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Fabienne Wohlwend (LIE), 3rd position, with her trophy and Champagne

EXCLUSIVE: Fabienne Wohlwend on the future of W Series, racing with F1,and maintaining focus

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Formula Nerds caught up with W Series driver Fabienne Wohlwend before the ending doubleheader of the Championship in Austin, Texas. The Liechtensteiner told us all about racing with F1, maintaining focus during the hiatus, taking risks, and plans for the future.

You are approaching the end of the season. It must be hard to switch back on after winter break so how do you get on with a season that is so intense?

“There is also a big switch from having too much time to having a super busy schedule with racing and travelling. I always try to fill my winter break with a lot of events, media stuff, looking for new sponsors, new opportunities. Then, when you’re so busy all year you also need a holiday, as I haven’t been anywhere the whole year so I’ll try to get one or two weeks off just to really get away and relax. “

Speaking about next year, what are your plans for the future? Can we hope of seeing you back in W Series in 2022 and on which track would you like to drive?

“Hopefully, I’m doing W Series again, even though we don’t know yet but I think everything looks pretty good. I’m fifth in the Championship, I’m having a really good relationship with my team Bunker, so I hope that I’m gonna be back next season and there is gonna be the goal to finalize that in the winter. Then, if we are going to race again with Formula 1, I would really love to do Australia. I have lived there for three months to study English so it’s my home away from home so it would be so cool to race in Australia. “

W Series only has one practice session. Do you ever feel like you need more or would that be too much then?

“Being with Formula 1 is amazing but the down side is you are not the main program so you get less track time. In other series, I was used to having a lot more practice but again it’s the same for everyone and it’s all about making the most of the time we have and use everything, especially between the sessions, to work hard with the engineers to be ready. “

How has it been being with F1? Is that nerve-wracking because of the crowd or just like any other weekend?

“It has been special because I have always watched F1 since I was a child. Before racing in W Series, I had actually only been to one F1 race in Hockenheim so it was super special. You get a little bit extra nervous when you stand in the pits and you look up and there is like the Ferrari pit board, everything, and the whole crowd. You feel like so many people are watching you but on the other hand when you’re racing, you don’t really realize as you’re focused and you’re just driving as you are always driving. For me, the first time I really realized how big it is was in Silverstone after my podium. I was standing before the podium, given the entry and I don’t have problems speaking in front of people but there I thought: “Oh my God, my head is so huge on the screen and so many people are listening and screaming.”. That was a childhood dream coming true.”

While we were talking about the format, do you think it would make sense for W Series to switch to a similar format to F2 and F3 with two races per weekend or have more practice sessions, or is it fine as it is?

“Well, for me as a racing driver I would love to have more races. The format from F2 and F3 with feature races or reverse grid I think could be interesting for W Series as well. ! I’m really good at starting and overtaking so something like a reverse grid will help me show my skills. I think I could shine in a reverse grid race. Fingers crossed that Formula 1 likes us so much that they are going to give us more track time next year. “

I think you are doing everything to make that happen with your full-out racing and we have seen this year a closer Championship than ever…

“I think the Championship is a lot closer than in 2019 and that is a really good sing that us the drivers, the Championship, everything has improved. The feedbacks from the fans were super positive, we don’t have any criticism or bad voices anymore as at the start of 2019. So, I think we proved a lot of people wrong and they came around. It has been a great journey for us all and I can’t wait to see how everything is going and getting even bigger in 2022.”

Do you think W Series also helped to give you the stability of not having to worry about one single race going wrong and knowing you have a place in the series?

“The W Series definitely helped a lot. I quit my job at the bank at the end of 2019 to be fully focused on racing. Nobody knew Covid was going to happen before 2020 but W Series has given me a lot of stability as a racing driver. So many people are looking into W Series so it’s going to help me also for the future in finding other cockpits, other drives. Financially the better you perform, the more money you get so it’s a big motivation but it also takes a lot of weight off your chest because you don’t have to constantly worry about how to get a budget together. We all know how crazy expensive racing can be and it’s something so unique that they take that pressure off of you. “

When you originally quit your job how nervous were you?

“I had some mixed feeling quitting my job because I really liked to be a banker and I had a great team with my coworkers and great relationships so for me it was kinda hard because it felt like breaking up with someone. I’m still seeing them a lot so all good. Financially, the fact you don’t automatically get your salary at the end of the month was something I was worried about at the beginning. Especially as Covid came in 2020 and W Series got canceled, I obviously got some doubts because I didn’t know what was going to happen with the sponsors and at home. Luckily I had nothing to worry and W Series announced to be back bigger and better and the doubt was gone pretty quickly. “

In 2021 W-Series introduced the team structure. How do you think it’s working out and will it lead to a proper Constructors’ Championship?

“Yes, team structure is very important. It gives the extra racing feeling like you have in Formula One with the teams competing against each other. I feel so lucky that Bunker is an amazing team. I have a close relationship with the owners and because they’re American we’re super excited to finally meet them in person. They couldn’t come to the earlier races so the only meetings we’ve had have been on zoom but now we’re going to have a home Grand Prix! For the future I think it’s important that we have the team structure to make sure the series survives over a long period of time. Having teams is the best way to guarantee funds because it keeps people investing in the series and investing in the drivers which makes sure that we can keep the series alive as long as possible.”

How is working in a team, is it challenging or do you enjoy it? 

“I really enjoy it because that’s what you normally have. Ever since I started racing I always had my team. It was unique with W-Series that we were suddenly one big team in 2019. Coming back into the team structure feels more normal as in racing you always have your team and you’re always competing against others. You now also have a teammate. Mines Sabre Cook and we really get along really well which is super cool. We’re still in the same awnings and everything but we also can ensure that we can really improve and learn from everyone.”

You are known for maintaining a positive attitude throughout the races, what’s your secret? Is it hard when you have challenges in bad races like Spa and Silverstone?

“I think it’s who I am, I am the yellow sunshine. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re having a tough weekend so I can go from sunshine to thunder pretty quick and then back. But mostly I’m a really positive person, I’m really happy and I always try to see and take away the positives in every situation because, let’s be honest, just because you’re in a bad mood, it’s not going to help your situation.  You’ve just gotta know how to learn from it and not make the same mistake twice. Of course in a situation like Spa, It’s challenging and everything but for me in the end I was so happy that everyone walked away without any serious injuries because I think that’s not something very normal. We’re just lucky the cars are so safe nowadays. 

Of course, Silverstone was tough, I mean there was a safety car, I could feel the win and then it got taken away a few laps just before the end. But I was like why should I  be sad because I know my performance was amazing. I did a mega start, which was my main focus this season, and I proved my fighting skills. It was my best result in the W-Series! Of course, I could have stood on the podium crying and I could have been mad at myself but  it is one of the best races I have driven as I’ve shown strengths in my start and my racing and it’s my best result so I am just going to enjoy the moment as I can’t change it now anyway.”

How hard is it to stay positive off the track? Being a woman in sports and the media, it must be really difficult?

“It’s not too hard because, of course, you can avoid it if you don’t feel like it. I must say that I have not had many negative experiences with the media or with people in the paddock.  I think if you’re fast and if you’re acting professionally then there shouldn’t be a big issue. Of course mentally you have downtimes, for me it’s always when things are slowing down and I suddenly have too much time or I don’t really know what’s next. That’s when I experience a downside but luckily I’m surrounded by amazing people and they help me a lot with that.”

What are you thinking on the grid, moments before the lights go out? Do you ever get distracted and how do you keep in focus?

“Of course, especially on a grid where there are so many people and fans, it’s hard to stay focused. I try especially, as soon as there is the one minute board I completely switch into a different mode. I only think about what’s next. I think about the start, I think about what I am going to do, what is my braking point for the first corner, do I go on the inside or outside? On the grid there is so much going on in your mind but for me as soon as I press the start button I completely just switch into race mode and I’m fully focused. “

Is it hard to stay in race mode when there is not much action around you and you’re just driving on your own? Or are you still always on it?

“It’s pretty hard if you have a puncture for example and need to box because it doesn’t really make sense to drive but then I try to look at it like a practice or I try to just get that track time in. When you’re fighting for the win, it’s pretty easy to stay in the race mode. You get so much adrenaline and then you’ll be fully on it and like in your tunnel and driving.”

For the future, if you could choose a series or race to participate in, what would your goal be?

“Of course, when I was 7 I wanted to be the F1 World Champion. Over the years you get more realistic. Now with W-Series, it’s not unreachable anymore so as we get our super license points it could maybe happen one day. I would love to race in the US , it’s something I would really like to do, maybe in something like Indy Car. In Europe, for the future, I’m looking into endurance racing so a goal for me is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  I did the 24 Hours of Nurburgring this year in a BMW 330 so a goal would be to do that again but in a higher car in next year’s race. That’s something I am working on for the near future. “

How hard is it to change your driving style from sports cars to single-seaters?

“This year I have focused on the W-Series. Back in 2019, I switched back and forth between Ferrari Challenge and Formula 3. They’re completely different with a completely different style. In the Ferrari Challenge, you have a super powerful heavy GT Car with heavy braking zones. You have to completely rotate the car and then get on the power but in F3 it’s the opposite because you try to carry speed into the corner as you want to get the aero working. I’m used to switching cars a lot so I luckily haven’t struggled too much. I still do some coaching in road cars and GT cars but the main focus I set for myself this year was W-Series.”

Does your experience with GT cars help in W-Series or is it just incompatible?

“I did one year of Formula 4 in 2016 and then for financial reasons I decided to switch to GT cars. Because I’ve done so many different things, I have learnt to adapt my driving style but Formula 3 is very unique and very different to drive but I have learnt to switch back and forth easily. “

Do you ever miss your karting days?

“Yes! I actually still have a shifter kart at home which I still drive sometimes, but I’m so busy so I don’t use it too often. One thing I want to do over the winter is to go to Italy and do some karting. It was so nice! I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything because growing up and going to a karting track every weekend and seeing my friends was the best. My family was also there, it was like a family hobby so it was the best.”

Talking about Italy, what goes through your mind when you go to historic tracks such as Monza and Silverstone?

“I get this question a lot, people are so surprised we race on the same track as Formula 1. Personally, I love historic tracks: the more old school it is, the better! I really like high-speed tracks and really technical tracks. My absolute favourite is Imola, also very iconic. When you’re racing you just try to perform as well as you can so you don’t think about all the history there but it does feel special that you are racing on the same track as the Formula One legends. “

More and more F1 teams have been recruiting women for their academies, such as Jamie Chadwick in Williams, Jess Hawkins in Aston Martin, and Ferrari working with FIA Girls On Track. What impact does that have?

“I think it is really important to develop female talent and to have more women in the team. Not just drivers but I think it’s also really important that we have more women in the team such as mechanics and engineers. I think W-Series is working hard to try and get more women in the paddock.”

Now that you’re racing with F1, how was it to see the interest for W-Series grow?

“Since racing with F1, the W-Series has grown a lot. We get a bigger community and more fans but also other teams and series now consider W-Series and respect it after seeing how high the level is.I think it was definitely the right choice to go with Formula 1 and  I’m excited to see what’s coming next.”

Are you interested in electric racing, either in Formula E or Extreme E?

“We’re seeing that the future is going electric and more and more series are going in that direction. Extreme E  is something I would really love to do because I have great car control and I love slippery conditions and very difficult conditions. I would say something like rallycross is something that would suit my driving style. I’ve been following Formula E, I’ve watched the races, I’ve watched Jamie as we’re all good friends. It’s very interesting.”

Extreme E does look fun- have you tried rallying or would you like to do it more?

“Rallying is something completely new to me. I watched it a lot when I was younger but I’ve never really tried it. It’s something I would like to do in my career at some point. I’ve done drifting and stuff but not rallying so that’s now on the bucket list. You only get one life so you need to try anything you can.”

Does that apply to two wheels as well?

“I would like to but I don’t think my mum would be a fan of that so at the moment we’ll stay on four wheels.”

Does your family find it hard to watch your races or do they enjoy it? 

“My family has always been on track with me since the karting days. Just now, because of Covid, they can’t come to any W-Series races. They came to the 24 Hours of Nurburgring earlier this year as that was the only race they could really attend. They watch and cheer from home with my entire family including my cousins, uncles and friends. Everyone is watching and cheering from home. Of course they are always a little bit worried and my mum gets nervous but she knows what I’m doing and she knows that the cars are safe. She always tells me to be safe and fast. She also always says “safe before fast” .”

Your Dad used to always come to races and you’d have a moment before the race. How important is it to have family there and how has that changed because of Covid?

“My family came to every race in 2019 and they were my lucky charms. Due to Covid it’s just not possible to have any family there but luckily I have such close friends on track so I don’t feel like I need them for mental support. I always talk to them when I’m racing and we send messages. We always call before and after a race and we facetime in the evening.”

If you had to think of yourself at the beginning of the season, where do you think there was the biggest improvement?

“My goals were pretty high coming into the Championship, that started off really good with the podium and a mega drive from P9. Then I would say Silverstone was my highlight and I’m so proud of that start because that was the main thing I struggle with in 2019, so I’m really proud I improved that. I would also say Spa was one of the most challenging weekends of my life. Physically and mentally it was really hard because it was only one night to recover basically. Then, racing in the rain in Spa it’s just one of the best things you can do as a racing driver and I’m proud of how I managed to come from P13 to P7 in only 20 minutes, as we had the very long safety car. I think I had the pace to win the race and that was the biggest growth coming from crashing the car, don’t even knowing if I’m fit to drive to having a mega race on the Saturday. “

If you were to look forward, what’s the point you think you need to increase the most as a driver?

“This year I think I’ve been good but I have still had ups and downs. I think the key is to improve the consistency again especially in qualifying, it’s been challenging as you only get two sets of tyres so start on the old and switch on the new set. I think that’s some point or something that I need to continue working on because in 2019 my qualifyings were better.”

Do you think your success during the first race set you up for the rest of the season?

“It definitely gave me a lot of confidence. I have worked very hard the past year, and especially during Covid, to be prepared and ready for this. Unfortunately, my season was little bit up and down. Sometimes it was my fault, sometimes you just can’t do anything against it. Anyway, I think I have really proven that I am one of the fastest girls on the grid, that I have amazing fighting skills, that I have improved my start and that’s something I’m really proud of. So after the downs, come the ups and I really hope we can finish on a high in COTA. “

Headline Image: W Series

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