A Mercedes-AMG F1 protege made a rather impressive debut last weekend. Meet Jamaica’s Alex Powell
The WSK Final Cup is often the final event on the karting calendar for international competitors, featuring grids that look pretty different to the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship that takes place a few weeks prior as drivers move up a karting category or free up grid spots for new names by testing in single-seater machinery instead before returning home for winter.
The 10th edition of the competition took place last weekend, and the front of the OK field was dense with Formula 1 names.
Red Bull Junior Team-supported Oliver Rowland protege Arvid Lindblad won, Mercedes-AMG F1 junior Alex Powell was third, new Ferrari Driver Academy member Rafael Camara was fourth, and two Sauber drivers were eighth and ninth.
All of those names have been regular frontrunners this year bar Powell, who was making his senior karting debut.
He won his first heat from pole, then overcame an awful result in a later heat to make it back to the front by the final.
Formula Scout spoke to Powell a few weeks before his debut, and just before he began his preparations for his final appearance on OK Junior karts in the world championship.
“I’m very excited for [OK],” Powell said, at the time not aware he would be making his debut so soon.
“We start testing towards the end of this year, so it will be interesting to see how we go next year.
“I’d definitely like to [do shifter karts too]. But we’ll have to see how the year goes. At some point over the course of 2022 I’d like to do a shifter race and testing, it would be very interesting and cool to do a couple of races in KZs to see how it goes.”
That’s the path forged by fellow Mercedes junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli, who raced against Powell in Mini karts and doubled up in two steps of the karting ladder at once when he made his moves up to OK and then KZ2.
Both are from sporting families too. Antonelli’s father is Italian sportscar team boss and racer Marco, while Miami-born Jamaican Powell is the son of Trinidadian rally driver John Powell and the cousin of famed 100-meter sprinter Asafa Powell.
Powell goes to his father for driving advice, “especially at the beginning” of his time in karts six years ago.
“But now as well he’s also learning things about go-karting as I’m learning things,” said Powell.
“Some things are more difficult than others, but I do still go to him for help and anything really I go to him, because he’s always been there. Him, my mum and my sisters, they’ve always been there since day one, so they’ve been very supportive.”
That support has included helping him move to Italy, where the factory Kart Republic team he races for is based.
“For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been in Italy, because we realised after about a year of driving in Europe it’s really difficult to go back and forward between the Caribbean and Europe. And it helped a lot to move over here, for me. But then I also know the sacrifice that my parents had to make and my sister. Pretty much most of my family, the sacrifice they had to make was quite big, so it motivates me even more.”
In addition to the logistical ease of being based in Italy, it’s also enabled Powell to test himself against greater competition.
“We have fewer circuits in the Caribbean. For example in Jamaica we have two. One go-karting circuit, and a car circuit, Dover. It’s less tracks than Europe, but I mean we make do with what we have. All the drivers over there, they push with whatever they have. It’s good to see them doing go-karting and racing over there too, so hopefully they can get the opportunity one day to come over here like I did.
“We don’t have as many competitors as over here. So if we have 100 over here [in Italy], we might have maybe 20 in Jamaica. It would be nice to see the sport grow, and it is growing. Hopefully over the next couple of years we can see it growing more and more and more.”
Part of the growth process will be helped by the strong sports infrastructure the country already possesses, with world-class personal trainers and nutritionists being based there, and of course “it’s really, really cool” for Powell to have one of the fastest runners of all time to call upon later in his career for advice on how to handle the pressures of the highest levels of sport.
“I think this year has definitely been a step forward,” said Powell of a 2021 in which he was title runner-up in WSK’s Euro Series and third in its Super Master Series, two of the most competitive championships in junior karting.
“It could have gone a bit better for me in some situations, also I could have done a bit better in others. So in this year I’ve learned more about myself and about everything in general. But I wish I could have had a little bit better year so far.
“So for example I could have been second in the European championship except I was fourth, which is just little things that at the end they make a big difference. I know where I can improve, and what I can do to improve, so I’m satisfied with this year but I know it could have been quite a bit better.”
On the final lap of the CIK-FIA European Karting Championship season at Zuera, Powell was running in second and on course for a comfortable title runner-up spot before a collision with champion Freddie Slater and then Tomass Stolcermanis. He immediately got out of his kart, while Slater went on to win, and showed his exasperation in the grass run-off.
Having the support of Mercedes has been crucial for overcoming such disappointments.
“I was fortunate enough to be signed on to the Mercedes junior programme in February 2019. And since then they’ve helped me quite a bit and I know they will continue to support me along my journey.
“They’ve gotten me definitely a few sponsors, and more recognition, so I’m very thankful to them for doing that, and I really look forward to working with them in the future. And hopefully one day I can drive in one of their F1 cars.”
He’s yet to visit the team’s Brackley base due to his intense karting schedule, an issue that also inflicted Antonelli who has only recently made it to the United Kingdom now he’s racing in Formula 4.
“I definitely want to go there. But it’s been such a hectic couple of years, I mean last year was definitely an upside down year,” explained Powell. “It was very, very strange. And this year has been very similar where the racing is concerned. It is just race weekend after weekend after weekend. So it’s very difficult.”
In addition to the CIK-FIA and WSK-organised events, his “hectic season” has included the Champions of the Future series and a German Junior championship cameo, but “hopefully I can go to Mercedes over the course of next year” while racing OK.
D/O/B September 18, 2007
2021: 3rd in WSK Final Cup – OK, 2nd in WSK Euro Series – OK Junior, 3rd in WSK Super Master Series – OKJ, 4th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OKJ, 7th in WSK Open Cup – OKJ, 11th in Champions of the Future – OKJ, 14th in CIK-FIA World Championship – OKJ, 14th in German Championship – OKJ, 14th in WSK Champions Cup – OKJ
2020: Trofeo Andrea Margutti winner – OKJ, 7th in CIK-FIA Academy Trophy – OKJ, 8th in WSK OC – OKJ, 10th in CIK-FIA Euro – OKJ, 10th in Rotax Max Challenge Int. Trophy – Rotax Junior, 10th in CotF – OKJ, 15th in Florida Winter Tour – Junior ROK, 17th in WSK Euro – OKJ, 30th in Lonato Winter Cup – OKJ, 31st in CIK-FIA WC – OKJ, 32nd in WSK CC – OKJ, 54th in WSK SMS – OKJ
2019: Lonato Winter Cup winner – Mini ROK, ROK Cup Superfinal – MROK, 3rd in WSK SMS – 60 Mini, 3rd in Italian Championship – 60M, 5th in WSK Euro – 60M, 5th in Trofeo Andrea Margutti – 60M, 9th in WSK CC – 60M
2018: WSK FC winner – 60M, 2nd in ROK Cup Int. Final – MROK, 3rd in WSK OC – 60M, 3rd in USA SuperNationals – Mini Swift, 3rd in Florida WT – MROK, 9th in USA Winter Series – MSwift
2017: 3rd in Florida WT – Micro ROK, 4th in Flordia WT – Rotax Micro Max, 16th in USA SuperNationals – MSwift
2016: 26th in USA SuperNationals – Micro Swift