There will be a female driver in Grand Prix racing within the next decade. Who says so? Susie Wolff, the DTM racer and development driver at Williams.
It would appear that Susie has some significant support, none other than Bernie Ecclestone who recently uttered some unusually enthusiastic words in favour of having a woman on the grid.
“If Susie is as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car, then she will be a massive asset to any team,” gushed Mr Ecclestone who is not known for his political correctness, “and on top of that she is very intelligent, so I am really looking forward to having her in Formula 1.” As I said, this is significant support.
Better known to the average racing fan as Susie Stoddart (above, left), she started in karting, went on to Formula Renault and Formula 3 before moving to DTM with Mercedes-Benz in 2006. Last October she married Toto Wolff who is one of the biggest shareholders in Williams Grand Prix Holdings, the newly-formed public company that has the F1 team within its portfolio. In case you’re wondering, Mr Wolff excused himself from the board meeting that ratified his wife’s appointment as development driver.
Of course there have been women drivers in Formula One before, notably Maria Teresa de Filipis, Lella Lombardi, Desiré Wilson, Davina Galica and Giovanna Amati. Wilson remains the only one to have won an F1 race, a round of the British Aurora series at Brands Hatch in 1980. And let’s not forget that Spaniard Maria de Villota is test driver for the Marussia team.
Susie Wolff has stolen all the headlines because, by general consent, she is a very attractive woman and highly articulate. The Daily Mail was moved to describe her as “the gorgeous blonde Susie Wolff” in a recent report of her new job at Grove. Fair enough, I recently heard a group of young women debating the attractions of Messrs Webber, Alonso and Button.
Hopefully we have moved on from the silliness of sexism in motor racing, despite the fact that over in North America discussion of NASCAR racer Danica Patrick barely ever includes her driving skills. But then she did herself no favours by posing with motor cars dressed in a skimpy black bikini. You will not see that kind of stunt from Susie Wolff who is focused on the development of the simulator, and other technical areas, at Williams.
Sadly, age may not be on Wolff’s side in her quest to reach the Grand Prix grid. She will be 30 years old this year, not a bar to success, but a hurdle perhaps. In the coming months she will do some aerodynamic testing in FW34 and will have a proper track test at the end of the season. Importantly, what she will do is pave the way for other female racers who are now climbing the ladder from karting with their sights set on the highest rung. This can surely only be good for Formula 1, so long the domain of man and machine.
You may consider all this to be irrelevant as we watch the men come out to play in Montreal today ahead of a race that could provide some meaningful pointers for the season ahead. But it is not irrelevant because Formula 1, like the rest of the way the world works, is constantly evolving. Susie Wolff predicts ‘Girl on the Grid’ headlines within a decade. We shall see.