Alice Powell and Abbi Pulling are amongst the world’s top women’s racing drivers. Alice, a coach mentor, is currently managing 19-year-old Abbi, an Alpine F1 Academy affiliate. Here, they talk to us about how they use Red2Blue mindset training to get back on track when a race takes an unexpected turn.
There’s a clear connection between mindset and performance in racing. How have you used Red2Blue to help you?
Alice: Mindset is so important in any sport, as it is in businesses and life. While motorsports is a team sport, once you’re strapped in the car on the track, you’re on your own. You’ve got a radio button and can speak to the team, but you’re racing at high speeds so you’ve got to make quick decisions under pressure.
When I came back to racing after a gap of four or five years in 2019, I had certain weaknesses that Red2Blue helped me to address – not just on the driving side, but on the coaching side too, where I work with Abbi and other young drivers.
It can be claustrophobic being strapped into the cockpit and it’s easy to switch into the Red when you’ve got your helmet on and you’re under pressure. Having the ability to recognise that and apply Red2Blue helps. Unfortunately, we can’t stop, take a breath and look up in the sky, because we’d probably have quite a big accident! So, we have to adapt it and use a feeling in our feet or tap the steering wheel with our hands, or the tongue at the bottom of the mouth. Those things have really helped.
They’ve certainly helped Abbi understand the importance of mindset and being able to come back to the Blue. You still need the aggression – you have to drive fast and attack the lap, but in a calm, collected way.
So how do you maintain that clarity of thought and the intensity needed to race at the speeds you race?
Alice: It’s about trying to keep things as simple as possible. You have that clarity, but you’ve also got your ‘What Ifs?’ You’ve got your scenarios. If you come across something a bit unexpected, then you’ve got a solution for it. If you have that simply set out in the back of your mind, you can refer to it quickly when you come across a problem.
Last year I used my ‘Screw Up Cascades’ and my ‘What Ifs’ before each race. I’d rewind and write them so they were ingrained into my head, and try to use them on the track. I didn’t use them well enough in 2019, but last year, they made a big difference. I got to make quick decisions under pressure, while maintaining the intensity.
Give us an example of when you’ve had to turn things around.
Alice: I’ve had many races where I’ve crashed off, or someone’s knocked me off, but I’ve been able to get back on. Often, you then drive the best race you’ve ever driven, and you wonder why you can’t do that all the time. It’s because you’ve got no pressure on, because you’re on the backfoot. Something’s happened out of your control and you just go for it. You’re in the Blue, but you’re focused on what you’ve got to do.
Conversely, if you’re in the lead, you’ve then got that pressure, and you start worrying about other things out of your control. Abbi will agree, there have been times where she’s been bumped off, and you pull out this great drive from somewhere. Without realising it, your mindset changes because you haven’t felt the pressure. You have to learn to deal with the pressure when you’re at the front of the pack and you’ve got a lot to lose, so that you can drive with that same freedom.
Abbi, how has Alice has helped your performance development and, specifically, mindset?
Abbi: The biggest part has been bringing myself from Red2Blue – embracing those emotions and putting them into something productive. It’s helped me a lot, especially last year. My preparation – being ready for the unexpected and how I react to that – has been so important.
I had a few moments in 2020 where I found myself in a position and didn’t know how to make the most of it. At Brands Hatch, I was in P8 and suddenly, by lap one I was in P2. I didn’t know what to do from that point. Now I know my ‘What If’ scenarios – what I should focus on. Preparing for what could happen allows me to maintain clarity of thought.
What was the most memorable moment for you this season?
Alice: It was a tough season, totally different to the season before, but winning in Budapest was probably the highlight. We had a great practice session and then pulled it out the bag and qualified on pole. The race started in slightly tricky conditions, but we managed to hold our own, so that was really the highlight.
Abbi: There were lots of ups and downs throughout the season, but I’d say my podium at Barcelona was one of my memorable moments, and my podium at Silverstone. Perhaps not as many as I’d have liked throughout the season, but a lot happened on both weekends, so it was it was nice to bring that result home. And being on the podium at home – that was special.
Were there any Red2Blue moments that stand out?
Abbi: I remember a few one-lap dashes, especially in Singapore, where Red2Blue helped me in the one to two minutes I had to put it together during a lap. I managed to apply my Red2Blue skills, so that was quite memorable. Barcelona was also a high-pressure situation. I had to put pressure on the car ahead without falling into the clutches of the car behind, which was Alice. I think I dealt with it very well, all thanks to Red2Blue and knowing where to put my mind when I was in that situation.
It must be strange, knowing that Alice, your coach and mentor, is in the car behind?
Abbi: It is strange considering Alice is the person who’s teaching me everything, and now we’re competing. This was the time to see if I’d learned anything! Sometimes I’d be quicker and sometimes she’d be quicker. It was fun for me because Alice is my mentor, so it was a nice challenge to try and get to her level. I don’t know how she views it!
Alice: She needs to slow down! At least I know she’s listened, especially when there are good results. It gets super-competitive between everybody on the grid, not just Abbi and me. We all want to beat each other. The banter and the comments fly around between all of us, but it’s about putting that to the back of your mind. We’ve said, we’re just going out there to fight for ourselves, not each other.
During the Barcelona race Abbi mentioned, I desperately wanted to get past her, but it was hard to follow that circuit. I also wanted her to overtake Jamie, the girl in the lead, so I could attack too. It was one of those situations where I was cheering Abbi on but also saying ‘get out of the way’ at the same time!
What were your Red2Blue highlights, Alice?
Alice: Starting on pole in Budapest. I was so calm; I said “I’ve got this; I’m in control. If I don’t win, at least I know I will have given it everything,” which in some way reduces the pressure in your mind. The conditions were tricky. It was a bit damp on parts of the circuit, and we were on slick tires, not rain tires. I was going to be the first car to meet the slippy part of the track and everyone else had to follow. I was under pressure because I had a dryer set-up on my car, compared to the car behind, and compared to Abbi.
I just had to keep calm. That was the only solution. I had to be patient and say “I’m in control of myself; I’m not in control of what they put up on the car, but I have to trust the process and not panic that I’m going to fall into the clutches of the people behind. And it all worked out the right way – I pulled a gap and off we went!
How did you feel when the W series was cut short?
Alice: Obviously really disappointed – we were both we’re fighting for P2 in the championship and we felt our battle was cut short. It was frustrating because we both know we had better potential for our finishing positions.
In my mind, there were three races left, on tracks where my pace was better last year than my competitor. There was no need for me to throw it into the wall trying to do a crazy overtake on the streets of Singapore. But if I’d known there were no races left in the championship, then I might have taken a different approach. In that sense, it was quite frustrating.
Abbi: Coming from British F4 in 2021, it was disappointing not finishing a full season again this year. I was in the fight for P2 too – I was a bit further off than I’d l have liked but I could have had the opportunity to finish a few places higher. Also, as a developing driver, you need as much seat time as possible, and to have a third of your championship cut is not ideal.
Why is women’s racing struggling financially?
Abbi: Support for women’s racing is there, but it’s another thing being able to bring millions and millions of pounds to the sport. We’ve both been through it all our lives, trying to find funding on an individual basis. For a championship to find funding for 18 drivers, that’s quite difficult. There is a support out there. It’s just finding the right person who has big enough pockets and sees the value of the investment and the exposure they can receive as a sponsor.
Formula 1 has just launched the F1 Academy, an all-female series. When do you think we’ll see a female F1 driver?
Abbi: I’d like to see someone reach Formula 1 in the next 10 years. Obviously, I’d like it to be me. Alpine have got a great plan in place for where they want to put me. I know it takes a lot of work and I’m pushing myself physically, which, other than finance, is one of the biggest barriers. I can’t go out and make a large sum of money, but I can do a lot about my physicality. That’s what I can do, and I hope everything else falls into place. A lot of motorsports is ‘right place, right time’.
Alice: Women’s sport as a whole is growing, whether you’re looking at racing, football or rugby. There are great opportunities out there for people wanting to back female sport. It’s getting a lot more media attention. So hopefully, Abbi will be the one to break into Formula 1. And not just because she’s a female, but because she deserves it.