With her third W Series entrance, Alice Powell is not holding back in her pursuit for the championship title. F1 Feeder Series interviewed Powell during W Series’ pre-season Barcelona test, discussing the season ahead, gender diversity in motorsport, her development work in Formula E, and her future plans.
By Aisha Sembhi
Alice Powell is a pioneer for women in motorsport, becoming the first woman to win the Formula Renault championship in 2012, and the first to score points in GP3. After a hiatus, Powell returned to the driver’s seat in 2019 to compete in the inaugural W Series championship, where she finished third overall.
Powell’s 2021 season began with one of the most dominant performances W Series has ever seen – a pole position, a fastest lap set, and every lap lead at the Red Bull Ring. She amassed a further two wins at Silverstone and Zandvoort, finishing the season behind Jamie Chadwick. In 2022, Powell is hoping to build upon her previous success with a championship title. Powell defined her objective for the 2022 season: “1st overall, that’s definitely going to be the aim this year!”
W Series prep and the season ahead
On her preparation for the series ahead, Powell emphasizes her desire to get back onto the track, whilst also prioritizing mental training: “The proper training is when you get out in the car. Mentally, I’ve been doing similar stuff to last year, so keeping up with Gazing Performance, which both Abbi Pulling and I use. It’s all been going really good so far.”
I don’t know exactly who the others outside the top eight will be, but the young drivers look super fast at the momentAlice Powell
Each season, the top eight finishers automatically qualify to compete in the following season, allowing space for twelve new drivers to compete. When discussing the new talent this year, Powell praises the youngsters on track: “I think it’s going to be one of the toughest seasons yet, to be honest. A whole new bunch of talent is coming through, which is really nice to see. I don’t know exactly who the others outside the top eight will be, but the young drivers look super fast at the moment.”
“I’m looking forward to competing against some familiar faces too. Abbi Pulling is also back full-time this season – we all know what she can do, she pulled out a pole position in Austin.”
Bristol Street Motors
Powell will compete with Click2Drive Bristol Street Motors Racing. Bristol Street Motors first sponsored Powell in 2008 during her stint in the Ginetta Junior Championship. “It’s really nice to have Bristol Street Motors backing me again. They were a sponsor of mine when I first started driving, so to be one of their drivers is really special.”
Powell’s team launched the #TypicalWomanDriver campaign in 2022, which seeks to promote the normalization of female driving in a large number of sectors, both in motorsport and beyond. “The campaign basically supports the idea that women can drive anything. From ambulances to fire engines to race cars – there’s nothing that we can’t drive! It’s a really cool campaign to be a part of, and an incredible message to be sending out.”
Gender diversity in motorsport
Powell has been racing cars since 2007, and is no stranger to being the only woman on track. When asked about her previous experience, she highlights the prejudice she would receive as the only girl competing: “When I started racing at 8-years-old, other fathers on the track would say ‘you can’t let a girl beat you’, and stuff like that. There would be, at most, two other girls in the karting paddock, and everyone else was male.
If you go to a go-kart or race car paddock now, there are a lot more females about, even in Formula 1Alice Powell
She highlights the improvement in visible gender diversity in motorsport, including drivers as well as individuals involved behind the scenes: “It’s definitely improved a lot since when I first started. If you go to a go-kart or race car paddock now, there are a lot more females about, even in Formula 1. Obviously, there aren’t any female drivers in that top-level as of yet, but walking around the F1 paddock, you see women engineers, strategists, and so on.”
Powell, much like other women involved in motorsport, identifies that efforts can still be made to achieve true gender diversity. One solution she highlights is an increase in women racing full-time at all levels, and becoming familiar faces within the sport: “Realistically, you need a female driver to be racing in those championships. This would help promote the championships themselves. It’ll be really nice to see some women eventually entering Formula 3 and Formula 2.”
Powell has a wealth of experience in motorsport, competing in the F3 Cup in 2013 as well as the MotorSport Vision Formula Three Cup. In the latter championship, Powell finished the season in second overall, with five wins. Despite this success, she entered a six-year-long hiatus, which eventually ended in 2020 – she cites funding reasons as the primary reason behind this absence.
The creation of W Series in 2019 provided Powell with an opportunity to begin racing once more. The championship offers a total of $1million in prize funds, with $500,000 awarded to the season’s champion and the remainder split between the rest of the field.
There needs to be some sort of structure in place, like budget caps, to make things a bit cheaper and provide more opportunitiesAlice Powell
Whilst W Series has provided the invaluable chance to get back in the driver’s seat, Powell acknowledges the continued existence of funding problems within junior motorsport competitions. “It’s difficult to climb the feeder series ladder, purely because it’s so expensive to do so. Budgets for F3 can be over $1million, and F2 is way over $1million. There needs to be some sort of structure in place, like budget caps, to make things a bit cheaper and provide more opportunities.”
“Formula 1 academies are brilliant too, but they could definitely be expanding,” Powell argues, “Any support for a driver is really good, but when you’re backed by an F1 team, that’s extra special. If F1 teams can continue to do that and have more drivers in their academies, that would be great for diversity in motorsport. It would be a way of giving back to the lower categories.”
Formula E, and beyond
Powell’s racing career is not limited to W Series. In 2020, she participated in a rookie test with Envision Virgin Racing, alongside Nick Cassidy, now a full-time driver. She has since remained with the team, becoming the simulator and development driver for the current season.
“It’s become more of a full-time role last year throughout season 7,” Powell explains, “I attended the Saudi ePrix as a reserve driver, but now my role will be a lot more sim-based. I’m really enjoying it and learning a lot about the Formula E car. The sim is a high tech piece of equipment, and it’s as close as you can get to the real thing. Being able to be in that role is really enjoyable, and it’s a lovely team to be part of as well.”
Powell has also branched out into commentary, covering some Formula 2 races with Sky Sports in 2020. In 2022, Powell seeks to continue this work: “I’ll still be on the screens, possibly doing some commentary for Channel 4 this year. I’m also looking forward to doing work for F1TV as well!”
Powell’s ultimate motorsport aspiration remains the same as it has for years: “I’d love to still have the chance to drive in F1, be it racing or testing.” However, she is not limiting herself elsewhere, and continues to seek out new opportunities wherever possible: “I’m keeping my options fully open. For example, I had the chance to do a test in LMP2 in WEC, which I really enjoyed. I’m basically seeing what opportunities come up, and working from there.”
I can safely say if I won the championship, I wouldn’t return, I’d like to either move across to something else and put that prize money into another projectAlice Powell
W Series is one of few feeder series which allows its champion to return – 2022 will see the second return of two-time champion, Jamie Chadwick, seeking to retain her title. With Powell’s third entrance in W Series, she makes clear her own approach to the future beyond a championship title: “Whether I return or not depends on my results this year. I can safely say if I won the championship, I wouldn’t return, I’d like to either move across to something else and put that prize money into another project. A lot of people can vouch that this is my position, and has been since we started.”
When discussing the success of W Series as a catalyst for promoting gender diversity in elite levels of motorsport, Powell highlights the successes of the championship: “W Series is definitely doing its job. I use Abbi [Pulling] as an example – her British F4 season got cut short last year, and W Series put faith in her and gave her an opportunity to show what she can do. She did really well in Austin last year.”
“It’s certainly not doing what critics are saying. It’s giving opportunities, creating great opportunities for young drivers to progress and race on F1 weekends, showing their abilities to the right people. It’s a brilliant opportunity for everyone involved.”
Header photo credit: W Series
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