until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula E

Enough progress? Two women in Formula E's test line-up

by Sam Smith
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Almost 18 months since she last sat in a contemporary racing car, Alice Powell will return to the cockpit with the Envision Racing team in the Formula E rookie test at Berlin Tempelhof later this month.

Powell will be joined at the test by BMW World Endurance Championship driver Dries Vanthoor, who will drive a single-seater in anger for the time in almost a decade.

Largely due to her absence from competition Powell was not considered for the two available seats vacated by Sebastien Buemi and Robin Frijns for the Berlin races owing to that weekend's clash with the Spa WEC round.

They were taken by Jaguar (who supply Envision) reserve driver Joel Eriksson and Formula 2 driver Paul Aron, but Powell said she is not “really angry” and understood why she will not make her Formula E debut in Germany.

“I didn't have a discussion with them [about a race seat] and I've not raced for almost two years,” Powell told The Race. “I live in the real world so I'm not one that's going to sit here and be like, 'Why wasn't I offered the opportunity?'

“I'm not going to sit here and be really angry that [Envision] didn't give me the chance. I would not necessarily be the fastest option at this time, plainly because I haven't had a bum in a seat for two years nearly.

“I support the team; I want the team to get the best results. I'm just grateful that they've offered me this [test] opportunity.”

Powell has done several shakedown tests for Envision and also took part in the March 2020 Formula E rookie test at Marrakesh (pictured below). Since that time, she has worked with the team on its simulator and also attended various E-Prixs in a reserve role.

She told The Race that she will have a pre-determined run plan “basically to give the best feedback and help them as much as I can and just dial in to the Gen3 car”, but she also described how out and out laptimes would not be a crucial part of the sessions.

“I know everyone looks at the times but honestly, I don't think the team is expecting me to go out there and set the world on fire,” she said.

“I'm just looking forward to getting experience on track, racking up the experience. I really want to thank the team for giving me their trust.”

Powell also expanded on her racing career, which has had two enforced breaks due to a lack of opportunities and backing. The first period of absence was between 2015 and 2018 before she re-emerged in the short-lived Jaguar I-Pace eTROPHY that supported Formula E before signing up for the inaugural W Series season.

She secured runner-up spot in W Series in 2021 with three victories and last raced at the Singapore round of the series' incomplete final season in September 2022.

“I'm never going to turn down any opportunities like that but we know that these opportunities don't come around very often,” said Powell.

“Finances to race is a huge thing but I love the opportunities that Envision is able to give to me like the rookie test, but also I'm so busy sort of doing other things and I'm looking long term.

“People say, ‘Surely you can pick up drives here and there?’ but I've got stuff I need to pay for like living and the house, etc.”

Powell is heavily involved in the career of F1 Academy racer Abbi Pulling and also works extensively with the Alpine F1 team. In addition, she is a regular commentator and pundit for the F2 and Formula 3 productions shown on Sky Sports and is part of Channel 4's F1 coverage.

“I really enjoy the work that I do outside of driving a car. Of course I really love driving a car, but I am busy with drivers that I have, the TV commentary stuff, the work with Alpine is also really busy as well,” she said.

“There's plenty of other stuff going on, it's actually hard to try and fit in any racing, to be honest, even if I had the chance anyway.”

The Race says

Formula E teams have given race chances to three women since its inception: Katherine Legge drove very briefly for Amlin Aguri in 2014, competing in two races, Michaela Cerruti also drove for Jarno Trulli's team in that first season, and Simona de Silvestro - who was by far the most competitive - was active between 2015 and 2016. The former IndyCar driver also held reserve driver status with Porsche for several seasons.

She took two ninth-place finishes for Andretti at Long Beach and Berlin (pictured above) in 2016 but was eventually replaced by Antonio Felix da Costa.

Since then, Formula E devised a female-only test the day after the first Diriyah test in 2018 and then Jamie Chadwick tested for Jaguar in 2020. More recently, Gabriela Jilkova tried Gen3 power at the Valencia test last October.

But genuine prospects for more meaningful running have only come now, with Powell at Envision and Marta Garcia at ERT being given decent track time.

The nadir of the topic of women competing in Formula E came last year when, despite no clashes with any other relevant championship, no women were asked to test. This season, two will fill out seats. So progress of sorts.

Speaking recently to The Race, Formula E CEO Jeff Dodds said it was his desire to see more diversity established throughout Formula E but that women need to be included more at all levels.

“The hypothesis that we have, and I buy into, is that men and women can compete equally in Formula E,” said Dodds.

“This hypothesis is unproven though because if you look at the women drivers who have raced in Formula E, they've not been massively successful.

“There have been women who've been rookie tested in Formula E, who haven't been massively successful through the rookie test programme.

“So, the question for me then is: why?

“The cars have historically been designed by men for men to race in. So, we are looking at whether we introduce more women into the design process for Gen4 cars.”

That could include technical amendments such as power-assisted steering which will ultimately level the playing field between the sexes.

If the Gen4 timeline is achievable - that would mean introducing such measures for the 2026-27 season - it could at least be a start in attracting more female talent to a top-line world championship.

All the better if that starts a programme through which a woman can compete on the world stage on merit and not for overt marketing or novelty reasons.

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