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F1 is Alice's wonderland
HER name is Alice Powell, she’s 17 and she left school last year after taking her GCSEs – and she reckons she’s going to be the first woman to win F1.
Mmmm. Maybe a phase she’s going through? After all, you don’t see many girls up there alongside Lewis Hamilton on the podium – unless they’re wearing hotpants and handing out the Champagne.
Alice rings me on her hands-free while driving three-and-a-half hours from Snetterton racetrack near Norwich, to Oulton Park, Cheshire, where she’s testing her car.
“Hope you’re keeping to the speed limit,” I joke. It’s probably one she’s heard many times before, but she chuckles politely anyway.
“So what are you up to?” I ask.
“I’m halfway though the Renault British Rally Championships with three rounds left and the next round is at Snetterton at the end of this month,” she tells me.
“I’m one of only two women in 17 drivers, the other girl is in 15th and I’m in second – I intend to be first.”
Her quest is simple – to be racing in F1 in the next four to five years and to win the title.
Her gender, she says, is irrelevant. It may be less than five months since she got her driving licence, but all day today Alice has been pushing her car towards its top speed of 150 miles per hour and taking corners at speeds that would make many grown men cry.
“Testing means we spend days pushing our cars and ourselves, running things in, making qualifying runs and basically getting used to the track. It’s fun, but hard work too.”
It’s got a bit easier since Alice, from Sarsden, near Chipping Norton, left school last year and can now dedicate all her time to racing.
“Last year was pretty tough,” she says.
From the excitement of competing at 120mph in a motor race televised live on TV, it was back to earth the following day when Alice was behind her desk at the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water taking her Maths GCSE exam.
“It was all pretty hectic but I did well and passed all of my GCSEs with good grades. Now I’ve finished school and I’m splitting my time between training at Renault F1 in Enstone and competing.
“Passing my driving test in March was great, because it now means I don’t have to rely on my mum and dad to drive me everywhere for my racing.
“For a long time I would be routinely driving over a 100 miles an hour on the track, but not legally able to drive on the road.”
She achieved eight podiums in the Ginetta and BDRC Stars of Tomorrow Championships.
And in May this year she became the first female to win a Formula Renault Race when she won round four of the Formula Renault BARC Championship at Silverstone.
Last year, racing legend Sir Stirling Moss presented her with the British Women Racing Drivers’ Club Elite Winner award.
She is also the youngest female to have competed in the Michelin Formula Renault UK Championship – the 150mph single-seater race series which provides a stepping stone to F1 and set her hero (and former Manor Competition) predecessor) Lewis Hamilton, on track to superstardom.
But is it really possible, I ask, to actually compete alongside the men and win it.
“It won’t be easy and some people simply don’t believe a woman has the strength and courage to compete at a high level in sport and beat male competitors. But I do and I believe I can.
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be bothering with the training, pushing myself to the limits of my fitness and asking my family for all their support to help get me there.”
Family is key to Alice’s success. She was introduced to motorsport by her granddad, racing fan Jim Fraser, now 69.
She learned to drive a car when she was six and began her karting career two years later.
“Many motor racing drivers follow a family member into the sport, whereas I’m the first, but mum and dad say I seem to have had racing in mind from a very early age, when I started racing a ride-on around the dining room table.
“My family obviously help me a lot, but sponsorship is key in motor racing and I’m doing pretty well.”
Having financed Alice’s 2009 season, Silverstone Hotels continues to support her on her route to F1 and she also has backing from Travis Perkins and a new Japanese anti-stress treatment – as well as the support of her team at Manor Competition and Renault.
“If I win the championships I could attract really big sponsors and could send me even further up the ladder – this is definitely my biggest year so far.”
There doesn’t seem a lot of time left for the things most 17 year old girls spend time doing – shopping and hanging out with friends and boyfriends.
“When I was younger it was hard when racing started to take up all my weekends and I did miss going to parties and seeing friends for a while, but if I’m serious about racing then it has to come first,” she admits.
So does being a racing driver make her a geek or cool?
“Most people seem pretty impressed, although girls my age don’t know a lot about motor racing,” she said.
“That’s another reason why I’d like to do well – to be an ambassador for the sport.
“If more women got interested in it, more would compete.”
Alice’s hero, Lewis Hamilton, is at the pinnacle of his success.
Having been crowned F1 champ he’s living the dream in Monaco with a pop star girlfriend.
But Alice thinks in miles per hour, not dollars.
“Of course the money would be fabulous, who wouldn’t say that?” she says. “But right now I’m doing what Stirling Moss told me and keeping my eye on the prize.”
Alice’s mum and dad, Eileen, 43, and Tony, 51, are very proud. Mrs Powell said: “We see ourselves as her background support. She’s very dedicated and works extremely hard and is determined to be the first successful female Formula 1 driver – we believe she will.”
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