This week Formula One 2017 fired into life with the first pre-season test at the Barcelona circuit, the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. After the initial launches of the new 2017 spec cars last week, many questioned whether the established order from years previous would be shaken by the new 2017 regulations?
Yesterday morning the motorsport world woke up to the news that Williams test driver Susie Wolff would retire from the sport at the end of the year. Whilst this may not seem that groundbreaking, the impact she can have on future generations of female racing drivers means her announcement is a big potential step forward for the sport.
Whilst throughout her career some may argue that her racing achievements do not merit her all this attention and scrutiny, but the very fact she was able to achieve what she did is noteworthy in itself. She is certainly not the first female racing driver and she won’t be the last, but she is one of several women drivers who can be a role model for future generations of young girls who dream of becoming racing drivers.
From an early age Susie Stoddart as she was then known had a deep passion for motorsport. She began go-karting early on and achieved some success as she was growing up. For four years in a row starting from 1996 to 1999 she was named the British female kart driver of the year, a good indicator of her talents early on. She was not just winning awards because of her gender however.
Susie Wolff began karting from an early age. Her she is aged eight. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .
She was both the Scottish Junior Intercontinental A and Junior Open Intercontinental A champion for 1997, before switching to the British Intercontinental A series for 1998. She finished 10th in the series, also finishing 11th overall in the European Intercontinental A series. For 1999 she moved up to the British Formula A series, finishing the year a respectable 13th. Whilst she struggled in the Formula A World Championship, finishing 34th, her progression and talent were clear to see.
2000 would be her final year in karting, whilst also managing to be her best year too. She improved to 10th in the British Formula A series, whilst also improving to 15th overall in the Formula A World Championship. Her achievements were recognized as she was awarded a prize for being the top female kart driver in the world.
From here on a progression to cars was inevitable, as she moved up to the competitive Formula Renault UK series, competing in the winter mini series initially. She joined the Motaworld team, although naturally her results were nothing groundbreaking as she acclimatized to the series.
For 2002 she made her debut in the full series, although with DFR racing she once again failed to post any notable results in a difficult season for her. 2003 would prove to be her breakthrough year, as she achieved her first podium in the series and finished the year 9th overall. She was nominated as a finalist for the prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of The Year Award, whilst also being recognized as the BRDC Rising Star of the year.
Wolff in action during her third and final Formula Renault UK campaign. Her she drives at Brands Hatch. Photo copyright Susie Wolff.com .
Stoddart returned to Formula Renault UK for her third year in 2004, joining the successful Comtec Racing team. She improved with three podiums during a year in which she finished 5th overall in the category. It was time to move up to British Formula Three for 2005, as she joined the established Alan Docking Racing team. Unfortunately for Stoddart her season was ruined by an ankle injury she suffered from the previous winter. She would only compete in the opening two round of the series. With her career momentum in the balance, her future looked precarious going into the 2006 season.
A rare shot of Susie in action during her injury plagued British F3 year in 2005. Photo copyright of SusieWolff.com .
Salvation would arrive from an unusual source for Stoddart, as she was signed by the Mucke Motorsport team to compete in the German DTM touring car championship. It was always going to be tough for Stoddart to make an impact in the series considering she was a rookie, and was driving a two year old spec Mercedes also. She managed to show some form with a strong ninth in the final round at the Hockenheimring.
Stoddart in action during one of her seven years in the DTM touring car series. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .
2007 was much a repeat of 2006 as Stoddart stayed with Mucke in a two year old car, with her best result a tenth at Mugello halfway through the season. With little progress in her first two years, Stoddart moved across to the Persson Motorsport team for 2008, although despite having former champion Gary Paffett as a team mate her best result was again a tenth, this time at the Norisring.
Wolff remained with Persson in 2009, and amazingly her best result all year was once again a tenth overall at both the Norisring once again and Oschersleben. After four difficult years in the highly competitive category, Stoddart would make a breakthrough in 2010. Once again with Persson she scored her first points in the series, with two seventh place finishes at the Eurospeedway Lausitz and Hockenheimring circuits. At the end of the year she was 13th overall in the category with four points.
Stoddart standing out in one of her DTM seasons. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .
After this breakthrough year Stoddart was expecting to step up again in her sixth year driving in the DTM. Unfortunately for Stoddart it would prove to be another frustrating year as she struggled as she had done before. Her best result was 11th at Valencia, leaving her unclassified at the end of the year with no points.
2012 would prove to be the now Susie Wolff’s seventh and final year in the DTM series, although she failed to go out with a bang. She once again struggled in a series where a tenth can decide the top six. Her best result would prove to be two 12th places, although by now her priorities had somewhat changed.
In early April 2012 it was announced that Wolff had joined the Williams F1 team as a development driver for them. Whilst some within the motorsport community questioned the team’s motives considering her husband Toto Wolff was a shareholder in the team, she would prove to everyone that she was ready to handle a Formula One car.
Wolff receiving instruction for her first F1 test with Williams in October 2012. Photo credit thanks to SusieWolff.com .
Wolff made her test debut for the Williams team at the Silverstone circuit in October 2012. She drove a 2011 Williams FW33-Cosworth and impressed the team with her driving. For 2013 attention increased on Wolff when she drove for the team at the mid-season young driver test. Her performance was scrutinized, as she finished the test 23rd overall from the combined times out of 33, although she was only a second off regular race driver Pastor Maldonado in the same car. It’s also very hard to read too much into testing times, considering they drove the car on different days.
It’s also worth considering that Wolff was not racing in 2013 at all, and besides her sole test run the previous October she had not driven a single seater since 2005. For Wolff her role within Williams stepped up in 2014, as it was announced she would compete in two practice sessions for the team across the year. This sparked a lot of media attention for both Wolff and the team.
Wolff showing her talents in the 2013 F1 mid-season F1 test at Silverstone. Photo credit goes to SusieWolff.com .
At her home British Grand Prix Wolff duly made history, as she became the first female driver to compete in an F1 weekend since Giovanna Amati over two decades before in 1992. Unfortunately for Wolff she was not able to fully enjoy her day as an engine failure ended her session after only four laps. Things went much more smoothly in her second practice run for the German Grand Prix.
After overcoming a first lap gearbox issue, Wolff was able to complete a good number of laps as she ended the session 15th overall, only just over two tenths of a second behind team mate Felipe Massa. This was a very impressive result for Wolff considering her lack of experience compared to Massa, an 11 time race winner in the sport.
At the end of 2014 Wolff’s efforts were rewarded by the team, as she was announced as the team’s test driver for the upcoming 2015 season. Her role increased with the team as she completed a day with the team in the second pre-season test in Barcelona, before she once again completed the opening free practice session for the Spanish Grand Prix.
Wolff steps out after one of her many practice runs for the Williams team. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .
Wolff ended the session 14th this time,only 0.9 of a second behind regular driver Massa. This was once again a noteworthy performance once again considering their relative experience in F1. Wolff would only have to wait a few months for her next run in the competitive Williams FW37-Mercedes, as she drove the opening day of the in-season test at Austria. After 39 laps in a rain affected day she finished ninth overall with a 1m13.248 lap time.
Whilst this was not necessarily was Wolff was hoping for, she had a chance to redeem herself with another free practice run for the upcoming British Grand Prix. Once the session had been completed Wolff would find herself 13th on the timesheets, with a time only 0.8 of a second behind Felipe Massa. Unfortunately for Wolff this would be the last time she would drive for the Williams team, as she announced her retirement from the sport only a few days ago.
Wolff leads team mate Felipe Massa during free practice one for this year’s Spanish GP. Photo sourced from SusieWolff.com .
The news of her retirement at age 32 has garnered a lot of press attention, now seems like a perfect time to look towards the future and to what her legacy can be for a future generation of female racing drivers. Whilst the results in her career may suggest that she is not possibly worthy of this role, the very fact she was able to establish herself a genuine F1 affiliated driver irrespective of her gender shows what she has achieved in the last few years.
Whilst she initially was questioned based on her relative merit for a role within F1, by the time of her announcement yesterday she was a fully fledged Williams test driver. Along with other female drivers such as Danica Patrick in Nascar, Pippa Mann in Indycar, Katherine Legge in Sportscar’s and Simona De Silvestro in Indycar have all greatly raised awareness of female racing drivers and have showed that they can be successful irrespective of their gender.
This wave of increased awareness of female drivers needs to continue, if the sport is to full shake it’s current tag as a male dominated sport. The seeds of change have been planted with the likes of Leena Gade, Audi sportscar race engineer, have shown that women can be just as successful in all aspects of motorsport as men. Wolff has already said she wants to work with the grassroots elements of the sport to promote female participation in sport.
For the likes of Wolff she has a great opportunity now to interact and help develop a wider female generation of racing drivers, therefore Wolff can act as a great role model for any future wannabe racing drivers. They can look of the example from the likes of Wolff and aspire to match or even surpass their achievements in the sport. The future could turn out to be very bright for the next few female generations of racing drivers.
What are your thoughts on the career and potential legacy of the likes of Susie Wolff? Please feel free to give your comments below and thank you for reading.