Could there be another female F1 driver? Susie Wolff thinks so
When Susie Wolff first got behind the wheel of a race cart as a young girl, the experience didn’t give her the thrills.
“My first time out on the race track, I remember carts flying past me – much quicker – and this little boy – really aggressive – hitting me as I was going past,” she said.
She thought about giving up but her father – a racing enthusiast – encouraged her to be persistent and the second time around young Wolff was thrilled by the speed, the adrenaline and the competitive spirit of racing.
A couple of decades later, Wolff is a Formula One development driver for the British racing team Williams, and pushing to race alongside the men in a F1 race.
If she succeeds, she would be the first female F1 driver in decades. Italian Giovanna Amati was the last to try to get on the grid when she failed to qualify in 1992. The only woman to appear on the scoresheet was Italian Leila Lombardi who finished sixth in the shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix and was awarded a half point.
Wolff has motorsport in her blood. Her father owned a mortorbike shop and he and her mother met when she walked into the shop to buy her first bike.
Her parents helped get her into racing and kept her going during hard times when it seemed her dream to become a professional racing driver wasn’t going to come true.
They never made her feel like it was an unusual thing to do for a girl, or that it was too dangerous, 30-year-old Wolff said at a sponsor event in London this week.
“I obviously enjoy watching her drive, it makes me incredibly proud, although that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nervous at the beginning of each race, but I have so much confidence in her ability so I know she’ll be fine,” her brother David Stoddart – a filmmaker who shot a documentary about Wolff that aired recently on the BBC – wrote on the Huffington Post.
Getting into to a male-dominated world like professional racing wasn’t easy, Wolff said.
There is still a stereotypical image of female racing drivers as “big butch monsters,” said Wolff who – blonde and petite – clearly defies that image.
“At the end of the day when you’ve got your helmet on in a race car, it doesn’t matter at all if you’re male or female … it’s about on-track performance.”
She recalled with a smile the time she went for a test drive in Barcelona and she was mistaken for a PR girl.
The fact that she is a woman also means she is expected to always look good – even when she has just gotten out of the car, exhausted and with messy hair – something that doesn’t even occur to a male racer.
Wolff refused any “special treatment” when she started competing in the German Touring Car championship (DTM) more than seven years ago and trained alongside her male teammates which, she joked, was “a bad decision”.
“I don’t want to be something different, I just want to be a racing driver,” she said.
There is still widespread scepticism – both outside and within the racing world – that there could ever be such a thing as a female racing driver.
Formula One’s head Bernie Ecclestone has been supportive, Wolff said, even if publicly he has stated that he does not see any woman driver on F1’s horizon because there was nobody good enough at present.
Stirling Moss, generally recognised as the best driver never to win the world championship, also declared recently that women lacked the “mental aptitude” to compete in Formula One even if they had the strength and stamina.
Wolff said she is still asked on a regular basis how she ended up becoming a racing driver like it was the strangest thing for a woman to do.
Even though she said that “you can’t pluck a girl in a car just for the sake of (gender) equality”, Wolff is convinced the time is right and the world is ready for a woman to compete in Formula One.
“I really see a shift happening … We’re in a good position right now,” she said. “We just need to go for it.”