• The W Series airs this this season on the beINSPORTS network in the U.S. Coverage of the opening weekend of the season begins on the network’s flagship channel with the W Series Preview Show: Race 1 – Red Bull Ring on Thursday, June 24 at 8 p.m. ET.

Live coverage begins on beIN SPORTS XTRA, the network’s free streaming channel, with the qualifying round on Friday, June 25 at 10:30 a.m. ET. Race 1 from the Red Bull Ring airs live on Saturday, June 26 at 10 a.m. ET on beIN SPORTS XTRA.

In addition, beIN SPORTS will air a W Series highlights show on Mondays following weekend races at 8 p.m. ET.