Susie Wolff will make history later this year when she becomes the first female driver to participate in a Formula 1 Grand Prix in over twenty years.
The Martini Racing Williams development driver has been given the opportunity to have two Friday practice outings for the team later this year, and she’s playing an ever-crucial role in supporting the outfit’s championship ambitions with countless hours fine-tuning the FW36’s set-up in the in-house simulator.
The team enters the 2014 season full of confidence, armed with a new engine, sponsorship portfolio and the appointment of several key figures. All of the ingredients should set the team on the path to recovery after a disastrous 2013 campaign, and the positive results to-date in pre-season testing would suggest that Williams is on the up.
We sat down a spoke to Susie immediately after the first practice session at the Australian Grand Prix to discuss the team’s progress and her role spearheading a growing participation of women in Formula 1…
What has the atmosphere been like within the team after such a positive pre-season build-up for the team?
It’s very positive. It’s no secret we had a very, very tough season last year, but when you’re in a tough situation it forces you to look at what’s wrong and to change it, because there’s nowhere else to hide.
Everyone did a fantastic job over the winter to build a new car. The commercial team did a great job to land the biggest new sponsor in Formula 1 in Martini Racing. We came to the first tests with quite a positive momentum, and those tests went well.
So there’s quite a buzz here. We’re on the right engine, which helps, but I think everybody is still quite cautious. We’ve got to get over the line on Sunday and get some points in the bag, and until then all this hype is just hype.
Tied into the wonderful livery is this ‘old-school revival’ feeling when you look at Williams, as this privateer team taking it to the bigger works-supported teams. How are the senior figures within the team feeling from your standpoint?
It’s probably a question best left to them. We’re all part of one team and everyone is working on the job they need to do, but from my perspective, Claire and Frank [Williams] have done a fantastic job over the winter. It’s not been easy, but they’ve got great new people on board who have complemented the people in the team already.
They’ve been working flat-out on the commercial side, and obviously our iconic founder Frank is that figurehead, and everybody is working to get the team back to where he would like it to be. There’s a great heritage here, we’re proud of that. Nobody wanted to have a year like we did last year, but that’s Formula 1: it’s brutal, and if you get it wrong, you pay the price for it.
Your role has expanded within the team to see you have two Friday practice outings later this year. What does this recognition mean and what are your aims in these outings?
To do a good job. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t have done a good job in the Young Drivers’ tests; I would have been out.
Every step along the way, you have to do a good job, because there are ten other guys waiting for their chance. I see it as a great opportunity; it was the next natural step on my Formula 1 journey with Williams and I have to do a good job.
Everyone talks about the gender issue, but ultimately it’s my performance on the track which speaks for itself.
We’re seeing an increasing presence of women in Formula 1 – you, Claire Williams and [Sauber team principal] Monisha Kaltenborn have clearly been at the forefront – but more recently the Sauber team confirmed Simona de Silvestro had joined its roster. How do you look at this increased representation in the sport?
I think the most important thing is that it’s happened in a very organic way. I came from DTM with Mercedes-Benz before Claire and Frank gave me my chance, and now you get to see Simona getting the same opportunity as what I got two years later. It just shows that if you open the door and make an example, it works because other people also get a chance.
Interestingly, the two teams with women at the helm have given a chance, which I think is quite a strong sign. What I think is most important is that the women who are getting a chance are extremely good at what they do because of the performance they bring, because you don’t stay in your position for long if you’re not good enough.
Even in the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission headed by Michele Mouton, we’ve never been about pushing for quotas or just trying to get more women in. We’ve been saying ‘Hey, if you’re interested in motorsport, it’s not just a man’s world.’
We support and help each other where we can through our experience, and we’re here to show that this isn’t an environment exclusively for men.
Do you miss the buzz of racing?
I won’t call it a problem, but the situation I’m in is this: after seven years spent in DTM racing, which is a tough championship, my role at Williams isn’t just a few days a month where I drop in, turn a few laps in the simulator and go home. This is a full-time job.
I do a lot of work with the sponsors, driving in the simulator to help ready the team for the free practice sessions.
I’d rather put all of my efforts into this role, because this chance at Formula 1 is only going to come about once. As soon as you don’t take that chance, you’re out, and I don’t think you get another one.
Of course I’d love to be out there on the starting grid – I miss that adrenaline – but I’m also intelligent enough to see that I’m not going to compromise [my opportunity] by doing a couple of GT races just for the fun of it.
The point is: where else would I go? I have done seven years with the best manufacturer in the world and now I’m with them in Formula 1.
Do I want to go down the other side of that hill to GP2 or GT racing? No.
I want to go as far as I can until I can’t get any further, and then stop. I’m not going to go down the other side of that hill and race in other championships. I want to have a second successful career [after Formula 1].
How comfortable are you being a role model for young girls wanting to pursue a career in motorsport?
I still have a lot to achieve before I can call myself a role model, but if my path can inspire a few other girls to take up motorsport or want to be racing drivers, then that’s great. I’m certainly a woman who wants to see other women be successful.
I think it’s positive. I don’t feel any extra pressure because I’m a racing driver trying to make my own way and do the best I can. I was never on a quest to prove what women can do against the men, I’m simply on a quest for Susie Wolff. If I can inspire a few more women and [show] that you should go out and get what you want without being defined by your gender, then I think it’s positive.
We offer our thanks to the Williams F1 Team for making this interview possible.