A natter with Alice Powell
Published 1st November 2012 - Written by Leigh O'Gorman
There are times when motorsport – especially top categories such as Formula 1 – feel like a man-only world. Whether it’s the drivers of these super fast machines, the mechanics in the pitlane, designers or team principals, the gender divide has often been extremely one-sided.
Thankfully, we at Badger are rather less pressed by those prejudices and are far more interested in quick drivers, fast cars and the stories behind them. Oh – and tea. We like a bit of tea. Especially a dab of the ever flavoursome English Breakfast. With two sugars and milk. In classical china cups of course. Please.
However, times are slowly beginning to change. In the US, fans have cheered on the likes of Simona de Silvestro and Danica Patrick in IndyCar and NASCAR respectively, while in Formula 1 Monisha Kaltenborn recently stepped up to lead the Sauber team from founder, Peter Sauber.
Outside of single seaters, sisters Leena and Teena Gade have proved themselves worthy of their top positions as engineers. Indeed come the end of the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hour race, Leena became the first female chief race engineer to enjoy top level success at Le Mans with Audi, while Teena has earned plenty of respect during her exploits with Mini Motorsports.
Should one look below the higher tiers of motorsport, there are a few young women making names for themselves. For example both Zoe Wenham and Louise Cook have enjoyed good relatively successful stints in the British GT and the PWRC respectively. This year saw the GP3 Series – one of Formula 1’s support categories – play host to three young ladies, two of whom were Trident’s Vicky Piria and Carmen Jorda of Ocean Racing Technology.
The third female racer to feature in the GP3 Series was Oxford’s Alice Powell. After several years in karts, Powell moved to the UK-based Ginetta Junior Championship, racing against the likes of Josh Hill (good ol’ Damon’s son) and Dino Zamparelli. From there, the then 16-year-old Powell switched to single-seaters, where she became the first female to win a Formula Renault event, before eventually being crowned the Formula Renault BARC champion with Manor.
This year, she joined the GP3 Series with Irish squad Status GP, eventually scoring a point at Monza after several near misses. Tonight, Alice is the subject of “Britain’s Next F1 Star”, to be broadcast on Sky Sports F1 HD at 7.30pm. Meanwhile at a wintery Silverstone…
Badger GP: So Alice. It’s race day morning. You’re pumped and ready for action – what is the breakfast of choice in the Powell camp?
Alice Powell: Normally I bring over some porridge pot over from England, as well as a banana and an apple to start off the day and maybe a glass of orange or apple juice and then stick to water for the rest of the day.
BGP: So, no greasy spoon fry-ups and pots of coffee then?
AP: No, unfortunately not, no.
BGP: Of course training and preparation for motorsport goes further than a solid diet – you also train at the Lotus GP headquarters in Enfield.
AP: Yes, I train with Lotus. I only live 15 minutes from there, so it’s very, very handy for me to get to Lotus. I’ve been training really hard in the gym for the physical levels of racing, but I don’t train for GP3, I train for the next level up like GP2 or something like that.
BGP: Speaking of GP3, you were competing in that series this year, scoring a point in Monza. In hindsight, how do you rate your season?
AP: It started off very well and was quite surprised with the results seeing as though I only had two test days in the car, so going to Barcelona and getting 11th, going to Monaco to get 11th and then in Valencia to be 9th quickest in practice and 12th in qualifying. Unfortunately, I crashed in both races and it took a bit of a nosedive. We struggled with a few things on the car and had a few more DNF’s as well, but then managed to pick it up again at the end of the season and grab that point in Monza.
AP: I learned a lot about myself. Each year you race, you learn more about yourself, about engineering and the tracks as well. If I race in GP3 next year, they’re going to be new to me, so now Barcelona, Monaco, Silverstone… all the European F1 tracks, I’ve now raced at, whereas this year, it was slightly different as I had never been to any of them before apart from Silverstone. It’s been a huge learning year for me.
BGP: And over the course of the weekend, there’s not that much track time (one 45 minute FP session, a 30 minute qualifying and two races).
AP: Yes, exactly. It’s a huge challenge – you can go on a simulator and try and learn the track, or you can have note about the track, but it’s never really the same, so to get out there and learn the tracks in only 45 minutes, especially if there are red flags or changing weather conditions, can make it quite difficult. It’s a good challenge – we’ve done reasonably well (…) this year, Status GP have helped me tremendously as well.
BGP: Your engineer this year was Simon Cayzer. How did your relationship with both him and the Status GP engineers progress during the year.
AP: My test at Silverstone was the first time I met Simon and then I signed a deal with the team. I get on very well with every single member of the team and Simon work really hard and has helped me so much – he’s a really good engineer and everyone at Status GP works so hard and I’ve really enjoyed working with them this year. Maybe I’ll work with them again next year, but who knows?
BGP: Although it’s still relatively early, have you lined up anything for 2013 or is it too early to divulge?
AP: I know what I want to do, but it’s just getting the money to do it. I want to do GP3 again next year, but it depends on the level of sponsorship I can raise, so I’m working hard to get the money together to do it, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
BGP: Should you do GP3 again, you’ll have an almost new formula to go to too.
AP: Yes, I’d have to make sure I got all the testing in – that was my one downfall this year was missing all the testing, but it will be the same for all the teams. They will all get the updates for the cars in December and then the tests start again in February, so it will be like a different formula. The engine has a lot more horsepower, the tyres are going to have more grip and the bodywork is slightly different, so it will be a step up.
BGP: Lastly, you are testing at Silverstone today for one of the final UK motorsport events of the year, the Walter Hayes Trophy. Tell me about this.
AP: Yeah, it’s the first time for me to drive a Formula Ford. I had one session this morning – there were five red flags, luckily I wasn’t one of them, so I only got three laps in. It’s a lot different from what I am used to driving. Someone my family knows had a car and they wanted me to drive the car for them, so they got the sponsorship for it to run. It should be good fun to see how I go; it’s completely different and the weather’s not great either. It’s freezing cold and very wet…
BGP: Isn’t it always at Silverstone?
AP: Yeah exactly, it’s always cold at Silverstone, so yeah, I’m just going to wait and see how it goes.
Whether Alice or any other female competitors emulate the likes of Michele Mouton (runner-up of the 1982 WRC season with Audi) or Desire Wilson – the only woman to win a Grand Prix of any kind – remains to be seen. But now is not the time to kid ourselves. While the future is looking somewhat brighter for women in motorsport, there is still a long way to go before the genders balance out.
You can see more of Alice tonight in the next episode of Britain’s Next F1 Star on Sky Sports F1 HD at 7.30pm. For more on Alice and her racing career, check out alice-powell.com or follow her on Twitter at @alicepowell.
And with that, I settled back to a steaming cup of tea and some digestives. Lovely.
Leigh O’Gorman is a friend of the Sett at Badger GP and the editor of the motor racing based website TheMotorsportArchive.com. When he’s not dribbling over a laptop at home or in an office somewhere, he is probably spending his time traveling all over Europe covering various Formula 3 championships, as well as GP2 and GP3, while also dabbling in things like Formula Ford. Throughout 2012, he was also the British Formula 3 correspondent for MotorsTV.com