Written by Sophie Harvey, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Women have played an influential role throughout the history of motor racing. Many have taken to the wheels of motorsport machines, while numerous figures have worked tirelessly on the sidelines in various roles, shaping the motor racing world to the present day. Woman Spotlight Wednesday aims to take a look at the tales of these superwomen, who have surpassed various hurdles to reach where they are today.
Today’s Woman Spotlight Wednesday article dives into the career of Alice Powell - racing driver, commentator, TV personality, and driver coach. The Brit’s expertise spans across Formula 1, F1 Academy, and Formula E, no doubt proving to be a huge inspiration for many.
Growing up in the 90’s and the early 2000’s, it’s unsurprising that eight-year-old Alice Powell was enthralled by the infamous Scuderia Ferrari. Aspiring to be like her hero, Michael Schumacher, it was Powell’s grandfather who encouraged her to hit the indoor local circuit in Oxfordshire, England. It was only a matter of time before their monthly visits spiralled into competitive karting across the UK.
By the time she was 16, Powell was already earning herself a collection of accolades - Her performance in the Michelin Formula Renault Championship brought her a BWRDC Goldstar ‘Elite’ Award, and placed her as runner up in the Young Star Award for Women of the Future.
A year later, Powell found herself racing in the Formula Renault BARC Championship. It didn’t take her long to prove herself against her male counterparts, becoming the first woman to win a Formula Renault race in the UK, in the fourth round of the season. After a string of phenomenal performances, it was Powell who reigned victorious, winning the championship, and becoming the first female in the category to do so.
Nobody could deny Powell was fast, racing in the Ginetta Cup, and various Formula Renault series whilst accompanying the likes of future Formula One drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kyvat.
Moving Up the Feeder Series Ladder
Although lack of sponsorship and a reduced budget proved to be a significant hurdle, an opportunity arose to drive in the GP3 Championship in 2012. Before the racing even began, Powell was already at a disadvantage - having missed most of testing, she would have one day prior to the season opener in Barcelona to get accustomed to the machinery.
It was a season of inevitable ups and downs, but at the season finale in Monza, Powell became the first woman point-scorer since the series’ inception in 2010.
The following year, GP3 introduced an all-new car with an even higher price tag - this left her unable to continue in the series. Her budget couldn’t stretch to accommodate British F3 - apart from a one-off appearance at Rockingham, where she achieved an outstanding podium finish despite missing qualifying, due to her training commitments for Great Britain’s Skeleton team at the Winter Olympics. Although Powell didn’t make the cut, she still had motorsport - settling for the F3 Cup, and finishing second in the championship with an incredible five wins.
Backing from a Chinese sponsor led her to compete in Formula Renault Asia where Powell’s efforts led to her winning the championship - her second title, a true demonstration of her developing racecraft…..
And then, everything stopped.
As the price of competing skyrocketed, Powell was thrown into an unintentional four-year break from racing. Despite winning two championship titles, she just couldn’t find the sponsors she needed to continue the dream. Instead, she kept herself busy by working at her father’s bathroom restoration company; Unblocking toilets and urinals was far from the motorsport lifestyle she envisioned, but it was what she had to settle for.
When the word of W Series began circulating the paddock, Powell knew she had to be involved. An all-female series with drivers chosen on driving capabilities alone, not the budget they can bring - it was exactly what she needed.
“I remember pulling out of the pitlane and having the biggest smile on my face.” She reminisced during a past W Series interview - ‘Think you know: Alice Powell’ available on the series’ YouTube channel. It’s unsurprising that Powell made it through every stage, earning herself a permanent position on the grid.
Although Powell never managed to dethrone W Series great Jamie Chadwick, Powell won five races during her three seasons. She never fell below third in the final championship standings, proving that although Chadwick had the upper hand, Powell was never far from her title hopes.
After taking the opportunity to become an Envision Racing test driver, Powell partnered Nick Cassidy for the official rookie test after the 2020 Marrakesh ePrix.
In 2021, her role in the team progressed to Simulator and Development driver, aiding the team with testing and race preparation at their factory in Silverstone - a job she still completes today.
Powell is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of many. Through her entire career, Powell has stayed close to the new, upcoming talent arising through feeder series, working closely with names like karter Ella Stevens, and F1 Academy’s Abbi Pulling under her own management, Alice Powell Racing.
Alongside this, she is affiliated with Alpine F1 Team; Her role as an Alpine Academy Mentor sees Powell work closely with their junior drivers, and coach the participants of their newly-formed initiative, the Race(H)er programme.
Finally, Powell is the familiar voice of FIA Formula 2’s race commentary alongside presenting Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage. Is there anything she can’t do?
Alice Powell proves to be a great example of how talented individuals can go unnoticed without financial backing, and although W Series might not seem like a success to many, without it, hugely inspirational women like Powell would never have been discovered. Nevertheless, she’ll continue to inspire the next generation of racing drivers, coaches and presenters for many years to come.