Abbi Pulling: “I wouldn't have gone into F4 if W Series didn't come around”
British racing driver Abbi Pulling impressed in W Series last year by cementing herself in the top-seven of the standings, despite only competing in half of the races.
As a reserve driver for the 2021 season, Abbi had planned a title assault campaign in British Formula 4, but her season was cut short midway after Thruxton. Then a lifeline came along out of the blue: a call up to race for W Series at Zandvoort in support of the Formula 1 Dutch Grand Prix.
“It's an amazing circuit,” Abbi tells Females in Motorsport at the W Series pre-season test in Barcelona. “Zandvoort was probably one of my favourite tracks from last year, just on the aspect of it - it’s like Oulton Park in the UK and that’s my favourite.
“I'd been there in the Ginetta GT5 before, so it's not a single-seater so there's not much that you can kind of apply into W series, but I still knew that that corner was uphill braking and it was cambered and things like that, so that helped a lot, having that knowledge.”
The step up to W Series machinery comes with major differences from her previous Formula 4-spec car. With a driver, the Tatuus F3 T-318 weighs approximately 760kgs compared to 620kgs in F4.
“The F4 is significantly lighter than the W Series car,” she says. “It's down to obviously the power and the weight and it makes it quite tough jumping from the F4 to this. It’s been a lot in my case, getting stronger to get the most out of the car because it can be a limiting factor every now and then.
“Zandvoort is the most physical track on the calendar last year and it was tough to jump into. So I was limited in the aspect of strength of that circuit. So to have still qualified where I qualified, even though I wasn't getting the maximum out of the car in some areas of the track, I was really pleased.”
Abbi’s W Series year continued into the final two rounds of the championship, visiting the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. The 18-year-old secured her best single-seater result to date, claiming a brilliant second-place finish in the final race of the year.
“I was only expecting the podium once I had qualified where I qualified,” she says. “Going into the weekend there were no expectations. It was just to focus on the prep work that I had been doing and just do what I can with the information that I've learned.
Right out of the blocks, Abbi was quickest of the pack, topping the timesheets in the qualifying to earn pole for race one.
“The expectations then came with the results, so race one was a bit disappointing, but I learned a lot in the aspect of the tyre evolution and I took that then into the second race,” she says. “It was quite a neutral race really, that it was just maintaining the gap behind.
“It felt amazing really, to be on the podium. I learned a lot that weekend as well. In the mindset of going into it, just not focusing on the outcome and really focusing on the preparation and then the outcome will come in itself.”
Mindset has been a big focus for Abbi after her results in British F4 didn’t always translate to her outright pace.
“I got myself in a knot at one point, and whether it was my fault or not, it just didn't line up, the stars didn’t align,” she says. “Going forward, the kind of mindset now is similar to what I had at COTA, just preparation outcome.
“In F4, it was quite annoying because the reverse grid races punished you for qualifying well because of the full reverse grid. You can have a bad race in race one, so you can qualify on pole and then go to the back.
Abbi uses the opening round at Thruxton as an example, having qualified second she started the reverse grid race 15th. She came through the field to take fifth but knows it should have been a podium.
“If I started where I qualified, it could have been so much better,” she says. “And then again, I can't remember where I qualified, but I started 11th in the reverse grid race and I got up into the lead as well.
“The reverse grid races were some of the best races last year, but it then is quite annoying in that aspect of being rewarded and things like that and being punished in a way.”
Abbi’s career has rocketed forward in the past couple of years and now, with a guaranteed W Series drive for 2022, she’s setting her sights on what’s on her horizon.
“I love W Series and I see it as a stepping stone to progress your career and get that kind of exposure as a female, really,” Abbi says. “They're giving us the experience around global tracks, which is vital to anything in our careers.
“Moving on, if I go to F3, we might end up racing at Miami or Austin again or something like that. I want to continue down the single-seater ladder and it was something that was only a possibility because of W series.
“I wouldn't have gone into F4 if W Series didn't come around. The aim was always to get to W series and then hopefully use that to progress my career.”