The all-female single-seater racing series, W Series, might be one of today’s most important motorsport championships. I’m a massive proponent of equality across all walks of life, and motorsport is no exception. When you consider all sports, car racing, more than anything else, should be the fairest representation between men and women. The car doesn’t know the gender of the driver; it delivers the same horsepower irrespective of who pushes the throttle.


W Series exists to raise its drivers’ profile and inspire young girls that a career in motorsports is possible.

I was fortunate enough to speak with two of the headline names that the championship had in 2021, race-winner Emma Kimilainen and pole-position & podium finisher Abbi Pulling. Emma excelled in the 2019 championship, too, while Abbi shone during a part-time rookie campaign last year that netted her a full-time gig this season.


The two enter 2022 as the oldest and youngest returning drivers; Emma is 32, while Abbi is 19. Although they are both very fast and noticeably share a competitive nature that runs deep, subtle differences strike me in our conversations, as you’ll see. However, one not-so nuanced distinction is the stage in life they are at, with Abbi recently enjoying a certain rite of passage after joining Alpine’s young driver Academy:

Jim: Congratulations on the Alpine news. How has your day-to-day life changed since that Alpine partnership this year?


Abbi: Yeah, thanks very much. So it’s hugely changed. I’ve actually moved out. At the age of 18, I moved out. But I’m 19 now, so I can’t play that card anymore as much! [I’ve] been living on my own… Well, not necessarily living on my own, but living away from home, having to learn how to fend for myself, and just learning how to live, really.

Yeah, and then on the sense of the Alpine news, I’m mixing around with the Academy every day. I’m at the gym every day with the trainer, Dave Thompson, who does a great job and getting me fitter. And yeah, eating better, sleeping, better, preparing better. I was already preparing quite well for my race weekends, but in the physical sense, preparing better.

And technically, I go to Base Performance (a simulator provider in the UK). I’ve been going there over the whole winter break, really. Every two weeks, I have a couple of hours there, so it’s preparing quite well. And I’ve gone over the whole season so far there, so I hope I know all the tracks by now. It’s all going really well, to be honest.


While Abbi has gone virtual to prepare for 2022, it’s a different story for Emma, who, armed with the might of Puma, has enjoyed time in the cockpit. So much so, she was pulled over on the side of the road on the way back from the racetrack when we spoke:


Jim: What’s changed in your preparation, if anything, for 2022?


Emma: Well, quite a lot. I’ve actually got some extra testing because of my change of teams to Puma. And I’m actually in Italy at the moment, and I’ve been testing the whole day. So very good to get some extra driving in because I’ve actually never had that possibility before. I’ve usually only done the official testing, and that’s it.

So basically, to get just some mileage and more knowledge of the car and the set-ups and stuff, it’s always good. So a really good feeling at the moment to go into Miami in one week’s time.


Jim: Is that in a simulator? Is that an actual car?


Emma: An actual car, which is good. It is very good. It feels so good and privileged in a way because training for us is… people usually ask like, “How do you train?” And I’m like, “Well, we don’t drive. And we only train [with] physical training.”

Then the fact that we are able to go is amazing. And that’s thanks to Puma, to my team, that they are making it possible. So it’s awesome.


Emma’s words about her Puma Team surprise me – W Series introduced teams last year, but many felt it wasn’t an overly serious part of the championship with all cars being identical. It seems that’s not so for 2022:


Jim: Puma, do you think they’re taking the whole thing very seriously then if they’re putting you into testing to get you some actual track time? Are they really trying to gun for the championship with the team format year?


Emma: Definitely. Puma is really into W series. We want to win the championship but also the teams’ championship. So [for] both drivers and team it’s very important for us, and then we have the “She Moves Us” campaign as well.

We really, really want to spread the news and the idea of it to a wider audience. So they really put a lot of effort into W series, and I’m grateful for it.

Teams aside, W Series is a fascinating microcosm within motorsports as the friendliness between drivers permeates through the grid. With no cost for the drivers and the championship’s roots in sharing chassis, engineers, and data, genuine friendships form. The most visible is undoubtedly between Abbi and the 2021 vice-champion Alice Powell, her manager and coach:


Jim: You’ve obviously got such a good relationship with Alice. How vital has it been to have somebody with so much knowledge for your career?


Abbi: It’s been huge. Last year, I struggled a lot when I ran out of funding. And Alice has been in such a similar position. And she saw obviously how upset it made me, and just, I was at a really low point.

And yeah, she managed to pick me up and obviously point out the positives. And then the opportunity came to drive at Zandvoort and Austin. And again, she pushed that positivity. And yeah, it all managed to play out. And because she introduced me to Alpine, it just ended up all the dots connected, and it all worked out fine on my end. And that’s all thanks to Alice.

And I think she has that experience where she’s been out of a drive for five years, and she understands how it must have felt. And she’s helped me, obviously, not just in that sense, [but also] on my technical aspect –taught me everything I know in single-seaters as to the discipline you need, and the kind of driving style and everything.


Jim: How is the relationship now you’re going in as a direct competitor? Is this something you guys discussed last year? Something you discussed going into this season, how much access you’d get to Alice’s knowledge?


Abbi: Yeah, well, I think last year the position was a bit different because I was a guest, and she was obviously fighting for the title. So it was definitely a team game in that aspect, trying to just help each other as much as possible.

It helped her, me being at the front and things, to get in between them (Alice and eventual champion Jamie Chadwick). Hopefully, I put Jamie a few points down getting in between them, but it certainly didn’t work out like that. I don’t want to show any bias, but-


Jim: I think you just did!


Abbi: [laughs] Yeah! But I think this year, I think the preparation is we’re still going as a team, but I think when we’re on track, we know that it’s a free for all. But yeah, there’s no love lost between us. We’re very chummy still and joke about it, but we understand it’s going to be quite a funny year.



While Abbi races as a protege to Alice, Emma doesn’t officially have that mentor/student relationship, although she does look after some drivers in a way that you might not expect:


Jim: I know you can’t speak to it personally, but do you think a coach is something that any young driver does need to look out to try and find? Obviously, they can spend so much time looking for sponsorship and money and so on, but looking for a driver coach, do you think that’s actually pivotal to make it, to have the edge, to make it into motorsport at the moment?


Emma: Well, I think that you just need to gather a team around you that believes in you and trusts in you; that’s essential, no matter what stage in your career you are.

Plus, you need to develop yourself and learn more and have that enthusiasm for learning. So, the team is everything. So if you have someone who you know and who supports you, it’s always good.

And then I have that mentoring role for Tereza (Bábíčková, Emma’s 2022 teammate) this year. My teammate, who is new to W series and coming from Karting, [has] never driven any formula cars before. [She’s] obviously a lot younger than I am, 19 years old, and then Puma is looking for, a little bit, like to have that mentoring relationship as well, but we’ll see how it turns out. I think it’s going to be good. So far, it’s very good.


Jim: You practiced a little bit with Ira Sidorkova last year, I think, didn’t you? With the COVID bubbles meaning you had a youngster around.


Emma: Yeah, definitely. I always had quite usually the youngest ones, because I was the one able to drive the hire car!


Jim: [Laughs] I didn’t even know. I never associated that as a reason why!


Emma: That’s the reason why… because we were like two people in bubbles, and then the one needed to always take the hire car and drive it. So obviously, I had the ones that cannot hire a car or don’t even have a driver’s license!

|Photographer: Lou Johnson| Event: W Series Pre Season Test| Circuit: Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya| Location: Spain| Series: W Series|Season: 2022| Country: Spain| FUELER CANADA MAGAZINE

An awkward point for W Series in 2022 is that their double-champion Jamie Chadwick hasn’t had the opportunity to race elsewhere after declaring she wouldn’t return for this season before changing her mind. It raises two questions for me; Where is W Series in the motorsport pyramid, and why aren’t drivers graduating:


Jim: So Jamie’s back again this year, which people didn’t really expect, and I know she didn’t expect it. Do you think other championships aren’t considering W Series as a feeder into them?


Abbi: Well, I’m definitely considering W Series as a feeder into them. I think Jamie’s circumstances… I don’t know. I’ve not really asked her what her circumstances were.

But for me, I definitely see W Series as a feeder series. And yeah, I’m all for going up the ranks and trying to reach the pinnacle of motorsport. I think that’s what it is, and that’s what W series want. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to seeing where the next three years puts me, or four years, or whatever kind of happens.


Emma: I think everyone was surprised when she did come back. But then, at the same time, we are welcoming her with a warm heart because it’s just going to be a great championship [with] the better drivers there, and Jamie is obviously very talented and a good one.

So it’s going to make the fight even more interesting. So W Series is happy that she’s back, but then at the same time, so I’m gutted for her that she didn’t get that drive. She did have possibilities.

It’s always difficult to like gather the funding if you want to continue the single-seater route. So if you want to go to F1, like I think that’s her ultimate aim, you still need to gather those pennies to do that. So she needs those euros, and it’s always difficult, and you don’t want to waste the money. So if you don’t get a good drive, maybe you don’t want to use that money either.


Jim: When you look at how W Series fits in the pyramid or ladder, depending on how you want to look at it, of the feeder series championships, where do you think the next logical step is? Is it Formula Regional, is it Formula 3, is it Formula 2?


Abbi: I think for myself, I think it’s quite a bold step to jump straight up from W Series to Formula 2 because even the FRECA guys, which is in the same car, just different tires, they don’t even make the jump from FRECA to Formula 2.

I think the most realistic step for myself will be to go to FIA F3, if I’m honest. And that’s the aim, and that’s where I want to get. And I think any additional experience I can get on top of that with doing FRECA on the side of W Series, obviously not a full campaign, but one or two races on this side will be… Any additional experience is great.

And if we can raise the budget for Asian F3, that’s something that I think is valuable before a season. It’s a season in the winter, so it’s the perfect prep for something like that. I’ve definitely looked into all the different series.

|Photographer: Lou Johnson| Event: W Series Pre Season Test| Circuit: Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya| Location: Spain| Series: W Series|Season: 2022| Country: Spain| FUELER CANADA MAGAZINE

Jim: Do you think there’s anything that can change from W Series’ close relationship with Formula 1 and the rest of the ladder that might somehow alleviate the friction between joining either Formula 2 or Formula 3?


Emma: No, I don’t think it’s friction, more or less like you just… Jamie was just too late on looking for the drives. So basically, […] if she would want to continue to like F1, [and do] Formula 3 next year, she should have the drive already now. And then that she should have the actual seat already now.

So the good teams are very occupied, and then it’s hard to get a drive from the good teams. So you need to be very early in your decisions. And then obviously, last year, with COVID, then not knowing if you’re going to win the championship or not. How much money you’re going to get from there. Do you have [the] money you need to actually gather to go forward?

And then when the season was over already, like only at the end of October, it’s already too late because all of those teams have filled their places, and then they are already testing. So there are not so many places left anymore.


That progression is a rough subject and one I’m sure we’ll see raised throughout the 2022 W Series season. However, Jamie making three championships is anything but certain with the quality of the grid this year. I had to ask both drivers how they hope their season will go:


Jim: Finally, then, you wouldn’t put a number on it, I’m sure, but a championship placement. Is there anything that you want to do as a minimum from W Series this year?


Abbi: I think…I’ve not actually thought about a minimum, which is quite a… I just want to go into it and do the best I can in every race. I think that’s all I can really ask of myself.

And if I come away from every race and I know there’s nothing more that I could have done, then I’ll be happy. And hopefully, my best is winning, but if it’s just being up there in that kind of battle like I was even at Zandvoort in qualifying, and Austin in the race, if it’s even like that, I’ll be quite happy.

I’ve identified areas that I need to improve from last year, definitely. But I think that came with the inexperience in the car. So hopefully, with a bit more time to think about it, we’ll skip over those issues straight away.


Emma: No, just the championship is the main aim. I don’t have a minimum. My main goal, no matter what I do, is just to enjoy it and then to do what you love and then enjoy it and be grateful and happy about it.

Being happy in life is my ultimate goal. And then, I’m just so grateful that I can do this professionally and to be able to drive and enjoy it.

So I’m not building up the pressure on myself that I have to win the championship – I don’t have to. It’s good [if] I do, and it’s something that I really, really want to, and I’m doing a lot of work for it, and I’m really ambitious about it, but if I don’t, it doesn’t make me like a bad person. So I don’t see myself as any worse if I win or not.

So the goal is to win the championship, but not [putting] too much pressure on it because I know that if I would, then it would affect my results and the racing.


W Series kicks off in Miami over the 6-10 May 2022 weekend with two races, before five rounds in Europe and Asia, before returning to North America in October to conclude a ten race season.


Jim @Fueler