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Susie Wolff Last Woman in F1 a Decade Ago

Decade Since Susie Wolff: Women’s F1 Gap Remains

07/07/2024

Ten years since Susie Wolff raced in F1 at Silverstone, the sport still lacks female participation.

Susie Wolff stands as the last woman to have participated in an official session during a Grand Prix weekend.

Ten years ago, the Williams F1 test driver took to the track during free practice at Silverstone. Beyond the racetrack, she also played a pivotal role in the simulator at the Grove-based Williams F1 factory.

Today, Susie Wolff leverages her experience as the CEO of the F1 Academy, an all-female F4 category.

“It was a significant moment for me, one accompanied by immense pressure but also a tremendous opportunity,” Wolff recalled for the FOM.

“I remember feeling the pressure to perform, knowing it was my sole chance to demonstrate my capabilities. It was a real challenge because I literally had 11 laps, two stints—one on old tyres, one on new tyres—and I wasn’t in the car every weekend.”

“I went into it knowing above all that I couldn’t afford to damage the car because I had to hand it back to Valtteri Bottas in one piece! But secondly, for my own performance, I wanted to be as quick as possible to prove that I could compete at this level.”

“I vividly remember reaching Maggots and Becketts, the fastest part of Silverstone—and anyone who has driven this circuit knows exactly what I am talking about. It’s a track where you really have to trust in the car’s aerodynamic downforce.”

Wolff faced immense pressure not only as a driver but as a woman in a sport where gender inequalities persist: any mistake or accident would inevitably harm the cause of women in motorsport.

“There were many who were curious to see if I would be fast enough! Could I handle the pressure?”

“There was nervousness, but also adrenaline. I remember when I got into the car, there was a crowd of journalists at the front of the garage, all waiting to photograph me in the car.”

When will a woman compete in F1?

It’s been a decade since a woman participated in an F1 weekend—a notably long absence.

As the director of the F1 Academy, Susie Wolff is actively working to bridge the gender gap. It’s a considerable gap, given that women’s participation in motorsport has never surpassed 5%; and in karting, often only 1 or 2 women are present for every 100 boys…

Progress is being made, of course. In endurance racing with the ‘Iron Dames’, and in British F4 where Abbi Pulling (a member of the Alpine F1 academy) became the first woman to compete in the championship. The F1 Academy also supports nine young women in karting, like Luna Fluxa Cross who is currently leading the OK-N Senior series by a significant margin.

“I feel very fortunate to have the experience I do in my current role,” continues Wolff.

“I was incredibly lucky that my parents never made me feel like I was doing something unusual for a girl. My older brother raced, and in my view, anything he could do, I could do too. Let’s not forget that when you drive, you wear a helmet. No one sees the driver, so your gender doesn’t matter—what matters most is performance.”

“I know what it’s like to be an eight-year-old getting into a kart for the first time. I know how intimidating the environment can be, how competitive it can be, how tough it is. There’s never just one winner and everyone wants to win, so you have to learn how to handle failure.”

“For me, it was extremely important for the F1 Academy to hold its races during an F1 weekend… That’s where we can make ourselves known and have an impact so that people can see what’s possible—because sometimes, in life, you have to see it to believe it.”

“But the F1 Academy isn’t just about getting a woman into Formula 1.”

“I think we’re not just a passing thing, we’re a movement and we want to increase participation, boost the talent pool and make sure more women enter our sport.”

The question inevitably arises: when will a woman have a regular seat in F1? It’s not imminent, admits Susie Wolff.

“When people ask me if a woman can drive a Formula 1 car, I’ve driven one myself—and I’ve completed more than a race distance at Barcelona, 78 laps (in private testing). So, for those who say a woman isn’t physically capable, I’ve done it. I know we are physically capable and I know what the journey is like at each stage.”

“Would I like to see a woman racing in Formula 1? Absolutely yes—and I’m not very patient at the best of times! So, it can’t come soon enough, but change takes time. By increasing the pool of talent participating in racing, I’m almost certain we’ll see a woman in Formula 1. I can’t tell you exactly when, but I hope it’s as soon as possible.”

“I’m incredibly ambitious and we have a lot of things coming up.”

Susie Wolff: Last Woman in F1 a Decade Ago. f1 2024 Susie Wolff: Last Woman in F1 a Decade Ago. Susie Wolff: Last Woman in F1 a Decade Ago

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