Alice Powell is one of the quickest drivers I’ve ever raced with | Thank Frankel it’s Friday

08th March 2024
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Last weekend I was helping a daughter move flat in London and confident I could do so and be back home in time to watch the first race of the new F1 season. Fat chance, as it turned out. So instead, as I headed west down the M4, I tuned in to catch the commentary on the radio and was rewarded by hearing a voice that sounded really rather familiar. Turns out it belonged to one of my old team-mates.


If you were listening too, or watched the now sadly defunct W Series or have had any interest in women trying to make a name for themselves in the overwhelmingly male-dominated world of motorsport, you’ll know precisely who Alice Powell is. If not her claims to fame including winning races in all three years of the W Series’ existence, becoming the first woman to score points in GP3 and winning the International class of Asian Formula Renault. And of course being Andrew Frankel’s team-mate in the 2015 Silverstone 24 Hours…

I’ll confess that, back then, I’d not heard of her but was delighted she’d be sharing a factory Aston Martin Vantage GT4 with me, Aston design boss and keen historic racer Marek Reichmann and the then big boss Andy Palmer. One young professional hotshot and three middle aged amateurs.


I did wonder how much quicker she’d be than us. On the one hand her CV spoke for itself, on the other she’d come from a world of sprint racing in single seaters; trying to nurse an Aston weighing over three times as much as her usual chariots for 24 hours and through the night would be a challenge unlike any she’d faced before. By contrast I’d done plenty of long-distance racing in cars both historic and brand new, including this race on five previous occasions. Maybe I’d be able to offer her some pointers, share a few tips, make it a little easier for her.

Looking back, the fact I was able even to think such knuckle-gnawingly patronising things makes me want to cringe. But in my defence I’ve shared racing cars with a number of professional drivers before including Richard Attwood, Tim Harvey, David Leslie and Mike Wilds and while all were quicker than me, I’ve only once been humiliated by my lack of pace, which was when I shared an old Mercedes with Klaus Ludwig on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The rest of the time, I’ve given a decent enough account of myself. So I thought I might just about be able to cling onto Alice’s shirt tails.


I thought wrong. That she was quicker than all her superannuated team-mates over a lap was not such a surprise. But over a stint, or a double stint? At night, when she’d never before raced in the dark? In all the filthy weather that was heading our way? Yup, she blew us into the weeds there as well. I can remember sitting in the pit garage watching her times at night, each lap no more than a few tenths either side of the previous one as she just knocked out, stint after stint as if this was what she’d been doing all her life to date.

Of course success breeds success, so when Alice had proven herself far the quickest of the four of us in practice, it was she who was given fresh slicks and a thimbleful of fuel and told to go and qualify the car. And when one of my turns came and I knew the car would be marginal on tyres, they decided to leave me out on knackered old rubber so Alice could make the most of brand-new boots when her turn came along. Not that I was jealous or anything…

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

In the end we wound up fifth overall, a reasonable result given that Andy had done so few races he’d only just lost his rookie sticker and that our eight-year-old car had none of the ‘refinements’ boasted by the other two more modern GT4 Astons in the race, one of which won the event outright. Then again, that car was populated by a superstar driver line-up including double Le Mans class winner Jonny Adam, British GT champion Ross Gunn, and a quietly spoken 16-year-old girl called Jamie Chadwick. She is of course the woman who would become Alice’s most feared rival in the W Series, winning all three championships. Today she is a rising star of Indy NXT, the feeder series for Indycar.

I often think about the likes of Jamie and Alice when pondering why in the entire history of Formula 1 only two women have ever started a world championship grand prix and why only half of one point has been scored by them (Lella Lombardi, 1975 Spanish Grand Prix). And to me the reason is clear and has nothing whatsoever to do with talent or strength: today there are only 20 places on the F1 grid yet I imagine there must be hundreds if not thousands of times more boys and men striving to get to the top than girls or women. And until motorsport is made popular at a grassroots level across the world for girls from the youngest of ages, I fear our wait for the first female F1 superstar will go on.

Lead image courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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