Who knew the little girl from Oxford, England, who once raced around her family garden on her bike, would fancy herself one day in the same category as Lewis Hamilton? Rubbish, you say? Daft? The learned academians down down the road at the University of Oxford might raise an eyebrow and remark on the extraordinarily long odds.
More than just a driver who is fond of pink in a sea Y-chromisomed competitors, Alice added achievement to her audacious F1 dream by becoming the first female to ever win a Formula Renault race and the first female ever to win a Formula Renault Championship. (More on Alice's career so far here.)
The Faculty of History at Oxford would be well served to keep their eyes on the 24th Woman of pressdog®, Alice Powell. It stands to reason a woman will one day crash throught any glass bariers in front of the Formula One gate. Alice Powell reckons it might as well be her.
Alice and I talked via email in mid-Septmber ...
pressdog: What got you into racing initially? Your bio says you learned to drive at age 6 and then went karting at age 8. Did you just say “Hey mum, teach me to drive” one day or what? Do you have a family background in racing?
Alice Powell: I was always into racing. None of my family were involved in Motorsport in any way .... I loved riding my bicycle around the garden pretending I was a race car driver!! It was one day, when I was 6 years old, that my family gave me the opportunity to drive a car. I do not remember too much from it, only a lot of cushions and it being really fun!!
presdog: How did you evolve from karting up to single-seat, open-wheel cars? Why not sports cars?
Alice: From karting, I moved up to a series called Ginetta Junior when I was about 15 years old. This series was for 14-17 year olds and it is a mini sports car series. I then took the choice to move into single seaters when I was 16. I made this choice as I want to drive in Formula One or Indy Cars.
pressdog: Your bio says: In 2010, you made history by becoming the first female to EVER win a Formula Renault race and made more history by becoming the first female to win a Formula Renault Championship. Describe that first win, your feelings as you crossed the line in P1.
Alice: I remember the weekend like it was yesterday. We had a problem in qualifying which meant I missed half the session. Those minutes I spent in the pits when I should have been out on track were horrid. I did think for a second that all the hard work that my team, sponsors and myself had put in were going to waste! However, the team sorted the problem and got me out on track for me to qualify P4 and P1 for the two races! I was lying 2nd in the Championship coming into Race One. My main rival was starting on P1.... I knew I had to get a good start, keep out of trouble and most importantly, do the best I could. I was so fired up!! I crossed the line in P2, but it felt like I had won the race!
My rival was out of the top 5 and going into the last race, there was about a 2 point gap......And I was starting P1 for the final race, with my rival (Mitchel Hale), starting P4... I was so nervous before the start of the race. I knew I had to make NO mistakes! I luckily had my teammate, James Theodore, starting P2, so I knew he wasn't going to do anything stupid. I got a great start and managed to lead start to finish (which included two safety cars!!)! It was when I crossed the line and saw P1 2010 on my board that I knew I had won! It was the most incredible feeling in the world! I screamed in my helmet, so much that it hurt my throat!! I still struggle for words today to describe my happiness! The team (Manor Competition and Hillspeed) did a fab job all year and it was so nice to give them a championship! My sponsors deserved it as well!
pressdog: What was the reaction to your win and championship by your competitors?
Alice: They were happy for me! Most of the drivers came up to me after the race and congratulated me, which was nice!
pressdog: Wikipedia says during 2010 you were engineered by female Manor engineer Sarah Shaw. Were you and Sarah like the Girl Team or was there not that big of a deal? Was it different working with a female engineer?
Alice: We made a great team! Sarah is a fantastic engineer. I did not see us as the "Girl Team", just as a driver and engineer working hard to do the best job we possibly could. Sarah was the first engineer that I worked with. I worked with her for 3 years and we still keep in good contact. Of course there was more "girl talk" than I would have with a male engineer, haha!
pressdog: In March the BBC site had a story about your search for sponsorship money. In it you said “We are in crisis mode at the moment, it's looking at this stage the career could end” and "It's quite dire at the moment." (Story here.) What happened to go from quite dire to GP3?
Alice: The winter of 2011 and early 2012 was very hard! Like I said in the BBC interview, it looked like my career was going to end! However, myself and my family worked hard and never gave up! I managed to get some sponsorship and I am very thankful to the sponsors that have supported me this year! It was literally 3-4 weeks before the start of the GP3 season that I signed on the dotted line with Status Grand Prix to race with them. I was so happy and learned that you must never give up!! My sponsors for the 2012 season were, Silverstone-Hotels.com, Immun'Age, MyproteinUK and IWI Watches. Huge thanks to them!
pressdog: Speaking of money, (fellow Woman of pressdog® and Englander) Pippa (Mann) tells me that you’re not a driver with a lot of family money following you around. What is your approach to finding sponsorship?
Alice: You do have to maximise the "Girl in the mans world". It is true though! 99% of drivers racing here in Europe are male. I try to make the most of the media coverage I receive, but you also have to perform on the track. Meeting the right people and getting the right contacts is also key.
pressdog: Do you ever get sick of the money chase? Do you ever think "this may not be worth all the non-driving rubbish I have to go through?"
Alice: No I will never get sick of it. I want to have a professional racing career, so if I have to work extra hard to find sponsorship, then I will!
pressdog: Other European women I have talked to say it’s still very difficult being a woman in racing in Europe. Lot of chauvinism and glass ceilings. Pippa said she came to America partly due to that (story). How would you describe the challenges?
Alice: It is difficult yes. The lower levels of racing in Europe (like GP3) do not get as much media coverage than the lower racing levels in America (like Indy Lights). However, I think that the media coverage for some of the lower levels in Europe is getting much better. For example, GP3 now gets live TV coverage across most of Europe and parts of the World. GP3 also has the benefit of being on the Formula One Europe package, so this has the benefits of very large crowds at the circuits!
pressdog: I saw that Lewis Hamilton is one of your heroes. Why Lewis?
Alice: I have Lewis as a hero mainly because he is British! Lewis also came very close to winning the Formula One World Championship in his first year of Formula One!! That was very very impressive!!
pressdog: You scored your first GP3 points at Monza. Was that a thrill or just part of the program?
Alice: It was a long time coming! We should have scored a point much earlier in the season, and came very close at times (Barcelona and Monaco). We had a dip mid-season, so to end on a high and to score a point was fantastic!! I always wanted to score a point before the season finished. I was a hard year, especially seeing that I missed all preseason testing, bar two days! All of the tracks, apart from Silverstone, we knew to me too. However, Status Grand Prix helped me so much to learn the tracks and to get used to driving the GP3 and the Pirelli tyres. They did a brilliant job all season, so it was also nice to score a point for them!
pressdog: Do you like Monza? It’s kind of oval-like with its long straights and parabolica.
Alice: Monza was great! I love all the drafting and the long straights make for very exciting racing!
pressdog: Any desire to try an oval?
Alice: Yes! I would love to have a go on driving around an oval one day!
pressdog: What is Alice like away from the track? Are you one of those who is a driver 24/7 or do you disconnect from driving at times and focus on other, non-driving pursuits?
Alice: I think that it is important to disconnect from driving at times to let your mind settle and to give yourself a break. I enjoy gym and fitness training to help keep myself fit for racing. I am lucky enough to be able to train at Lotus Formula One. I love to spend time with friends and family. Other sports that I enjoy are playing and watching Hockey.
pressdog: So, 2013. Everything sorted? Starting over with the pursuit of funding? How’s it look so far?
Alice: Nothing is sorted yet! I hope to raise enough funds to compete in the 2013 GP3 Series. GP3 are upgrading the current car from 280BHP to 400BHP, plus improve aerodynamics. It will be a big step up from the current car, so I hope to be able to do all the pre season testing, unlike the pre 2012 season. GP3 will still be on the Formula One package and get live TV coverage :-)
pressdog: You seem pretty focused on F1. Is it F1 or bust? Of all the female hostile racing, F1 may be the Mother of all Lion's Dens. Any strategy or preparation to deal with that?
Alice: Yes, my aim is to get to Formula One. It will take an awful a lot of work to get there, but I am prepared to put in the effort! I just see myself as another driver trying to reach F1.
pressdog: The best part of being a race car driver? The thing that you love absolutely the most and will miss absolutely the most when it's all over (hopefully decades from now).
Alice: I just love driving fast race cars and the thrill of the competition. When you get good results the happiness is amazing too! I enjoy working with engineers and trying to get the best out of the car and myself. I have had the pleasure so far in my career, to have worked with some great people. I will miss motorsport so much, but the driving will be the thing that I will miss the most.