Meet Susie Wolff; Race Driver.
It has been decades since Lella Lombardi and Janet Guthrie broke into the male dominated sport of auto racing. Since then the notion of a female race driver is nothing new, even in Formula 1. But as the new darling of the “Money Circus,” Susie Wolff is poised to be the next newsmaker.
It would be easy to dismiss Wolff as being in the car because she’s pretty. But in Formula 1, this is flawed reasoning.
The reality is professional racing is a hustle. Winning at a professional level can be and often is, secondary to sponsorship. If a driver cannot win races, but keeps a product on the minds and hearts of consumers, that race driver will always have a ride. The great Richard Petty had only five wins in his final decade of racing, but kept STP car care products and fuel additives in forefront by strength of personality and his phenomenal reputation.
But, unlike NASCAR, F1 fans are infamously intolerant of drivers who do not win. They can also display unrivalled national loyalty. This devotion to drivers will inspire their fans follow their favorite sons from team to team.
This is key, because Susie Wolff hails from Scotland; home of Sir Jackie Stewart, 14 other F1 veterans and current F1 Sahara Force India pilot; Paul di Resta. No doubt Williams is banking on this loyalty and popularity, but it doesn’t change one aspect of F1. Susie will have to win, and the unfortunate reality is she will have to win more than others simply because she is a girl.
The 31-year old followed a traditional career path by starting in karting. At 14 and again at 17 she was British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the year. When she was 19 she entered the 2001 Formula Renault Winter Series and the next year ran a full season, staying there until 2004. In 2005 an off-track injury pulled her from the Formula 3 series.
In 2006 at age 24, Susie secured a ride in the extremely competitive German Touring Car series. In six years of DTM, she never finished higher than 7th and only earned points in 2010. Despite a lack of podium finishes, she was named the test driver for Williams Formula One in 2012. It is in this role Susie has started making waves. At the Young Driver Test day this past July, she posted the ninth fastest time and was within .04 of a seconds of the current F3 champion Daniel Juncadella.
Susie has been open about her ambitions and is pressing Williams for Friday practice drives next season. She is clearly eyeing a full time F1 seat in 2015. If she gets one, she will be the first woman to race in F1 since Giovanna Amati was unable to qualify for three races in 1992.
After the test day, Wolff told ESPN UK; “I’m not someone that likes to sit still; I always like to move forward, I always like to keep achieving, so of course I want to see what the next step possible is now.” While Williams has been less that committal, they are the most progressive of the F1 teams, with two of the only five women to ever drive in F1 haven driven for Williams.
Clearly she was hired for a reason and in Formula 1, it has to be more than looks.