Considering how close Alice Powell came to missing the 2012 season altogether, the way in which she has knuckled down in her debut season in the competitive GP3 Series has been quietly impressive. The step up from the Formula Renault UK championship has proved a considerable challenge for the Briton, and not just in terms of power; having previously raced exclusively in the UK, Powell found that with the exception of Silverstone, every circuit the GP3 Series visited was new to her. But although she has yet to score a point; peaking with a couple of 11th place finishes so far, Powell does not for an instant regret her decision to throw herself in at the deep end.
“I only had two test days in the car before the start of the season, so I was kind of thrown into the deep end,” says Alice, who won the Formula Renault BARC title in 2010. “The main thing I found was the level of grip that GP3 has got, adapting to the Pirelli tyres and the drop-off in the way the tyres come on is a lot different to the Michelins. But yeah, I love it, I love going on new tracks – all the tracks are new apart from Silverstone. I’m enjoying every moment of it.
“GP3 is on the F1 support package, so you’ve got the right people watching you, you’re learning the F1 tracks – I’ve been to Monaco, and F3 doesn’t go there. I spoke to Status and I was really pleased with how the team worked. I had the test at Silverstone and I’m just trying to go from there. Hopefully I’ll have enough funds to do GP3 again next year.”
For Powell, a large part of the appeal of GP3 has been the additional exposure gained from racing in front of live TV audiences on Sky, invaluable to a young racer on a tight budget.
“We’re really lucky to have the Sky coverage,” Alice admits. “I don’t think the Porsche races get shown, but GP2 and GP3 do, so it’s great to have that coverage, and Will Buxton does a great job commentating on all the races. GP3 does get recognised quite a bit: you’ve got it on Eurosport and highlights on Motors TV too, so you can’t get any better can you?”
The BRDC Rising Star got quite a bit of air-time on her category debut at the first round of the season in Barcelona, when she climbed from dead last to 13th by the end of the first lap, in a race which sticks out in her memory as one of her season’s highlights.
“The first race in Barcelona was quite special,” she says. “I started on the second-to-last row of the grid and it was my first time ever using a low downforce setting, yet I completed the first lap in P-13. I was quite shocked! So that was a major highlight, but also just racing at Monaco – that’s probably going to be one of the highlights of the year, unless I win a race or get a podium! Monaco was very special, just because it’s Monaco.”
If Powell is to succeed at this level, then she is certainly in the right place to develop. After delivering Adam Carroll the A1GP title, the Status squad stepped into GP3 with Rob Wickens as their lead driver, and he won three times en route to finishing second in 2010. Last year, Alexander Sims and Antonio Felix da Costa grabbed a win apiece, and it was only Sims’ wretched last 6 races – in which he scored no points – that eventually robbed him of a chance at the title.
This year, Filipino driver Marlon Stockinger took a reversed grid win at Monaco, and since the arrival of Lewis Williamson – a former winner of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award – midway through the season, Alice has made good progress. Indeed, at the last round at Spa, she finished just 3 seconds outside the points, following in the wheel tracks of the vastly more experienced Alex Brundle.
“Marlon [Stockinger] did GP3 last year and so did Lewis [Williamson], they’ve had quite a bit more experience and they know the tracks,” she says. “Its fine, it’s really good to learn from those who have got that experience: Lewis obviously has come down from the World Series, so his level of engineering is quite high. It’s really good to learn from these guys and have someone who’s getting quicker data than I am. Hopefully I can catch up with them soon!
“I’m watching as many on-board videos as I can and keeping up the fitness training for the next level up: obviously the new GP3 car is going to be a lot faster. You’re going to need a lot more strength for that as the tyres will be bigger as well.”
Qualifying is something else Alice will have to work on. Too many times this year she has qualified in the rough and tumble of the GP3 midfield, where accidents are an unfortunate, but common occurrence: Powell was taken out at the first corner in Barcelona, tangled with Will Buller at St. Devote in Monaco, and through no fault of her own got caught up in the melee at Hockenheim.
With the GP3 season finishing off at the classic Monza circuit this weekend, Alice is eager to end the year in style before focusing her attentions on raising a budget for 2013.
“Hopefully we can get some points on the board; I think that’s possible,” she says. “Obviously we’ve got Monza coming up and I’ve never been there before, so it’s going to be tough. We only get one 45 minute session to learn the circuit: Spa was over a 2 minute long lap, so if you think about it that’s not many laps. And you’ve got to include coming in, changing tyres and doing the setup.
“It’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to racing on this really famous circuit.”
So what lies in store for Britain’s foremost female racer? A true motorsport fan, Powell’s passion to become a world champion burns bright – irrespective of discipline.
“I didn’t sign this deal with Status until around March and I was very close to the stage where I wasn’t going to be racing anything this year. But you’ve just got to keep going, keep working away, keep making contacts and you never know what’s round the corner.
“I just love motorsports, so obviously Formula 1 is the dream, probably most race car drivers’ dream, but the cost of it is three times, four times, or even five times the amount of racing in sportscars. You’ve got to look at it that way, keep going until you can’t go any further. Like Alex Sims: he tried and tried and tried and is a very good driver – I think he would be able to beat a few of those in F1 – but he just can’t get the funds to do it, which is a real shame. He’s come across to sportscars and is doing a great job here with Status.”
The promised land of America is another option for Alice. Danica Patrick blazed a trail for females in US motorsport with her heroics at Indianapolis in 2005, and since she became the first woman to win an Indycar race at Motegi in 2008, Katherine Legge and Simona de Silvestro have also found drives in Indycar, while Indy Lights frontrunner Pippa Mann and promising Brazilian Ana Beatriz wait in the wings.
“Obviously Danica and a few others have done a really good job racing over there, but still funds are quite tight. You’ve got Pippa Mann, the British female who is racing over there, she’s struggling at the moment to get funds together to do some Indycar racing, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Talk of Patrick inevitably brings the focus back on her gender. Powell is one of three women competing in the 2012 GP3 Series, something which the Briton sees as a positive step towards breaking down the long-held misconceptions about gender in racing.
“I think it’s really good,” Alice says of her competition Carmen Jorda and Vicky Piria. “It shows females looking to come into motorsport or females a bit lower down, say in Formula Renault or in go-karting, that it is possible to race in GP3 against some of the lads. I think it’s really good for the sport, and certainly won’t do any harm at all.”
It really is too early to say whether Alice Powell can become the first woman since Lella Lombardi to make an impression in F1. But with time on her side, the early signs are undoubtedly promising.