Wolff urges F1 teams to back initiatives to help develop female drivers
Ex-Williams development driver Susie Wolff has urged Formula One team principals to back new initiatives designed to accelerate the debut of the championship’s next female driver – someone she predicts could be a 12 to 14-year-old girl today.
Wolff is now the managing director of the F1 Academy, the all-female single-seater series which debuted in April and next season will join F1 race weekends, ultimately aiming to launch drivers into higher levels of competition.
It has been almost 50 years since a woman – Lella Lombardi – started an F1 Grand Prix. Wolff is adamant one will do so again, but believes the success of corresponding efforts rests in ensuring they are not seen as segregated from the sport as a whole.
“That day will come. Of that I have no doubt because we’re doing too much and we’re putting (up) too many strong foundations for it not to happen,” the former Formula E Venturi Racing team principal and CEO told the PA news agency.
“When I was announced in my new role in Bahrain I met all the team principals and I said ‘please don’t look at this as a woman’s initiative run by a woman. This is for the greater good of this sport. It’s for the greater good of your platform, for the business, but we have the chance to also inspire other industries by getting this right.’
“The success of F1 Academy and Discover Your Drive will come down to the collective, it will come down to the whole community of the sport getting on board and really understanding that this will be for the greater good of all of us.
“But I will be hugely, hugely proud when I see a woman either on track or off track and they are in a top position because of F1 Academy. That will definitely be a moment where we can take a moment of real pride.”
F1 Academy Discover Your Drive, launched this week, is a global initiative targeted at girls.
Central among the programme’s ambitions is talent identification. In the UK, that means closing a considerable gap, with females accounting for just five per cent of all senior Motorsport UK race-license holders.
The first phase will begin with six Motorsport UK venues, with plans to expand to 35 next year.
Instructors have been trained to identify promising girls aged 8-12, who will be offered development sessions designed to facilitate a move into junior karting – potentially the first step on a road to F1 like it was for Brits Lando Norris and George Russell.
Spotting talent at an early age is a critical component for Wolff, who was 12 when she started believing motorsport could be her career, and in 2014 became the first woman in 22 years to take part in an F1 race weekend when she took the wheel for a practice session at Silverstone.
She said: “That’s the age that if you want to get to the pinnacle of the sport, you need to start having an idea of, ok, I need to do this more often.”
Wolff eventually hopes to see some of those girls in F1 Academy, which consists of seven three-race rounds. Five are on current F1 circuits, including the season finale alongside the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
The incentive for the eventual champion is tantalising, while the prospect of joining the F1 calendar in 2024 looks to benefit the entire grid.
“Our winner is guaranteed to move on,” Wolff vowed. “We will put the budget together for her to progress. I’m not committed to which series because I want it to be the best progression for the driver.
“But I think moving onto the global stage brings much more possibilities for the drivers to get backing and make sure they’re finding people that will help them further in their career.
“Because in the end not everyone is going to make it to Formula 1, but if they can go on to be successful in a different category or area, then I think that is still something that can still be seen as a success for the Academy.”