Changing Perceptions

To celebrate the two-year anniversary of W Series launching on 10 October, we have been catching up with the leading drivers from our inaugural on-track season last year in a new series of blogs. Next up is Alice Powell who won our last on-track race at Brands Hatch in August 2019 to seal third place in the Championship.

Even though I’ve done very little racing, the last few months have been manic for me and a big change of pace after the lockdown earlier this year. My partner, James, and I were buying a house but that fell through in March and so we spent lockdown living with my parents. My dad, Tony, is in the high-risk category so it was a quiet few months, but they live in a remote area so I could go outside and train every day without coming into contact with people. I really got into my running, doing lots of hill sprints, so I feel much fitter than this time last year. We have since moved out and that’s allowed me to resume my coaching and commentating work. 

My only racing this year has been in the W Series Esports League and Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy. The former kept me busy and brought the drivers closer. It was fun and became really social, so it was a great way of getting to know everyone on the grid and the exposure it got on the BBC attracted new fans who were keen to engage with us via social media. I enjoyed it, even though I’m not fantastic on simulators and we all knew that Beitske [Visser] was going to be the one to beat!

The I-Pace season was stopped after the third round in February due to Covid and concluded with six rounds in Berlin over a fortnight in August. It was a really busy and challenging time as there was lots of filming and other commitments to fulfil, and being at the same venue for an extended period under those conditions was tiring. I finished fourth in the championship out of nine drivers in the Pro class and I was slightly disappointed. I lacked a little bit of pace compared to the frontrunners, got caught up in an incident in one race and suffered a mechanical failure in another. But I was just grateful to be out in a racing car again after spending so long in lockdown. 

I’ve really enjoyed doing more media work, commentating during F1 weekends for F1 TV and writing an online column after every Grand Prix this season for The Race. It’s such a privilege to be able to commentate on just one F1 session, let alone a whole weekend, so I’m looking forward to doing more of that in the future. I’ve been working alongside W Series Lead commentator Alex Jacques – who is so professional and has really helped me settle in – and Rosanna Tennant with whom I was proud to form part of an all-female commentary team during final practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix in July. Make no mistake, W Series has played a huge part in making that happen by changing perceptions and I’m seeing the effect in motor racing paddocks all over the world. When I was in Mexico with the I-Pace at the start of the year, so many fans recognised me and said how excited they were about W Series racing there.   

I’m seeing the effect at home too where more young girls are starting to come through and I’m proud to be coaching two of them. I work with Ella Stevens, 14, in karting and 17-year-old Abbi Pulling who has been doing a great job in British F4. A coach’s role is varied. When you build a relationship with drivers it’s important to have that trust and you don’t just turn up and say: “You’ve got to do this in this corner”. It’s the mental and physical side of things too. Last weekend, Abbi and I travelled to Imola where she made her debut in the Formula Renault Eurocup supporting F1. For three weeks before that, Abbi practically lived with me. We trained together – in amongst me going to work for the family business – and ate together too (James does the cooking!).

This is Abbi’s first year in single-seaters and the Eurocup is a huge step up from F4, so she was thrown in at the deep end. The series had already raced at Imola this season so the rest of the grid knew the circuit and Abbi got just one practice session in a new and really physical car – similar to the one we race in W Series. But she performed strongly, finishing within two seconds of the fastest car having outqualified an experienced driver who has raced in the series all season, so it was a positive weekend and one that Abbi will take a lot from.  

I took a lot from the weekend too. Being at Imola, an old-school circuit that just oozes history, and seeing so many fans outside the gates waving and cheering really gave me the racing bug again and I can’t wait to get back into the W Series car. Coaching will keep me busy until Christmas when I am looking forward to some time off, even though I’ll probably end up being extremely bored and working or training. Racing drivers can’t sit around for too long!