Since Giovanna Amati’s anonymous and brief spell with the ailing Brabham team in 1992, Formula 1 has suffered from a dearth of female competitors.
There are some who will readily trot out tired old nonsense such as “women are not strong enough to race cars”, etc, etc, etc…
What absolute tosh.
A number of female racers have made themselves known in the US, while competing in highly physical forms of motorsport – Danica Patrick is an obvious example. Indeed the recently retired Courtney Force enjoyed better results on the drag strip without the bells and whistles.
As an aside, current IndyCar driver Katherine Legge tested a Minardi at the tail end of 2005, although there were no serious intentions to this outing. Sarah Fisher also ran a McLaren at Indianapolis three years previously, but this was more a promotional endeavour to garner American interest.
Yet in Europe, the pot of female racing drivers near the top has remained painfully dry for some time; however 2012 has felt some ripples of change. Suzie Wolff and Maria de Villota have signed reserve driver deal with Williams and Marussia, but these are not generally considered to deals that will ever lead to any kind of a drive.
Meanwhile, this season’s GP3 Series – one of the main support categories to Formula 1 – has witnessed three female racers sign up for the 2012 season; Carma Jorda, Vicky Piria and ex-Formula Renault BARC champion Alice Powell.
At 19 years old, Powell has risen the motorsport ladder in Europe through Formula Renault UK, via the Ginetta Junior Championship and the G50 Cup.
2009 saw Powell receive the prestigious British Women’s Racing Drivers Club Gold Stars ‘Elite’ Award and also finished runner-up for the Young Star prize at the Women of the Future Awards.
Yet it is more than just awards that Powell has gathered. Podiums in Ginetta Juniors alongside her successes in Formula Renault UK have given Powell’s stock some value – it will surely only be a matter of time before results roll in.
The Oxford racer signed to Irish squad Status GP just prior to the start of the final pre-season test, instantly limiting here time in the car prior to the opening round in Barcelona and while Powell has just missed registering points twice in the opening pair of rounds – outside the top ten in Monaco by just six-tenths – the young rookie has garnered some positive reviews.
Recently, The Motorsport Archive checked in with Alice get her views on the 2012 season so far, the GP3 car and to garner her thoughts on women in motorsport.
The Motorsport Archive: On first looks, you have taken a slightly odd route to GP3 – becoming the first female to win the Formula Renault BARC Championship, followed by seasons in Formula Renault UK either side of a Ginetta G50 campaign. How would you define your path up the motors racing ladder?
Alice Powell: It has definitely had its ups and downs, but winning a championship in 2010 made the downs worth it!
I have learnt so much over the past few years and I am still learning now. I am very lucky to have such a great team of Status Grand Prix working with me this year.
TMA: Although you have not run much with the car, what do you make of the characteristics of the GP3/10 so far?
AP: It has a lot more grip than the Formula Renault (which I drove last year), not just aero grip, but mechanical grip too. It also has a turbo too and an extra 70BHP, but the speed is not the biggest thing that I noticed.
The tyres are Pirelli, which is a compound that I have never driven before. They are much bigger tyres with again, more grip and need different management. The car is brilliant and I enjoy driving it!
TMA: After such a brief time testing and racing, have you had much of an opportunity to build a relationship with your team or teammates, Marlon Stöckinger and Kotaro Sakurai?
AP: I do get on with my teammates yes. Like you said I have only had a brief time to get to know them but they seem great good guys. I have spent quite a bit of time with the Status crew and they are a fantastic bunch and very hard working.
It is very important to have a good relationship with the team and I already feel I have that.
TMA: Many of the circuits on the GP3 calendar are ones that you have not raced on before. How do you prepare for tackling venues that are new to you?
AP: Silverstone is the only circuit out of the 8-race calendar that I have driven! So the rest are completely new to me. I work closely with my engineer (Simon Cayzer) to get as much information about the circuits as possible (gear changes, references, braking etc etc). I would try and spend some time on the Simulator too, to learn the circuits.
TMA: Sponsorship and backing is a big issue in motorsport at the moment. How have you found the task of building a budget, especially for a series such as GP3?
AP: It has not been easy! I have now started looking for sponsors to come with me on my journey in 2013, as I want to do GP3 again next year.
TMA: The lack of females in top-level motorsport in the last twenty years is a subject that comes up often on TheMotorsportArchive.com. Can you give me an indication as to the perception of female competitors in modern motorsport from your perspective?
AP: There are gradually more and more females entering the sport. I think what the sport needs is a female to be racing in Formula One, so that the younger female generation have someone to look up to and aspire to be.
The men have plenty of drivers who they can look up to and aspire to be, but females don’t. If females had this, then I think it would encourage them to join to sport.
TMA: Last thing. Have you set a specific aims for the 2012 season?
AP: To finish in the top 15 of the championship and possibly get some points on the board this year. It is going to be tough, but I will be trying my very best!
The GP3 Series returns for the third round on the streets of Valencia from June 22nd-24th in support of the European Grand Prix.
My thanks again to Alice for participating in this Q&A session. For more on Alice and her racing career, check out alice-powell.com or follow her on Twitter at @alicepowell.