Since the W Series got cancelled due to the covid pandemic back in June the amount of women in feeder series has been cut in half. That leaves us with two categories: W Series drivers that scrambled to find a seat and female drivers outside of W Series that have chosen their own path. From Formula 4 to Formula 2 and everything in between, here’s how they did in 2020.
By Floris Visman
Coming off an amazing 2019 where she won the inaugural W Series title, Jamie Chadwick started the 2020 season at the tail end of 2019 by participating in F3 Asia. There she partnered up with Tommy Smith at Absolute Racing and proved to be competitive in a field with several F2 and F3 drivers. The highlight of the winter series came when she finished second in one of the races at Buriram, only to be promoted to race winner because the race was won by guest driver Ukyo Sasahara. She finished fifth in front of Haas F1 driver Pietro Fittipaldi but a long way off champion Joey Alders.
Because the W Series season got the covid axe, the Brit went on to search other opportunities which she found in the form of a Prema-seat in the Formula Regional European Championship; the ruling champions. There she went up against Ferrari Driver Academy members Arthur Leclerc and Gianluca Petecof and F4 graduate Oliver Rasmussen. The competition proved to be too much for her as she struggled with qualifying and the tyres. She did manage to finish third in her first race. But while her team mates are occupying the first three positions in the championship, the Williams F1 development driver finds herself down in tenth.
It’s expected that the 22-year-old will do another year of W Series (as was the plan in 2020 before covid). Other, more surprising news came recently: she joined Veloce Racing in the all new Extreme E series. Chadwick mentioned in interviews that the road to Formula 1 might be too expensive for her, so she might also look outside of single-seaters.
Already in ADAC F4 in 2016, Sophia Flörsch has been slowly working her way up the feeder series ladder. In 2019 she had a decent season in the Formula Regional European Championship with Van Amersfoort Racing, although she was the only full-time driver that didn’t finish on the podium, bar Sharon Scolari. For 2020 she made the step up to FIA F3 with Campos where she could measure herself against the talented Alex Peroni. It proved a difficult one as she ended the season in 29th with zero points where Peroni (who was in his second year) finished on the podium three times and managed tenth in the championship. She did however finish higher up than team mate Alessio Deledda who ranks 34th.
A pathway outside of single-seaters opened up for the 20-year-old German in 2020 when she signed with Richard Mille Racing to enter the European Le Mans Series and even better, the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. Together with Beitske Visser and Tatiana Calderon she finished a very respectable ninth in the LMP2 class.
Flörsch doesn’t have a seat yet for next year, but still only 20 years of age there’s no reason for her to give up her dream of F1. She participated in the post-season F3 tests at Barcelona and Jerez with Carlin and HWA, so she’s not out of the picture. The German driver told Sport1 recently that she expects to do another year of F3 and then two years of F2 before entering the pinnacle of motorsport.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Juju Noda. The 14-year-old’s reputation of breaking track records in her homeland Japan preceded her, so a lot of eyes were on her first steps in Danish F4. That’s a lot of pressure for somebody that young, but she coped with it like a champ. Noda won her first race from pole. But it proved to be a rocky road. She showed outright speed by qualifying on pole for every race and scoring two fastest laps, but she had some misfortune in races and ended the season in sixth. She was even disqualified once for using ‘unregistered tyres’.
Danish F4 proved to be a decent first step in Formula 4 for Noda, but in order to measure herself against the best in her age class, she has to move to one of the bigger F4’s like ADAC F4 or Italian F4. But even Spanish F4 or F4 US could prove to be useful. And more importantly: that’s when she can start earning the necessary superlicence points to reach her final goal: Formula 1.
Probably one of the bigger surprises of the feeder series season. Abbi Pulling was quite the unknown, having only raced in Ginetta Juniors and Ginetta GT5 before signing with JHR Developments in British F4. There she teamed up with Ginetta Junior champion James Hedley. While she got off to a rocky start, in only her second weekend she grabbed a podium. She added three more podiums to her tally and finished the season in sixth, only one place behind Hedley. 17-year-old Pulling was rewarded for her successful season when she got the call from FA Racing to participate in the Formula Renault Eurocup at Imola.
While a season in the new Formula Alpine (a merger of Formula Renault and Formula Regional) isn’t out of the question, it would maybe make more sense to do another year of British F4. If she keeps developing like this she will undoubtedly fight for the title in 2021 and get a good haul of superlicence points. British F3 could also be an option since JHR has a team in the series.
Hamda Al Qubaisi
Despite covid Hamda Al Qubaisi finally had a full season of racing on the road to F1. She started it by participating in F4 UAE with Abu Dhabi Racing. In a field with 2020 Italian F4 star Francesco Pizzi and several more experienced drivers she managed three wins and fourth in the championship, only twelve points behind third placed Nico Göhler. With Abu Dhabi Racing she also signed up for the Italian F4 Championship. And while the season proved challenging (her best finish was ninth at Monza) it gave the 18-year-old plenty of track time.
Next year will be very important for the driver from the United Arab Emirates. If she wants to make bigger steps she has to land a seat in a top team and those are not cheap. She could show herself in a winter series such as F3 Asia (Her sister, 20-year-old Amna, is rumoured to drive there) or go on repeat in F4 UAE. Top results there could open some doors.
You don’t see a racing driver from Saudi-Arabia very often on the feeder series ladder, let alone a woman. Reema Juffali is really setting an example for girls and women all over the world. The 28-year-old only obtained her racing license in 2017 so she’s (understandably) late to the party and has a lot of catching up to do. In 2020 she did both F4 UAE and British F4 and while she couldn’t compete with the best drivers, she importantly racked up a ton of mileage. In 2021 she wants to continue on the road to F1, though she has admitted that getting sponsorship and investment isn’t easy.
2020 Started early for Tatiana Calderon. She came off the back of an intense Formula 2 season where she lost team mate Anthoine Hubert in an accident at Spa. First stop was F3 Asia where she signed with Seven GP, but she could only participate in the first three rounds. During that winter series it was announced that the Colombian would join Drago Corse in Super Formula. That proved to be a rocky road because she missed two rounds due to other commitments (Le Mans), though she is back for the remaining rounds.
There isn’t much to say about her fractured 2020 season, but the 27-year-old still has her sights set on Formula 1 and as test driver for Alfa Romeo that’s not a lost dream yet.
2020 was the first season in feeder series for Swiss driver Lena Bühler. In February she signed with Drivex and partnered up with Frenchman Paul-Adrien Pallot. While the 23-year-old had an up and down season in terms of results, her highest finish (fifth) was almost on par with that of Pallot (4th). For 2021 it remains to be seen if the season was a one-off for Bühler, but she had a decent rookie season.
Besides Juju Noda two other female drivers entered Danish F4: Line Sønderskov and Mille Hoe both drove an F5 car. Looking only at F5 Sønderskov got three podiums, Hoe failed to reach the podium.
Just like Jamie Chadwick Miki Koyama took part in the inaugural W Series season last year and finished seventh. She started 2020 with a one-off in F3 Asia finishing tenth twice and ninth. When covid got a grip on the world and W Series was cancelled, the 23-year-old was left without a seat. She did however do a round of the new Formula Regional Japan Championship. In 2021 she is expected to have another go at the W Series.
Things were looking great at the start of the year for Chelsea Herbert. She got a seat at Giles Motorsport in the Toyota Racing Series teaming up with drivers like Lirim Zendeli and Gregoire Saucy, but all went wrong in the second round at Teretonga. She crashed in qualifying and suffered a stable fractured vertebrae which ruled her out for the rest of the winter series. She has her eyes set on TRS in 2021, but funding could prove to be difficult.
31-year-old Ai Miura has a rich history in Japanese F3, competing in the series as far back as 2014. So it was no surprise she featured in this year’s Formula Regional Japan, Japan F3’s successor. She did however only feature in two rounds to date, but in those four races she did manage to get a podium.
Vicky Piria suffered the same fate as a couple of others on this list: she was supposed to do W Series. 2020 looked like to become a race-less year for the Italian but in september she was Nicola Marinangeli’s surprise replacement at Bhaitech in the Formula Renault Eurocup. But after two rounds Marinangeli’s broken leg was healed and Piria was sidelined again. In 2021 she is expected to join the W Series.
On the other side of the pond Sabré Cook, another unlucky W Series contestant, still had a seat lined up at BN Racing on the Road to Indy in Indy Pro 2000. She finished tenth twice but had to drop out after five races. For 2021 she’s expected to rejoin W Series. We talked to her earlier this year about her 2020.
2020 is really testing Amna Al Qubaisi‘s patience. Hamda Al Qubaisi’s older sister started the 2020 season at the tail end of 2019 with the F4 UAE non-championship round at the F1 Abu Dhabi GP. There she won her first Formula 4 race, but after that round her season was pretty much over because of covid. The 20-year-old now has her sights set on the 2021 F3 Asia Championship.
The Al Qubaisi sisters weren’t the only female drivers to feature in F4 UAE, British Logan Hannah also featured in the non-championship round. The 19-year-old was left without a seat and most of her sponsors. Hannah did join the Scottish Formula Ford 1600 Championship later this year and won the David Leslie Trophy. She doesn’t have definitive plans for 2021 yet, but she is part of the Motorsport UK Academy Squad for 2020 and 2021.
W Series in 2021
While the W Series was cancelled this year, in 2021 it will be back in full force. All eight races on the calendar are F1 support races, so the drivers will have a great stage to impress F1 bosses. It is expected that all the drivers who were to participate in 2020 will be on the grid next year, but an official announcement on that will be done in due course.