Meet The European Women Racing To Make Formula 1 History


When you think of Formula 1 racing, names like Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, or even Lewis Hamilton come to mind. It’s highly unlikely you’d think of any women in this elite sport, but July 2014 that is all about to change.

In the future names like Susie Wolff, Katherine Legge, Simona De Silvestro will be familiar as the hair on your head. Well we’re hoping anyway!

Susie Wolff is set to be the first woman to participate in a Grand Prix weekend since Italy’s Giovanna Amati was part of the qualifying rounds for the 1992 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Susie will make her debut for the Williams team at the British and German Grand Prix, both held in July. The 31 year old Scottish lass is married to Mercedes Benz AMG Formula One team executive director Toto Wolff.

The fact that Susie will make her debut this year is a big step for women in the sport. To put it into perspective, in the 62 years that Formula 1 has existed only 5 women have entered a Grand Prix, compared to 882 men. Calling it a male-dominated sport is an understatement!

“Being a female in a man’s world is sometimes very tough,” Susie said to BBC Sport in 2012. “You just have to work harder.

“Do I care about what men say at the race track? No, not at all. I’ve always said I race for me, because I love racing. I don’t race to prove a point about how well a woman can do against men on the track.”


She also says the lack of women is not due to the fact that they can’t race as well as men, it’s that there is a lack of interest on girls’ behalf because they have no one to look to as a role model in the sport. Also, it means racing teams have to take a risk by contracting girls on the team.

But part of being a successful driver isn’t just physical, it is also a mental sport where focus is key.

“We have 30% less muscle so we have to work hard, but there’s no reason why females can’t get strong enough to race an F1 car,” she said. One significant hurdle women in the sport (and pretty much everywhere in the world) have to overcome is sexism.

“Ive lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked ‘Do you have a lipstick holder in your car?’ ,” Susie told the Daily Express in the UK.

“As a woman you do have to work harder to earn respect but when my helmet is on and I’m on the track nothing matters but my performance.”

“I fight against the stereotype that just because I’m a racing driver I should look like a man,” she says about embracing her feminine side despite the male arena she is immersed in. Susie isn’t about to let the male ego or pride get in the way of her progressing up the ranks.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone once said: “If Susie’s as quick in a car as she looks good out of a car, she’ll be a huge asset.” Susie laughed off his comments, saying as a race driver appearance is in fact part of your job, but physical appearance shouldn’t be what draws attention to a driver first and foremost.

Susie went on to say how she hopes there will be a much stronger female presence in Formula 1 in the next decade, but it looks as if that could happen sooner than she thought.

Another woman making her way into the world of racing is British woman Katherine Legge, 33, who has officially been selected as a team driver for Amlin’s Formula E racing team. Formula E is the same as Formula 1, except they are racing electrically-powered cars.


Katherine becomes the first female driver in the Formula E Championship, thanks to a new initiative from the FIA, which was established in 2012. She said it is an exciting opportunity to be part of, and cementing a strong female presence in the early stages of this new category will perhaps mean the dismal stats we quoted earlier from the history of Formula 1 won’t be repeated in the Formula E.

Aside from her new venture, Katherine Legge is a seasoned racer, having been a seasoned competitor in the US Indycar series in the past.

She has raced in several development open-wheel series in Britain including Formula Three, Formula Renault and Formula Ford. In 2005 she was awarded RACER Magazine’s ‘Most Promising Road Racer of The Year’ whose previous winners include racing luminaries such as Kimi Raikkonen, Jensen Button and Cristiano da Matta.

In the same year she also test drove for the Formula 1 Minardi team, so there’s a chance she too could join Susie Wolff in the near future.

Elsewhere in Europe there are other women being called upon for their racing skills. Swiss driver Simona De Silvestro, 25, has been contracted by the Sauber team who intends on having her ready for the 2015 racing circuit. Simona is an Indy 500 ‘Rookie of the Year’ award winner.


When asked by the Bleacher Report what it’s like to be a role model for other young girls who wish to get into the sport, Simona said it is very important and the significance is not lost on her.

“It is a male-dominated sport, but to me, it’s always been really important…I love to drive cars and I love to race, and to me it was always important to have the results, to be competitive. And I think that’s a really good role model for young girls…it is important to show them the opportunities and really support them to become what they want and to do what they love to do. And if they’re good at it, why not?”

She is not bothered by sexist remarks from fellow Sauber test driver Sergey Sirotkin who called the hiring of Simona just a “marketing ploy”. Let’s see what happens on the track Sergey!

While these women are certainly pushing forward in the European market where the space for women has always existed, there are female race car drivers in other parts of the world breaking barriers in different ways, because they come from a region where they have a lot less freedoms than Western women.

There are a group of young women from war-torn Palestine called the ‘Speed Sisters‘ who have dreams to become the first Arab women to compete in the Formula 1. The group were the subjects of a documentary which was 150% funded by an Indiegogo campaign, and has been showing at various film festivals.


The women, who are the first female Arab race car drivers, formed the group in 201o after a a member of the British Consulate General in Jerusalem heard that several Palestinian women were trying to break into the all-male racing scene. Recognizing the opportunity to use this as a way to encourage Palestinian women to pursue equality, the Consulate imported a female driving coach and provided race gear and a used BMW.

Their story has been heard all around the world, and one of the members, 22 year old Marah Zahalqa was brought over to the US by Gearhead Girls Racing to give a TEDx Teen talk in March 2014 about smashing stereotypes to follow your dreams. Currently the group only has 5 girls who compete against each other, but they are united in the cause to inspire women in their country when it comes to racing.

“We all believe that racing lets people know that the Palestinians—yes, including the women—can overcome any adversity. We go out and we race, just like any place in the world,” Marah said in an interview with Car and Driver magazine.

This group of trailblazing women have to put up with an entirely different set of cultural boundaries, but refuse to give up despite the fact that some members of their own families have shunned them. They are proud of their Palestinian identity and want to race for their country in the future.


“I want to show the world that Palestinian women are more than their media image. We have an opportunity here to show the world something different,” said Speed Sister Betty Saa’deh.

Right now they all have other jobs to make ends meet, but perhaps there will come a day when women don’t have to work doubly hard just to get recognition or entrance into the sport.

The more women like Susie, Simona, Katherine and the Speed Sisters push forward, the more younger women will have role models to look up to and inspire them to go after their dreams. Here’s to the phrase “male dominated” becoming extinct one day, along with sexism in sport.

Check out the trailer for the ‘Speed Sisters’ documentary below, as well as Marah’s TEDx Teen Talk video”


  1. Pingback: Trailblazing Formula One Test Driver Susie Wolff Launches Initiative To Steer Female Talent Onto The Race Track - GirlTalkHQ

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