Trailblazing Formula One Test Driver Susie Wolff Launches Initiative To Steer Female Talent Onto The Race Track

Susie-Wolff

She may officially be retired from competitive motorsports, but British Formula One test driver Susie Wolff is far from walking away from the race track. Instead, the barrier-breaking athlete wants to now pave the way for many more women in motorsports by launching an important initiative called Dare To Be Different.

The 33 year old from Scotland told the media that her plan isn’t just to increase the number of women in F1 where they are eventually competing against men, but women in all motorsports.

“We are creating role models from the successful women who are in the sport already. My fundamental aim is to drive female talent — it’s not just to find the next female Formula One superstar. If they come from our search, then great. But ‘Dare to be Different’ is something in the long term that just aims to inspire, connect and showcase women in motorsport,” she said at the launch event in Birmingham, UK.

When she did announce her retirement in November 2o15, Susie told BBC Sport about the mixed reaction she got from fans.

“When I stopped, I was very surprised at the amount of messages I got from people who were disappointed because they viewed me as a trailblazer,” she said, but she always knew she would stay in the sport, despite not wanting to drive anymore.

Her entire career, and indeed childhood, all pointed her firmly in one direction where she never failed to impress along the way. She started racing go-karts at club level at the age of 8 and began winning championships at the age of 14. After declaring her desire to race Formula One cars in 1996 and working toward that goal, she made her debut in 2001 for Formula Renault.

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In 2003, she was selected as the BRDC Rising Star and qualified as the only woman for the final round of the coveted McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award. The following year, she made the leap into the British F3 International Series. After being called to do a test drive with Mercedes Benz DTM, she signed a contract with the company as a Factory Driver where she made her debut in 2006. In 201o she finished her season ahead of her brand colleagues Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard, more familiar names to racing enthusiasts.

Her entrance to Formula One came in 2o12 when she was appointed development driver for the Williams F1 team, becoming only a handful of women in the world who have made it all the way to this series. But her new goal with the D2BD initiative is to build on the legacy she created by bringing up the next generation of female drivers.

Teaming up with the British Motorsport Authority, they have a series of events which they will roll out throughout 2016, including go-karting where young girls can meet professional drivers. They will also create an online community utilizing social media around the events to drum up more excitement.

Susie, who is the wife of Mercedes Benz Formula One team part-owner Toto Wolff (there’s a reason we are mentioning him, other than simply being her husband), has a long-term view on nurturing more female talent in motorsports. 

You’ve just got to get a girl that’s good enough to perform on track and she will have the opportunity. For me, it’s about giving back, it’s about passing on the lessons I learned and helping in what way I can,” she said.

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Of course the questions about gender equality and sexism in the sport is something she will probably never avoid, given that she is a trailblazer, but she has a definitive view of her role within this male-dominated arena.

I’m not focusing on changing the sport, I am focusing on being successful in the sport as it is,” she said.

Susie has surrounded herself with people who understand the significance of her presence in the sport, including her husband Toto.

“My husband  is of the generation where he realizes that women are just as capable as men. He has some key players in his team that are women. So the next generation realize that they’ve got to be diverse to make sure they have the best people for the job,” she said.

On face value, when you watch a Formula One race, it’s hard not to think women mostly have a subsidiary role in the sport due to the majority of pit teams and directors being men, but Susie says her experience was far more diverse than you’d think.

People keep telling me that it’s male dominated but a lot of the people I worked with at Williams were women. And they were there because they were the best people for the job. Your gender becomes irrelevant when you are in a performance-based environment,” she emphasized.

It’s important that she speaks on this issue candidly in order to show the up-and-coming generation of female motorsport drivers that they are not going be a gender anomaly everywhere they go.

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“My boss at Williams was a woman (deputy principal Claire Williams) and the head of performance is a woman. When I was driving the simulator, out of the three engineers I worked with one was a woman. So it was very difficult for me to turn around and tell people that I worked in a male-dominated environment, because it wasn’t,” she continued.

Her hope is that Dare To Be Different will get more women behind the wheel, but also filling important positions in the industry.

We want to get more women into the sport, whether that be marshals, volunteers, engineers, female racing drivers. We want to open up the sport and show there’s opportunities out there.

To understand why an initiative like this has been a long time coming, it’s important to know that since Formula One world championship racing began in 1950, there have only been 2 female participants. Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis was the first, starting three grands prix in 1958 at the wheel of a Maserati. She died recently at the age of 89. The second, also an Italian woman, was Lella Lombardi in 1976. She died in 1992.

If you live in the UK and want to be part of one of the D2BD events, click here to find out dates and locations. No word on whether this initiative will cross the pond and come to the US or anywhere else at this stage, but perhaps there will be female motorsport athletes reading about Susie’s mission and want to re-create something similar in their own communities.

To hear more about Susie’s inspirational journey in her career, watch the video below from her appearance at the 2o14 BigSpeak Motivational Speakers Bureau:


 

 

 

 

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