First things first, the purpose of this post is not to discuss whether ladies are able to compete in modern F1 or approach the topic from a negative point of view. My intention is to discuss the effect that having Susie Wolff within the Williams team at the moment is having on the attitude towards women in motorsport and if this is having, or will have a positive or negative effect. In recent years, if you were to ask most casual motorsport fans to name current female drivers you would most likely hear the name Danica Patrick and little else. There has of course, been a large increase in the number of high profile female drivers some of whom will be known and some will have slipped under the radar. As well as Patrick and Wolff, such names as Simona de Silvestro, Pippa Mann and Katherine Legge to name a few have raced on either side of the Atlantic. Interestingly, most of these drivers have made more inroads into open wheeled racing in the US which highlights how difficult it must be to break into European racing. Maria de Villota, who passed away in 2013 as a result of injuries sustained in an accident while testing for Marussia, was unusual in that she spent the bulk of her career in European racing. Now, lets at this stage try and forget routes into F1. It could be easily argued that Wolff, and the clue is in the surname, has had a fair few breaks given the position of her husband as a share holder in the Williams team. Much like the former girlfriend of Flavio Briatore being the last lady to appear in F1, back in 1992. But if we criticise these ladies for taking this route into F1 then we must also disapprove of the sons of former drivers who are able to trade on their name. or someone like Max Chilton, who is not only well backed financially but raced in his fathers team in lower formula. Drivers such as Pedro Diniz in the past or Pastor Maldanado in the present, who are able, through various links to bring in a good deal of sponsorship, should also come under the same level of scrutiny. So, let’s leave aside the route into F1 because every driver will have made his or her own way onto the grid and every fan will have an opinion as to how valid that was. So, leaving aside external influences this can only leave performances in the car and for Susie Wolff this doesn’t make for good reading. After graduating from Karting to Formula Renault in 2002, she made it onto the podium on just 4 occasions in 12 years and all of those were in her Formula Renault days. In 7 full seasons of DTM she scored just 4 points. The press are quick to point out that Susie always drove cars that were never newer than the previous season however, though she did beat David Coulthard in the same car and Ralf Schumacher in a newer car in 2010, the year in which she scored her 4 points. Her teammate Jamie Green (running the same car as Susie) managed 8 times as many points including 2 podiums and a win. The previous season in 2009 when she drove alongside Green, Mathias Lauda and Maro Engel in equal machinery, she was the only driver of the four to fail to score a point. Now if we look at Katherine Legge, she achieved third place overall in her debut season in the 2005 Atlantic Championship in the US, which included 3 wins, a second and a third. She followed this with 5 top ten finishes in 2 years of Champ car racing. Yet despite all this, when we look at her DTM results between 2008 and 2010, in 2009, of all the Audi drivers who completed a full season she finished last of them all. In 2010, she again finished bottom of the pile in a 2 year old car while her team mate Markus Winkelhock managed to score 7 points, she again finished last. Does this put Susie Wolff’s performances into context? It’s extremely hard to try and identify young female drivers who are coming through to potentially challenge for a place in F1 in the future. One young and upcoming British driver, Alice Powell became the first lady to win a Formula Renault series when she won the 2010 Formula Renault BARC championship. She followed this up in with a second place in the 2013 MSV Formula 3 Cup and took 2 wins in the British Formula 3 B Class championship. Sadly it seems that she has no full seat drive for 2014. Now while her wins have not occurred in the premier divisions of their respective series (Formula Renault and GP3) they none the less show that Powell has talent. This for me this is the problem, a lot of drivers are identified reasonably early in their careers as having the potential to progress into F1. If F1 teams truly wish to have a female driver behind the wheel, regardless of the motivation for this to happen, they need to identify drivers such as Alice Powell and help them to develop with young driver programs. In the case of Susie Wolff, 31 is not the age to be starting out on an F1 career. So what does Williams get out of having Susie Wolff within the team? Would it be disingenuous to say that they are getting some great publicity out of it? Now is that fair for female drivers that they are placed in that position of knowing they almost certainly won’t get a drive but the team are potentially getting more out of them than they are getting out of the team?? Another unconsidered effect is that of the way F1 looks to those who watch. Given her lack of tangible results you would have thought that testing an F1 car would have resulted in Susie being outclassed or out of her depth and yet in both the drivers test and, even though they were troubled her FP1 drives have shown that she was only a few tenths of the pace of more experienced drivers. Of course we don’t know how much fuel she was running or the set up etc, and again, it’s going to generate a large amount of publicity the better she does so you have to have a certain amount of cynicism. That said, are modern F1 cars that straight forward to drive that a driver (regardless of gender) without any race wins in any formula in a 12 year career, and only a tiny number of podiums, can just jump into an F1 car and lap within 3 tenths of a driver in the same car who finished runner up in the championship and has multiple F1 wins. Now what does that say about F1? So in conclusion, is Susie Wolff good for F1 or is she doing more harm than good for aspiring female drivers? When will we see female drivers break into F1 and how is this likely to happen? And what do Susie’s performances say about the nature of modern F1 cars?