W Series will race on the Formula 1 support bill next year, returning to competition after a year’s hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But even after the announcement confirming its return alongside Formula 1, there are lots of questions about what the series will look like in only its second year still to be answered.
The Race dug deeper to investigate and answer some of those questions surrounding the series ahead of 2021.
Will its entire calendar be with F1?
W Series made its debut on the DTM support package in 2019, contesting the first six rounds of the DTM season before reaching a finale at Brands Hatch last August.
It had planned to do two races – at the United States Grand Prix and the Mexican Grand Prix respectively – with F1 in 2020 but had not announced the rest of its events before the pandemic hit.
With Thursday’s announcement that W Series will join the F1 support package for eight races, W Series CEO Catherine Bond Muir confirmed that it would not be returning to the DTM paddock in 2021.
“Having around eight races with Formula 1 is going to be enough and I think that there’s a big crossover of the period of time that we want to be racing and when the DTM races will take place,” said Bond Muir.
“I leave DTM this year with a heavy heart because unquestionably W Series would not be what it was if Gerhard Berger hadn’t given us that that platform in our first year.
“They were fantastic partners for us and it is no reflection on DTM at all the fact that that we have done this deal with Formula 1.”
Following Mercedes’ exit for 2019 to focus on Formula E, the DTM has struggled, and Audi also announced it was withdrawing for 2021 citing “the economic challenges due to the corona[virus] pandemic”. The series will swap to GT3 cars for next season.
The DTM has returned to action in 2020 with Audi’s Rene Rast claiming his third title in four years before he transitions to Formula E.
Will it still be on Channel 4 in the UK?
With W Series joining Formula 2 and Formula 3 on the F1 support bill, it suggests that the all-female championship could make a move behind the paywall and become exclusive to Sky Sports F1 like the other support series. But Bond Muir was quick to reassure that it’s important for W Series to still be accessible in order to continue promoting its message in its second year.
“We’re remaining completely independent. So, our strategy in our first year will be exactly the same as our strategy, bought TV rights, this year,” said Bond Muir.
“We will always go to the broadcaster with the greatest reach. So, we are not looking for big bucks for TV deals. What we’re looking for is reach the most important thing for us at the moment is to build the brand.
“We want to be a truly global international series and the only way that we can do that is by getting into as many households as possible.”
Will the race format change?
In 2019, the main W Series race took place on Saturday afternoon, with Sundays designated for sim work for the upcoming races. W Series says that this will still be the case in 2021, but final details of the race formats will be announced in due course.
Who will be part of the driver line-up?
Six new W Series drivers had been confirmed for 2020, after having gone through the series’ driver selection process last September and were set to join 2019’s top 12 finishers on the grid. W Series has yet to confirm whether there will be any further changes to this line-up when the racing finally commences at last in 2021.
Did it get through 2020 unscathed?
Bond Muir is confident that the pause 2020 provided has been beneficial to W Series, giving it the opportunity to take stock of its whirlwind inaugural season.
“I’m here at the end of 2020, and almost thinking that the pause COVID caused will actually in the long term benefit the business because, after the first year, we just had a period of time where we can reflect on what W Series is, and build and strategise about what we want to be in the future,” said Bond Muir.
“We’re building bigger and better foundations as we go. Today’s announcement is just a part of that strategy.
“I think if we’d been racing this year, we would have been running at a million miles an hour, again, and really not taking or having the time to think about where we want our business to be.”
There’s no escaping that COVID-19 has had enormous economic ramifications around the world and that the aftershocks will be felt for a long time – far longer than just the end of the pandemic threat.
Bond Muir is aware of the impact that might have on W Series’ profitability in the longer term. That said, a unique feature of W Series is that it pays for all of its racers to go racing – an area where it has obviously made savings this year.
It did at least manage to cram in an esports series in 2020, which was won by Beitske Visser.
Will Hitech still run the cars?
A selling point of W Series is that each driver receives equal Formula 3 spec machinery, levelling the playing field among competitors. In 2019, the whole W Series grid was run by Hitech – which also fields entries in Formula 3 and, as of this year, Formula 2. It has not been confirmed that Hitech will continue its partnership with W Series. Bond Muir says the series is assessing several viable options at the moment.
When will we know the calendar?
Not yet, but hopefully sooner rather than later.
“F1 has only recently finalised all the dates in its calendar and, because of COVID, it’s taken everyone a lot longer. As a result, we can only just start planning our calendar. At the moment, what we’re doing is a massive logistical exercise to see where we can go and where we can afford to go,” says Bond Muir.
“I have got a list of 10 different possibilities of permutations of races. There are lots of things that you have to put together obviously when finding a motor racing series, and we would prefer races to be closer together to create some momentum to the season.”
Will it go to Saudi Arabia?
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the F1 calendar is a divisive choice, especially in the context of F1’s We Race As One initiative – but that will not play a part in W Series’ calendar decisions.
“I have no objection about going to Saudi Arabia, provided we can establish a meaningful relationship. And I think that would take some time to put together,” says Bond Muir.
What does F1 get out of this?
Whatever your position is on the validity of F1’s We Race As One initiative, this new partnership with W Series is at least a tangible endeavour in the pursuit of equality. Most importantly to F1, W Series hopefully brings with it an audience F1 has never really been serious about attracting – broadening motorsport’s horizons as a result.
Will it finally silence critics?
W Series second year was always going to be a tricky one, but no-one would have expected a pandemic to play a complicating factor. The decision not to run in 2020 at all – even once other series were starting to flicker into life again – was a gamble, but today’s announcement demonstrated Bond Muir’s confidence in the benefits of an 18-month off-season.
The same challenges that faced W Series at the start of the year will still be there in 2021 and it isn’t riding a wave it formed in its inaugural year.
If you view 2019 as a pilot episode, this is the series’ real launch – under a much bigger spotlight where W Series needs to make clear exactly where it fits in the junior single-seater landscape to stave off the arguments that it risks becoming a cul-de-sac for female-only racing drivers.
Working together, F1 and W Series stand more of a chance at changing the face of motorsport on a variety of different levels. Should it happen: a female F1 driver would be enormous for F1 – and it would vindicate W Series once and for all.