Twelve months ago Alice Powell described her return to motor racing as a new lease of life. After four years without a drive she grasped her chance in the all-female W Series with unbridled verve. However, with her career resurgent the opportunity to build on her success has been wrenched away by the coronavirus-induced sporting shutdown. It has struck Powell as a body blow. “The thought of having another year not racing is pretty gutting,” she says bluntly.
Powell fears there may be no racing this year but is emphatic that if that is necessary to defeat the virus, then every sport must take it on the chin. “My other half thinks that we might not go racing at all,” she says. “I say: ‘Don’t be silly,’ but in the back of my mind I think he could be right. That is really upsetting because last year was my time back racing after being out for a long time.”
After lack of funding forced her out of racing to the extent that she believed her career was all but over, last year Powell finished the inaugural W Series on a high. The 27-year-old from Oxford won the final round at Brands Hatch and was third in the championship. Her performances caught the attention, new seats opened up and another season in the W Series beckoned. But the promise of 2020 lies in tatters and the outbreak may yet finish it off.
It has clearly been a major disappointment and she admits to finding the situation depressing, but there is no pause as Powell immediately acknowledges the bigger picture. “If it means we can fight the virus, stop it from spreading, prevent illness and deaths then of course we should not go racing,” she says.
“People’s health is much more important. Clearly, there are far more important things in the world than us getting back in a car.
“When races started to get cancelled it really hit home. But it is absolutely the right decision. You can put so many lives at risk and we need to stop this spreading. The number of people at a racetrack, hundreds and thousands of people, you can’t keep social distance at a racetrack. So it is the right thing to do.”
The W Series is no exception to the sporting lockdown. The DTM – the German touring car championship – to which it is a support series has postponed its opening three meetings and discussions are continuing on if and when they may begin racing. Two W Series rounds were due to take place at Formula One meetings this year, in the US and Mexico, a real step forward that is now in jeopardy.
Last year’s inaugural season offered female drivers the chance to compete in F3 cars for a championship where the series covered all the costs, the intent being to promote their talent and help their careers move forward. For Powell it worked handsomely: she became one of several competitors whose subsequent success comprehensively proved the series is making a difference.
Before the end of the season Powell was offered a drive in the US in the IMSA sports car championship. That was followed by a contract for a full-time seat in the Jaguar I-pace eTrophy series that supports Formula E meetings. Before its calendar also came to halt Powell had made her mark, with two podium finishes helping her to third in the standings, while in February she was given a shot in the Formula E rookie test for Envision Virgin Racing.
“My name wasn’t out there, when I wasn’t racing,” she says. “People started to forget about me, I hadn’t been around, then the W Series came along and the attraction of interest from around the world was incredible. That surely had to help. Without the W Series I probably wouldn’t have had the drives.”
Powell has been racing since she was eight. Her talent was recognised early yet despite success across a range of championships including GP3, she did not receive backing and as the money dried up so did the opportunities for her to compete.
She continued as a racing coach but was working with her father in house renovations when the W Series offered her a second chance. It was a life-changing moment, brought home recently in a moment of quiet reflection during the lockdown. “I was looking back through photos on my phone,” she says. “I have lots of photos of my dog and that kind of stuff and then it hit January last year and it’s just all racing.”
Powell is as engaging and enthusiastic as she is sharp and competitive on the track. That racing is everything to her is unmistakable: it is a passion to which she is wholly committed. She feels its absence almost as a physical loss, yet accepts with an admirably calm stoicism that under the current circumstances even another year out would be a small price to pay.
“We love our sport so much,” she says. “That I don’t know when I will next be in a car again brings me back to when I was not racing and that sinking feeling inside that I don’t know when it is next going to be, its horrible.
“But the health of everybody is far more important. More important than racing. More important than sport.”