A Wolff at F1′s Door
At the start of September, when the Williams Formula 1 team confirmed Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas would remain as their drivers for next season, the prospect of the sport having its first female racer since 1976 appeared to be dashed. The announcement ended hope that 31-year-old Susie Wolff from Oban on Scotland’s east coast, the wife of Mercedes F1 executive director Toto Wolff, would be awarded a coveted race seat for the iconic British team next season. But financial woes at other F1 teams may yet throw Susie a lifeline?
Wolff joined the Williams outfit in 2012 as development driver, following several seasons racing in German Touring Cars, and has made two F1 appearances during race weekend practice sessions this year at Silverstone and Germany. Hers was the first F1 drive by a woman pilot since 1992 when Italian Giovanna Amati had three unsuccessful attempts to qualify a desperately slow Brabham. Only four other women drivers have graced an F1 circuit in anger and just two have raced in motorsport’s highest echelon: Italians Maria Teresa de Filippis and Lella Lombardi. The former had three race starts between 1958 and 1959. Lombardi had 12 outings between 1974 and 1976 and has the distinction of being the first and only woman to have scored a World Championship point when finishing sixth in the 1975 Grand Prix (understandably overshadowed that day by the tragedy of five spectators being hit and killed by a race car).
With Wolff the only woman on the F1 radar, Lombardi’s standing as the premier F1 female racer appeared secure for a few more years yet. That was until mid-September when F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone announced that the sport may feature just eight teams in 2015 supplying three race cars apiece. In fact, with Marussia and Caterham fighting for financial survival and both Lotus and Sauber struggling both on and off track, it is conceivable that just seven teams will compete next year. Therein Ecclestone’s idea is not inconceivable and, additionally, he has a regulation in place which states teams will have to race three cars if eight teams or less are in the sport at a season’s outset.
The concept has clearly struck a chord with team principles who, whilst universally outraged at the prospect, have recognised that a regulation is in place and they will abide by it and supply three race cars and drivers if ordered to do so. This could be great news for Susie Wolff. However, should a third race seat become available at Williams, she will have one more obstacle to overcome – that being William’s leading test and reserve driver 22-year-old Brazilian Felipe Nasr who is understood to have considerable financial backing behind him.
All will become a lot clearer by the end of the current season which ends on November 23rd in Australia. And with less than four months until the 2015 season starts in mid-March, there could be interesting times ahead in Formula One.