This morning it was announced by the Williams team that their Development Driver Susie Wolff will take part in two Free Practice sessions at two Grand Prix weekends in 2014. Although Wolff’s P1 appearances will stop her short of a full race debut in the sport, she will nevertheless become only the second British woman to take part in a grand prix weekend.
It is believed that the two practice sessions Wolff will be driving at this year will be at the British and German Grand Prix. When asked her thoughts about the announcement made by the Williams test initially, she stated the following:-
‘I’m not too worried about being in the spotlight or the attention it brings – I just focus on the job. I always said that the minute I’d joined Williams F1 and was able to make the step-up to Formula 1 that it’s about doing a good job – it’s about proving yourself each step of the way.”
And that is exactly what she has done throughout her career in motorsport so far. From Oban, Wolff started out in karting and raced Formula Renault and F3 before switching to Germany’s DTM touring car series. She was then signed by Williams in 2012 as a development driver.
Wolff who is married to Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff tested for them at Silverstone in July last year and follows in the footsteps of Divina Galica, who tried unsuccessfully to qualify for races during both the 1976 and 1978 Formula 1 seasons. But testing for the Williams at Silverstone in 2013, Wolff was the first female driver since Italian Giovanna Amati who lasted competed in a grand prix weekend in 1992 with the Brabham and failed to qualify for three events.
A closer look at the history of women drivers in Formula One reveals that Maria Teresa de Filippis of Portugal and Italy’s Lella Lombardi remain the only women to contest races, with Lombardi claiming half a World Championship point after finishing sixth in the shortened 1975 Spanish GP. Also, South Africa’s Desire Wilson also took part in her home race in 1981, although it was not part of the World Championship that year.
It was announced two weeks ago that Sauber named Simona De Silvestro as their “affiliated” driver for the coming season, with the Swiss aiming for a race seat in 2015 which was great news for Formula One. When asked her thoughts about this announcement from Sauber and women getting a fair chance to compete in Formula One, Wolff said the following:-
‘If my chance comes then brilliant – I’m going to take it with both hands. But if it doesn’t then I’m going to at least hope I’ve paved the way for more women to try and for more women to realise that Formula 1 isn’t just for men. This is a natural progression after my young drivers’ test, so for me, I’ve just got to focus on doing a good job and not really worry about the rest.
‘I don’t really analyse it too much – I’m incredibly lucky to be part of a brilliant Formula 1 team with an incredible heritage – Williams F1 – I feel very lucky to be in that team.’
For me, this is considered as progress for all female motorsport drivers. Over the past few years, we have seen that female motorsport drivers are now starting to be given equal opportunities to try and progress further into the world of motorsport.
For example, Maria De Villota managed to achieve her aim of becoming a top class racing driver and was a reserve driver for the Marussia F1 team before her tragic death last year during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. And there is no doubt that Maria’s legacy within the sport has only fuelled the fire for more women to achieve their aim on getting into the sport that they love.
And this is now reflecting with Wolff. The fact that yet another female driver has been given a great opportunity to progress further into the world of motorsport is absolutely fantastic. I am very pleased that she has been picked up for showing that they have the potential and the talent to step up into the world of motorsport, even if it will be difficult for her to get onto the grid for 2015.
Wolff will take the wheel of an FW36 during opening practice, for which cars can use an extra set of tyres this season to try and ensure more action. When asked her thoughts generally about being given this amazing opportunity by Williams she said the following:-
‘I’m grateful for the support and belief Williams continue to show in me and 2014 promises to be a very important milestone in my career. My responsibilities within the team have steadily increased as I have proved myself, culminating in the opportunity to test the car at Silverstone and conduct straight line aero tests last season.
‘Competing in two FP1 sessions, alongside an additional full test day this season will be a big step and I am looking forward to the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the FW36 on a grand prix weekend. It’s a challenge that I will relish and it will be a great chance for me to continue assisting the team.’
Wolff makes a valid point. This is will be a very important milestone for her career in Formula One. Taking part in these Practice sessions is a massive step for any driver wishing to get into Formula One in the near future. I have no doubts that Wolff will succeed within these Practice sessions at the British and German Grand Prix this year. It is hard enough for talented and promising racing drivers to reach the pinnacle of motorsport as it is and the fact that Wolff has managed to achieve this is absolutely remarkable.
It is so refreshing to see this in Formula One. Wolff has more than proved herself worthy of this opportunity that has been presented to her by the Williams team. There is no question that she deserves this opportunity as a result of her hard work, determination and passion for Formula One, which is there for all to see. This is will no doubt inspire many other female drivers currently within motorsport looking to achieve their dream of competing at this level.
Williams’s Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds had nothing but high praise for Wolff’s contribution to the team. Symonds stated the following:-
‘Susie has become a valued member of our driver line up and 2014 will see her take on more responsibilities as we seek to make a strong step forward in performance. Susie has demonstrated a natural talent for developing a car and providing strong feedback and these sort of characteristics will be key this season as teams seek to quickly understand and refine the radically overhauled 2014 cars.’
And the experience that Wolff has gained with the Williams team since joining the team in 2012 will only beneficial for the Williams team this year. Both parties seem to be happy with the way things are progressing at the moment and I believe that this will make them more successful now and in the future.
As a woman who has followed Formula One religiously since the age of seven, I was extremely happy that women like De Villota, De Silvestro and now Wolff have pushed for women who would like to achieve their dream of driving for the sport. And their dreams came true, which I am absolutely thrilled about.
Drivers such as Wolff are now role models for fellow female racing drivers currently and also within the future too. From Wolff showing that success can achieved, the dreams of women wanting to race competitively and fairly within Formula One is very much achievable and very much still within reach.
Despite everything that she has gone throughout their racing career, she has continued to support and dedicate their life to the sport that they dreamed about driving for, love so much and wanted to race and compete in. Wolff, De Villota and now De Silvestro have achieved their dreams and rightly so.
What is to stop Wolff from competing in Formula One in the near future? Through her hard work, grit and determination so far, she has been rewarded with an opportunity at the Williams team that many drivers could only dream of. I have no doubt that she will take this opportunity with both hands and will strive and fight to achieve and keep her dream alive in order to drive in the pinnacle of motorsport.
With now three talented female racing drivers this decade achieving their aims of driving within Formula One will no doubt provide her with all the motivation that she needs to keep going and I am certain that she will never give up until she reaches her goal. But will it be in 2015? I really hope so.