Defending champion Jamie Chadwick edged out title rival Alice Powell to take pole position for the fifth round of the 2021 W Series season at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
A dramatic session was red-flagged after six minutes following an accident involving six cars. Sarah Moore (Scuderia W, GBR), Ayla Agren (M. Forbes Motorsport, NOR), Belen Garcia (Scuderia W, ESP), Abbie Eaton (Ecurie W, GBR), Beitske Visser (M. Forbes Motorsport, NED) and Fabienne Wohlwend (Bunker Racing, LIE) – were involved in an accident at Eau Rouge. All six drivers were taken to the circuit's medical center and released, with the exception of Ayla and Beitske who were transferred to the hospital for further checks.
The session ended with Jamie (Veloce Racing, GBR) posting a final flying lap of 2:18.074 to beat Alice (Racing X, GBR) – who had closed to within a tenth of a second of her rival moments earlier – by almost three quarters of a second to take her third pole of the season. Jamie is now perfectly placed to become the first driver this season to win back-to-back races and extend the slender one-point advantage she currently holds over compatriot Alice at the top of the championship standings. The pair have won two races apiece so far this season with four of the eight rounds remaining.
Fresh from claiming the first podium finish of her W Series career at the previous round in Hungary, Nerea Martí (W Series Academy Team, ESP) continued her fine form to be third quickest in qualifying, but the 19-year-old will start Saturday's race – which supports F1's Belgian Grand Prix – from seventh having picked up a four-place grid penalty for failing to follow the race director's instructions after the race in Budapest.
Reserve driver Caitlin Wood (PUMA W Series Team, AUS) impressed on only her second appearance of the season to qualify fourth, two places ahead of her team-mate Marta Garcia (PUMA W Series Team, ESP) with Emma Kimiläinen (Ecurie W, FIN) sandwiched between that pair and Jessica Hawkins (Racing X, GBR) seventh.
Team-mates Vicky Piria (Sirin Racing, ITA) and Miki Koyama (Sirin Racing, JPN) recorded their best qualifying results of the season to be eighth and ninth. Bruna Tomaselli (Veloce Racing, BRA) completed the top 10, though she will start 12th having received a two-place grid penalty after practice for failing to follow the race director's instructions at the end of that session.
On a day of typically mixed weather conditions in the Ardennes region, the Formula 1 cars dried the circuit during their second practice session which preceded W Series qualifying, but the rain started again within two minutes of the session getting underway.
After a 30-minute delay for the accident, Emma beat Fabienne's time by two tenths before Jamie went a further seven tenths quicker. Emma regained first place by seven tenths on her next flying lap only to be beaten by Jamie again – this time by three tenths – as the session ticked past halfway.
Jamie went quickest in every sector to improve her time by two-and-a-half seconds as the clock dipped under eight minutes, and she shaved off another tenth on her next flying run. As track conditions improved the times started to plummet, and Alice got to within 12 one-hundredths of Jamie's effort to set up a grandstand finish. But Jamie had the last word, improving on each of her last two laps of the session to take the sixth pole position of her W Series career.
Despite doing fewer laps than any other driver in the day's earlier practice session, Jamie took top spot in that too with her final flying lap of a rain-affected 30 minutes. Fabienne was a tenth of a second slower in second place, and she was the only driver to get within a second of Jamie's benchmark as Sarah finished third.
Reserve driver Gosia Rdest (W Series Academy Team, POL) was 12th fastest in qualifying and 16th in practice after being called into the Academy line-up when Irina Sidorkova (W Series Academy Team, RUS) tested positive for COVID-19 during mandatory pre-event PCR testing. In accordance with COVID-19 protocols and public health authority guidelines, the 18-year-old Russian will continue to isolate for the required period and therefore not compete during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. No other members of the team have been affected by this situation.
Dave Ryan (Racing Director, W Series) said:
"Today's qualifying was an eventful session to say the least. Spa is always quite eventful and today certainly proved to be for us. It was very unfortunate to have the accident at the beginning of the session, but thankfully it seems that everyone is okay. The cars have stood up unbelievably well to what looks like a massive crash, which is good to see too. Jamie did a great job to stay focused and get pole."
Jamie Chadwick, 23, UK, Veloce Racing, said:
"I'm really pleased with how qualifying went. However, the red flag at the beginning, after quite a scary accident, was a worry. Of course, all the drivers are just hoping that those involved are okay.
"Qualifying was difficult with the conditions. On some parts of the track it was raining and then some parts were bone dry. Weather like that is quite challenging to manage and you cannot make a mistake. It was tricky at the start of the session when the rain was falling, but when we got going again after the red flag I started to get some proper laps in.
"Anything could happen tomorrow, as we've seen with the weather at Spa before, so I have to be quick to react. But I'm just happy to be starting on the front row and I don't mind if it is a wet or dry race tomorrow."
Alice Powell, 28, UK, Racing X, said:
"Qualifying was a bit frustrating as I think I had more pace in me. But unfortunately, I got stuck in traffic and didn't have enough time to back off as another car was behind me. The traffic was frustrating, but I'm still on the front row of the grid so who knows what will happen tomorrow.
"I hope that everyone in that crash is okay. The track was slippery as it had started to rain, so I completely understand how the drivers went through that corner and spun. This is Spa and, as we've seen today, the conditions can be unpredictable with rain in one part of the track and sunshine in another.
"I'd prefer a dry track tomorrow. I hope to get a good tow up the straight and see some clean racing. Spa is a challenging circuit – one of the most challenging circuits we have been to this season, particularly due to the weather."
Nerea Martí, 19, Spain, W Series Academy Team, said:
"I'm really pleased to have qualified third. But unfortunately, I have a four-place grid penalty as I went too fast after the chequered flag at the last race. However, I feel prepared for tomorrow and will push a lot.
"Today was difficult as the weather was so unpredictable. I hope that all the drivers involved in the accident are okay. Personally, I would prefer a wet track tomorrow. With my penalty, a wet track presents more overtaking opportunities and will allow me to make up a few positions."
Qualifying results from round five of the 2021 W Series season are below. For full W Series results and session timings from the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps visit wseries.com.