By on October 17, 2013
courtesy of blick.ch

courtesy of blick.ch

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.

courtesy of F1fanatic.com

courtesy of F1fanatic.com

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.

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24 Comments on “Is Susie Wolff the Next Female F1 Driver?...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I’ve always been surprised that there haven’t been more women in auto racing by virtue of their generally smaller stature and frames. In sports where they try to do everything to shave a couple of pounds and make cockpits so tight that 5’11” 200lb male would have trouble squeezing in I’m surprised more “Snookie sized” women haven’t taken to racing.

    And don’t tell me women can’t handle the machines because of their non power steering or what not. My 5’4″ wife used to hustle her Dad’s 70s Chevy truck around in back in high school and that sucker had power NOTHING. The only real option was the V8 it had, it even had radio delete plate.

  • avatar

    The only reason Susie Wolff has anything to do with Williams is simply because her husband Toto owns about 30 percent of the team.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toto_Wolff

    And – in the incestuous mess that is Formula 1 – Wolff is now the head of the Mercedes-Benz GP team with eyes on becoming head of all of Benz’ motorsport activities. Oh – and did I mention that he’s also a co-owner in the Benz program too? Surely that’s not a conflict of interest, is it?

    Williams is one of the most cash-strapped teams on the grid, and at this point would happily put you or I in the seat if we brought a cheque with enough zeros. F1 is no longer about the talent and hasn’t been for years. Ask Kimi Raikkonen.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    its more like men spend 24/7 thinking about motor racing and all that

    how many women spend all their waking and sleeping hours wanting to be an F1 driver

    also… 31 y.o.

    too old

    another danica patrick role model?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “how many women spend all their waking and sleeping hours wanting to be an F1 driver”

      I’m going to submit just three, while the rest are dreaming about their ugly CUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Nah I’d guess many are dreaming about even BIGGER SUVS like loaded Denalis, Escalades, Edie Bower edition Fords, Navigators, Sequoias, whatever Toyota calls the monster Lexus, and Infiniti Canyoneros. (Regardless of what they drive that seems to be what most wish they had the budget for.) And it seems that 90% of the women who want one are 5 foot nothing. Thank good for 100 way adjustable power seats and pedals.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I won’t disagree but among the few women I know they had (or parents had) Explorers, Expeditions, and Suburbans and they are interested in the perceived improved gas mileage of the large CUVs like Traverse and Explorer. Maybe in their heart of hearts they lust after driving something the size of an aircraft carrier but the ones I’m referring to are somewhat more realistic.

  • avatar
    chevron

    “Susie will have to win, and the unfortunate reality is she will have to win more than others simply because she is a girl.”

    Nonsense, she’ll have to win more than others because of the enormously outsized attention she’s gotten and will get…

    because she’s a girl.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      She will not need to win more because she is a girl, because she is only being considered for the ride in the first place because she is a girl. She also was able to marry the source of her possible seat, because she is a girl. No male would be considered for an F1 seat with a record as poor as hers, even if he had lots of sponsor money, and at 31 she is already over the hill in terms of reflexes, eyesight, and physical strength, so I don’t see how this can work out well beyond the “she is a girl in an F1 car” novelty.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Unfortunate that she’s driving for Williams, then. Fact is, the driver isn’t really the most important person on a Formula 1 team. Williams needs a technical director as good as Newey was, and then any F1-level driver will do. Without someone like that, Vettel himself could be driving the car and it would still be in the back with Marussia and Caterham.

    • 0 avatar
      dmw

      Unless you drive for RBR, no one in F1 “has to win.” That’s a bizarre statement. F1 is not NASCAR or Indy where anyone can get 15 minutes of fame. What you have to do is dominate your teammate on Saturday as well as Sunday, unless that teammate already has sterling credentials.

  • avatar
    Fred Smith

    Win and win often? – I disagree. If a driver has to bring substantial money to a team, it means the car is already non competitive. And Williams F1? …it’s not the early 1990’s anymore.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    I think that Simona de Silvestro has the talent to be competitive in F-1, but probably not the checkbook required to buy a seat.

  • avatar

    Meanwhile Maria de Villotta suddenly died a week or two ago. No article on TTAC that I can see. But of course E-I-C proclaimed that we “do not cover motorsports” here. Oh, wait.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “Susie will have to win”

    Then she shouldn’t be driving for Williams.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Rather than being sexist about her chances, I’m going to play the age card. 31 is just too old for today’s F-1 grid. Alonso is 32, Raikkonen and Button are 33, all elder statesmen on today’s grid. Granted, they all started really young as well. The problem with all elder athletes isn’t simply age, but the total amount of structured practice. Remember when Michael Jordan decided he wanted to play baseball? The most gifted athlete in the world struggling in the minor leagues. When you look at how young the current top tier drivers started, you get a sense of the problem that older drivers face entering the circus.

    Certainly Damon Hill was 31 when he started testing for Williams and 32 when he raced for Brabham, but that’s a rare exception. Unless you’ve been in F1 a long time and are good at it, it’s not likely for a driver to last into their mid to late thirties.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    She’s too old, no 31 year old male driver would be considered as a rookie in Formula 1. Further; 6 years in DTM and only managed a high of 7th? Whilst former Formula One drivers are relegated to DTM. No, this will do nothing but bring some money to whoever she drives for and then she’ll be gone like many others.

  • avatar
    dmw

    “making waves”? Because of a testing time? There are about 100 people who could jump into that car and do the same. But many of them have good lower-formula records. Even so, F1 history is lousy with people who rocked lower series but were nothing special in F1. The current grid has a couple. At the same time, you can’t point to the current pantheon–Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Webber, Button, Raikkonen—and say they got through with weak CVs. Raikkonen is an exception, but he started before he even had the chance to do lower series, his talent was so obvious. There really is no reason to believe that making waves at 31 should gain you entry on merit to the top tier of the sport.

    That said, will she do worse than Chilton or Pic? Probably not. Right now, Williams is a back-marker, so not much pressure if she comes in there anyway. But, the problem with these gigs is that, whether you come in beacuse you are very cheap or because you bring lots of money, you generally get a year or less before being shoved out for the next guy/gal. Even if you do OK you still go down the plank. Ask Bruno Senna.

  • avatar
    Varryl

    I remember watching recordings of DTM on the Speed Channel a year or two ago and I never saw her any higher than 10th. Ekstrom, Scheider, and Spengler were way more interesting to watch as they were always really competitive with each other.

    Stoddart, or Wolff as she is now known, was typically somewhere at the back. I hold no illusions: she can probably out race my chunky unsmooth driving, but I would be really curious how she fares in F1.

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