Women are increasingly visible in key roles across motor racing, thanks in no small part to the culture of innovation fostered by electric motorsport. This progress has put women at the forefront of technological development that is critical in the Race Against Climate Change.
Ahead of Girls Day in Berlin, Envision Racing brought together three inspirational women of motor racing to talk about the sport’s sustainable future. Presenter Lissie Mackintosh spoke to Julia Palle, Formula E’s Sustainability Director, the Envision Racing driver Alice Powell and PHM Racing by Charouz driver Sophia Flörsch and asked them about how they built a career in what has traditionally been a male-dominated environment.
Julia, who is also Sustainability Advisor for Extreme E, the all-electric SUVs series, qualified as a sustainability expert and sought a role in industry.
“At the time, I did not understand that it was possible to have a career in motor sport, because no one in my family was from a motor sport background. By chance, I found my first job opportunity at Michelin, the tyre manufacturer in the motor sport department.”
Michelin needed a sustainability expert to develop a bespoke sustainability strategy, which led to an agreement to supply tyres to the new Formula E championship.
Electric motorsport’s vision is to fight climate change by providing solutions to air quality issues in city centres through the adoption of EVs and has been carbon neutral since its inception. This is why Julia is proud that Formula E was granted ISO certification, making it the first ever motorsport series to achieve this.
It is this sense of purpose that will help to attract more women into electric motorsport in the first instance, and motor sport generally, Julia said.
“Formula E is probably the first sport in the world that has been designed with a purpose, which is accelerating sustainable human progress. It is all about how we push technology that is going to roll out more sustainable lifestyles, and for this the sport needs to be more inclusive.” It is important to reach out to girls in school and university, and to inspire them at a young age, she said.
Envision Racing’s Alice Powell began her racing career in karting and went on to be the first female to win a Formula Renault championship. She has been working with Envision as the Formula E team’s official simulator and development driver to support testing and development work as well as race preparation.
Alice shared her insight into the complexity of racing a Formula E car, particularly on a street circuit.
“It is one of the toughest challenges I’ve had,” she said. “The biggest thing for me was the amount of things that a driver has to do behind the wheel. It’s a different game of racing and, personally, it’s certainly one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to drive, especially when doing the race runs.
“Trying to a go on a street circuit is tough when you go at high speeds. But you also are having to make all the adjustments and save your energy as well, while trying to keep the drivers behind you and taking attacks.”
Germany’s Sophia Flörsch already has a distinguished career in motor racing, having competed in Formula 4, Formula 3 and the Le Mans series. This season she is back in Formula 3, with PHM Racing by Charouz, and is a member of the Alpine Academy. She says that she is delighted to see more girls involved directly with the sport, compared to when she started out 18 years ago.
“It is still small numbers compared to the guys, and as drivers we are all trying to encourage more girls, But for me the most important people are the parents. Parents need to know that it is possible for girls to have a career in the sport. We need to reach out to them.”