Susie Wolff’s One-Woman Formula 1 Insurgency
One of the world’s top race car drivers, this comely Scottish blonde is about to nab a very big first.
Susie Wolff got her first motorbike when she was two years old and started racing carts when she was eight. “My parents have a motorbike shop on the West Coast of Scotland so you could say it’s in my blood,” says the development driver for Williams Martini F1 Racing. “I always loved speed, competition and adrenaline.”
It’s nice that she’s articulate when talking about her aggressive career choices – her voice has the peaty flavor of her native Oban – but she doesn’t really need to be: The tough blonde looks best in hell for leather and turns heads at 200 mph.
When she was only fourteen, Wolff was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year in 1996. She kept the title for five years. In 2001, she moved up to single-seater racing, competing in the Formula Renault Winter Series. She got noticed because she was good and because she didn’t look like her competition, a fact that she found more surprising that you might think.
“My parents never made me think I was doing anything unusual for a girl so for me, it was completely normal and I didn’t feel out of place,” she says, adding that it was only later, when she was racing at the World Championship level, that she realized she’d joined a boys’ club. “By that time, it was too late anyway as I had found my passion.” She didn’t care as much as the young men she beat.
“It was sometimes very tough as certain male competitors and their parents didn’t like being beaten by a girl but it only made me stronger and more determined,” she says.
Crybabies don’t last in F1 so she doesn’t worry about it much anymore. What she worries about is shaving seconds and off turns and rubber off her Mercedes’ Pirellis.
In 2013, after several years participating in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, Wolff signed on as a developmental driver for Williams Martini F1 Team. She’s performed well and her role is expanding: She has already participated in two FP1 events this summer. The team’s stated goal of the team is to finish third in the Constructors’ Championship this season, ahead of Ferrari. She wants the team to win because she wants to win– it’s time for her to make her bones – and because the Williams family matters to her. Her husband Toto owns 16% of the team. Oh, and she wants a chance on raceday.
So far, Wolff has participated in the practice round of major races (notably the British Grand Prix), but never seen top-flight competition. It’s not enough. “My ultimate goal is to compete in an F1 race,” she says.
If Wolff does succeed at becoming a starting driver for Williams, she will be the first in F1 history. To her, that is both important and unimportant. Like Danica Patrick, the woman who inspires inevitable comparisons, she’s more about the racing than the trailblazer and more about the process than anything else. “You never have to work a day in your life,” she says of spending her days at the track.
She doesn’t have anywhere else she wants to be. She just wants to get everywhere faster.