Susie Wolff, Female Drivers and Formula One


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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?
Certainly opens up a huge market for sponsorship opportunities if you have a female driver in the team. By that I mean as a race driver. Just look at Danica though. Maldonado gets sponsorship by virtue of being Venezuelan, Danica by being a woman. That being said if anybody can do it it's Simona de Silvestro. Of all the Indycar women, Simona was easily the fastest on road courses. Danica was overall fairly competitive but only because she was on one of the best teams, and she was really only good on ovals. Katherine Legge hasn't done much in IndyCar, maybe Champ Car a long long time a go. And Pippa Mann certainly hasn't been brilliant. Sarah Fisher is a clear no go as she is now focused on her team and her family. The only other woman driver was Ana Beatriz, who wasn't half bad but not great either.
This 1st formula E season is an ideal point for women to prove themselves along side men in equal machinery.
Will be very interesting to see how it shapes up.
The lack of women in F1 is strange. Women make it into almost every other form of motorsport including top level series. Yet F1 remains an 'old boys club'.

I posted a video in the Lewis thread. Link. Lewis and DC visited their old go-kart track a few weeks ago. At least half of the kids racing are girls. Hopefully that will mean more woman will come through in the future and get the help they need to make it into F1.
It's clear girls have as much interest in racing at an early age as much as boys. Perhaps the reason they don't make it as often is a lack of support in the early years to make the leap from karting to other motorsport.
Because it's not the norm, a lot of diehard rednecks just don't think it should happen. So for the sake of moving forward, the first female driver has to be good and she has to be fast, if Susie Wolf is neither of those things, she shouldn't even contemplate it.
Not because that's fair, it's not, but because if she is a really dismal driver all those rednecks will be pointing and laughing for years to come.
In a fair world she would be given the same chance as some of the male drivers who didn't really prove themselves. But that can't really happen until we have established that females are as talented at racing as men.
Where you find good, fast female drivers is the problem.
Having women drivers certainly isnt a bad thing. I just want them to be chosen based upon their ability, not just because they are female.
I dont want to see F1 to like what NASCAR has done with Danica Patrick, where she really hasnt done anything to earn her place and is in the way more often than not.
Also I think women having as much interest in racing at an early age is a very new phenomenon.
As a teenager, I hankered after the idea of being a racing driver, but that was back in the 60s - when men were men and F1 was a rich man's playground.

I would love to see more women racing, more women in government and more on corporate boards, not just because they are women but because they are the best.

Wollf has set the 'cause' back several years because of who she married, as a mediocre driver, and then continued to build on connections rather than talent.
In this months Motorsport there is an article on the feeder Formula for F1. Having seen the eyewatering costs of a season of racing in these series, it's no wonder that so many struggle to break through. To that end, young driver programs are essential in helping some drivers break through. Having a quick female driver in a team would be a PR dream for most teams which would be exploited to the fullest. The major drawback with this is that a female driver would be resented for this, much in the same way that Danica Patrick has suffered because of the attention she has received. Another comparisson would be the press coverage relating to Lewis Hamilton's background and path into F1. Despite the fact that F1 has been a global sport atracting all races and creeds, Hamilton being the first black driver garnered a great deal of attention.

I'm with you to a degree Jen in that I feel on balance Wolff has set back the cause of females in motorsport. But the problem is not becaus of her marriage but more the fact that she is as you say, a mediocre driver. She is shielded from this to some extent by being a darling in the press because of her gender. I like to use the comparison of Max Chlton who's pre-F1 career was only marginally better than Susie Wolff and yet he found his way into F1 thanks to having the right backing. It's not how you get in but what you are able to do when you're there and neither Wolff or Chilton are worth a seat.
Having women drivers certainly isnt a bad thing. I just want them to be chosen based upon their ability, not just because they are female.
I dont want to see F1 to like what NASCAR has done with Danica Patrick, where she really hasnt done anything to earn her place and is in the way more often than not.
There are plenty of drivers who aren't in F1 on merit, why should it be different for girls?
Danica Patrick achieved a great deal in Indy Car and made a better transition to Nascar than Dario Franchitti and Jacque Villenueve. And is currently doing no worse than Juan Pablo Montoya.
I'm going to attempt to make this short. I own a kart track and my wife is a SCCA National Champion, so I get to see a lot of females in a racing environment. If one driver gets a ride because they have more charisma, grit or looks than another driver then fine, I'm ok with that. Motorsports is expensive and sponsors want results but they also want a face to attach to their product, and we live in a society where appearance is as important (or more so) than substance. Abraham Lincoln would never be voted in nowadays, he was too damn ugly. Women are better looking and are trusted more than men, so they don't need as much talent. I attached photos of the #1 ranked shifter kart racer in America and the #7 ranked shifter kart racer-which one is going to get sponsorship first?

Am I allowed to comment on the driving ability of men vs women?
There are plenty of drivers who aren't in F1 on merit, why should it be different for girls?
Danica Patrick achieved a great deal in Indy Car and made a better transition to Nascar than Dario Franchitti and Jacque Villenueve. And is currently doing no worse than Juan Pablo Montoya.
So, other than winning a race in Japan on an oval that half the drivers werent at, what did she ever win in Indycar?
Despite winning few races Danica was a regular podium finisher in lower formulas. She has finished the Indy Series Championship consistently in the top 10 and as high as 5th. In the Indy 500 she finished 4th at her first attempt in 2005, and subsequently finished 8th, 8th, 22nd, 3rd, 6th and 10th. Not at all bad for a "journey woman" don't you think?
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Shogun If you want to know just how seriously defective the macho world of F1 is you need look no further than the accident involving Maria De Villota. Can you imagine the outcry, fallout and ramifications had Ayrton Senna driven into an unattended lorry with a half raised tail lift?!

The actual subsequent fallout was underwhelming.
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am I allowed to comment on the driving ability of men vs women?


I fimrly believe there are female drivers out there who are more than capable of getting to and driving well in the highest levels of motorsport. The big problem is getting the ladies with genuine tallent into the right seats.

Susie Wolff's journey to the paddock is no different from a rich kid who can afford to pay huge somes of money for a drive. To be fair, she hasn't actually turned a racing wheel in F1 so we can't really comment on her ability but, given the racing background of some her fellow generation of female races, she is deffinately at the lower end of this group when it comes to actual results.

As far as Danica Patrick goes, her results would be very respectable if she was a male driver. Not team leader results but a good number 2 in any team. She beat vastly more experienced drivers on her day. I don't know enough about NASCAR to comment on why she wanted to join that series or her progress and development there but she was certainly worthy of a seat in Indy Racing.

In the case of Maria De Villota, had she actaully raced for Marussia then I think there would have been more attention paid to her accident. The fact that she was a female driver was enough to gain more column inches than I think it would have done had it been a relatively unknown, male GP2 racer.
There are plenty of drivers who aren't in F1 on merit, why should it be different for girls?
Danica Patrick achieved a great deal in Indy Car and made a better transition to Nascar than Dario Franchitti and Jacque Villenueve. And is currently doing no worse than Juan Pablo Montoya.

Well Juan Pablo Montoya isn't in NASCAR this season. But given that he won two races and made the chase in NASCAR Sprint Cup, I'd say Danica is doing worse. He won in his first season back in IndyCar and is currently fifth in the championship. Dario only ran about a third of a season in NASCAR's top-tier and it didn't go all that much worse than Danica's NASCAR start.

Villeneuve has only run 20 races combined in all three NASCAR categories. He's not trying to transition to NASCAR but instead make some money off of being a road-course ringer and he's been pretty good at that.
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