Alice Powell: ‘Full on’ action for the Formula E simulator driver mentoring the next generation

·5-min read
 (Envision Formula E)
(Envision Formula E)

Among the many championships and series throughout the world of motorsport, there’s no doubt that Formula E holds a particularly unique appeal for a number of reasons. Setting aside the natural differences of the all-electric championship to its fossil fuel cousins, and the sustainability focus which comes with it on its worldwide tour, one of the most defining characteristics of FE is with its races being held in everyday, frequently used city streets.

That means no fixed track, a race circuit which needs to be speedily put together and dismantled each race weekend, a very close-to-the-surface feeling of being within the city environment on racedays and, above all else, extremely flexible drivers.

Unlike other championships, there’s not a lot of preparation time for those behind the wheel to get to grips with the circuit, with free practice, qualifying and the main race all taking place on the same day. If familiarity is a competitive advantage, extra information is of paramount importance.

That means a huge role has to be played by the team behind the driver, but also the team behind the team too: analysts and strategists, engineers and mechanics - and the test and development drivers, completing countless hours and laps in each team’s simulator, gathering data to be used by those at the track.

For British Formula E team Envision, that’s the job of Alice Powell, with the combined efforts of all involved leaving them fifth in the team standings heading into the final weekend of the season in Seoul.

“The work I do at Silverstone, where Envision are based, is great. There’s a fantastic group of people at the sim to help the team while they are on site,” Powell told the Independent ahead of the campaign finale.

“There’s limited testing and you can’t just rock up to the circuits and race - it’s busy days and I really enjoy playing a part in what happens for the races. I’ll be in the simulator with the team and pass on info to those at the track.”

Like many drivers within the motorsports industry, Powell’s talents are in evidence cross-championship; she’s currently second in the driver standings for the 2022 W Series, having triumphed in Hungary last time out.

There’s enormous benefit in being able to take experiences from one role to the other, with FE offering opportunities over the last couple of years trackside as well as at Envision HQ.

“We’ve got two street circuits in the W Series this year so that should help in the Formula E sim too,” she explained. “I’ve had the chance to drive the Formula E car a couple of times now and there’s a lot more that goes on behind the wheel. You’re not flat out in a race run, you’ve got to regenerate energy and there are lots of strategy changes you can do.

“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia and Marrakesh with the team - the days are really busy, it’s great for the teams and fans, full on with lots of track action and energy. It’s a great spectacle, fans get so much for their money because there’s so much on-track action.”

While Formula E is undoubtedly one of sport’s most progressive and inclusive settings, there’s still work to do in encouraging historically underrepresented groups to take up roles.

Powell, for instance, is one of just two female drivers right now, the other being Porsche’s reserve driver, Simona de Silvestro. But even as recently as at the London E-Prix, the ‘Girls on Track’ initiative showcases how Formula E is encouraging and aiding young females in realising that opportunities exist for them within motorsports - not just driving but in every role, from the mechanical to administrative or strategy.

 (Envision Formula E)
(Envision Formula E)

That’s increasingly in evidence throughout the racing spectrum, says Powell. “Across motorsport - FE, W Series, F3 - there are a lot more females and more diverse roles now. There are female mechanics in FE, Susie Wolff is team principal at Venturi. Females are playing a much bigger role across all motorsport and I think it’s really good to see. It gives lots of young girls I speak to the chance to realise they can take up these roles.

“They thought it was very male dominanted and didn’t necessarily have the confidence to go to the same college courses with a bunch of guys, basically. Seeing more females being showcased in FE paddocks and on TV gives these girls more confidence to go to classes, do STEM subjects and eventually learn about electric cars, engineering and so much more.”

Powell remains well-placed to talk about the encouragement and guidance that young females might need, with another of her roles being as a mentor, including to fellow W Series driver Abbi Pulling, just 19. Add in commentary work and scouting young drivers and it’s clear to see Powell’s plate is somewhat full even before stepping into a car - which is, evidently, just the way she likes it.

As for what comes next, even with FE 2022 drawing to a close and the W Series having four races left, there’s no reason for Powell to imagine matters getting much quieter.

“I really enjoy all the roles I have to play, in Formula E and outside. The W Series has helped put me back out racing again and opened doors, back in the spotlight so that opportunities come my way: Formula E, endurance racing, F1 - I keep all my doors open and don’t turn anything specific down.

“It’s coming to the end of the season and when it gets to November I’ll look at the options and see which direction I’m heading. Formula E will be in for big changes with Gen3 so I’m sure all teams will be doing a lot of simulator work - it could be a busy winter for me!”

:: Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship reaches its conclusion in Seoul, South Korea with a double-header on August 13 and 14