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Susie Wolff: “I was thinking of Maria de Villota as I drove F1 car for first time
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Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Oct 2012   |  6:44 pm GMT  |  63 comments

Susie Wolff today put women F1 drivers back on the agenda when she completed two 75 minute track sessions at Silverstone, driving a Williams FW33 from last year.

Wolff’s opportunity was the showcase event in Williams F1′s partner day, which also saw Bruno Senna at the wheel of Keke Rosberg’s 1982 championship winning car and Pastor Maldonado driving Damon Hill’s 1996 title winner.

Susie Wolff has extensive DTM experience but this was her first time in an F1 car and it passed off well, in her two runs and she admitted that thoughts of F1′s other female test driver, Maria de Villota, who was badly injured in an accident in the Marussia F1 car in July, had hung over her big day,

“When I went out for the first time in that car it was a very special feeling,” said Wolff. “It’s incredible, you can’t put into words what it’s like. You prepare for it but shifting up through the gears at incredible speeds it’s phenomenal.

“Without a doubt Maria was in my thoughts today and I was out there for both of us. I know she would have down just as good a job in the car. So it was important to go out there and do a good job and show that her accident was a freak and to show that women are capable of driving in F1.”


The idea behind the event was to give Williams partners, sponsors and prospective sponsors an opportunity to get close to the team, spend time with the drivers, see the cars close up and to network among themselves. It is a signal of Williams’ revised approach under the new management team of Nick Rose, Alex Burns, Toto Wolff and Claire Williams, whose idea the day was.

With the demise of in-season testing and the great expense of hosting guests in the Paddock Club at F1 Grands Prix, days like today are likely to become more commonplace in future, as teams look to give partners a chance to get close to the team.


There were simulators, pit stop challenges and also hot laps around the Silverstone International Circuit from the F1 drivers as well as guests.


Meanwhile both Senna and Maldonado await confirmation of their places in the Williams team in 2013, with test driver Valterri Bottas putting pressure on Senna’s seat in particular. Maldonado sounded rather disappointed that no confirmation had come through yet, but confirmed that he wants to stay at the team.

* Look out for the next JA on F1 Podcast, later this month, where we will feature interviews with Susie Wolff, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna.

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63 Comments
  1. Andrew C says:

    It would also be fantastic to get the drivers real thoughts on the older cars compared to the newer ones. For example, What did Hills car feel like given that it had the wider track etc. Personally, I’d love to hear the feedback to get some idea of how much the cars have changed.

    1. James Allen says:

      That will be in the Podcast. Watch out for it!

      1. Bayan says:

        It would be awesome if you could get Schumi’s take on this as he was driving the cars from the early 90s.

      2. SNB says:

        was she quick vs the existing Williams drivers?

      3. Michael Carty says:

        I have always wondered how older cars are maintained. For example does Hills 1996 Williams still have all the original spec parts ? What engines is it running ? Who maintains it? Does it run at the original spec. Does it run on the very same 1996 tyres ? Do Goodyear still provide them. If I could ask any F1 question to someone in the know, this would be it. I have been dying to ask for years, but thought I was a freak and no one else would be interested.

        Unless all the above are yes, then when an older car is driven, then the real is not an accurate assessment of what the car was like to drive while it was still in active competition

      4. Ben B says:

        I can’t speak for Williams, but McLaren have a Heritage team dedicated to the preservation of the old cars – they keep them running for stuff like this and Goodwood etc.

      5. KGBVD says:

        Ferrari does as well.

        A lot of their ownership deals are such that the rich guys who own the cars don’t even get to keep them; Ferrari brings them to whatever track they need to be at with a full support team and ‘lets’ the owners drive them.

      6. Martin says:

        Hi Michael,

        I wouldn’t recommend driving any car on 16 year old tyres as the “rubber” degrades significantly. 6 years is pretty much the maximum for road car tyres from what I’ve seen.

        I believe with the engines the main thing is that the rev limit is reduced to help extend the life. By only doing say 10 laps worth for an engine that might be designed to last for 100, you get an okay life especially if you apply current techniques such as warming the oil before.

        So in Maldonado’s case he would have driven a car with about 45 per cent more torque than what he has now, but a bit less power. The downforce would be a bit less. I suspect the wider track wouldn’t be too signficant as its effect would be countered by a reduction in the height of the centre of gravity. The brakes wouldn’t be very different in feel or performance to what we have now.

        As the tyres are usually the only thing in contact with the road, that will easily the largest part in the difference in feel between a real 1996 experience and today. The driver being in a demonstration mode, rather than racing will be a huge part too.

      7. awesome, love your podcast and listen to it anyway but this will be nice. I think they say understeer and out of control power/traction relation :)

    2. Nadeem says:

      +1 surprised teams don’t do more of these days, too bad us in Australia don’t get to see much of this

  2. Rach says:

    Ah would have loved to have seen the fw18 in action again. I think that is my favourite looking car of that era.

  3. JimmiC says:

    Is Damon’s 96 Williams still in one piece…?

    1. Doohan says:

      Check out peterwindsor.com a you’ll see the extensive collection Williams keep on hand and maintain.

    2. James Clayton says:

      Yes, as opposed to his 95 cars! :)

      I’ve said it before, I’ve been rewathcing 1996-1998 recently and the racing really was great.

      1. KGBVD says:

        I miss Jacques immensely. :*(

  4. madmax says:

    Williams to take a leaf out of Lotus’s book and dump the pay drivers to coax Schumacher out of retirement to race alongside Bottas.

    Unlikely unfortunately.

    1. KGBVD says:

      Trade one of two pay drivers who crash their cars, but can afford it, for an elderly expensive gentleman who will crash just as much?

      At least Maldonado has won a race over the past few years.

      1. madmax says:

        Two crashes in races this year is just a wee bit of Pastor’s total is it not?

        Yep Pastor has won a race but how many times has he scored since?

      2. Martin says:

        Crashes in P1-3 cost just as much to fix and Schumacher has had at least 4 of those.

  5. Carl says:

    Surely susie wolff would have been better to think about the track in front of her, rather than maria de villota. Get well soon maria.

    1. Phil Too says:

      God forbid!
      I guess the Indy drivers should be better off thinking about the track in front of them than of Dan Wheldon. Or does this view only apply to women drivers?

    2. Wayne says:

      Was Susie Wolff driving this car for any other reason than Toto?

      1. James Allen says:

        It was Frank who set it up

      2. Wayne says:

        Yup, but I reckon Frank would not be setting it up were it not for Toto’s involvement with the team.

        I realise it’s only an exhibition and not a test session but there are people who deserve the honor of driving that car more than Susie. There are people who would probably benefit from it too Has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, it’s a question of unearnt privilege for me.

        Senna, Maldonaldo and…errr….Susie? What?

      3. **Paul** says:

        I believe she’d not be in that car if it wasn’t for her marriage. Whilst I’ve no issue with women in F1 (I’d love to see a competitive lady in the sport), taking seat time away from young driver who might actually make it in F1 because your married to someone involved in a team leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

        If the choice were mine I’d have put the person who most needed the experience in the car, be they male, female, black, white, blue, orange etc…

      4. aaron parsons says:

        It was a promo event and I’m guessing it achieved it’s aims as we are all talking about it. People would have attended to see Susie because women drivers in f1 are a novelty. It would be nice to think that the priority would go to who needs the experience but if the team needs the money, that will always win out.

  6. veeru says:

    did she do a timed lap?
    what was the time

    1. James says:

      Yes she did – don’t know what the time was but I do know that Luciano Bacheta went 1 second quicker than she managed all day on his 2nd lap.

  7. zombie says:

    Let me raise my hand and say Maldonado has been incredibly stupid at times this year, but just like Grosjene and Perez, he’s got the raw speed which if harnessed right,may win races someday. I hope he stays at Williams, or would go to some team that can calm him down and give him a decent car.

    As for Susie’s test, well, i wish her all the best, and i hope someday we’ll see a girl race a F1 car for her talent and not just gender. It was interesting to hear her call Maria’s accident as a “freak incident”, compared to the earlier comments about car problems, truck problems, track problems and what not. Now the rest of the world seems to concur what Marussia F1 said right from day one that it was the driver and not the car or truck that was at fault that day.

    1. [MISTER] says:

      No matter if it was Maria’s fault, that truck tail gate should not have been left open at that height…especially in an area where race cars have access.
      That was very very wrong.

      1. Eleanore says:

        Exactly. Driver error does not excuse poor safety standards in the surrounding area.

      2. aaron parsons says:

        I agree. We don’t tolerate that on our roads – we expect a certain degree of safety measures to protect us – so that if we do make a mistake the risk of death/injury is mitigated. Given the power and speeds involved in f1 safety should always be a high priority, even on a test day. Had this happened at a race weekend (i.e. a flatbed truck near the race track) there would have been a much greater outcry.

  8. Carlos Marques says:

    That blue, gold and white Williams is beautiful…

    1. Martin says:

      Certainly it was a very clean, attractive shape relative to other cars at that time. The wider track and lower rear wing height change the aspect too. When it raced at Silverstone it never had the Rothmans name on it though, unlike this event.

  9. Sebee says:

    Dear Mr. Ron Dennis,

    Now that your Lewis project has reached conclusion, time for a Girl-in-F1 project. You know how to do it well, and you know how to do it right. Bring a woman into F1 and show everyone it can be done.

    1. Monza01 says:

      When a team finds a woman good enough, I’m sure they will get a F1 race seat. No self-respecting driver would want it any other way.

      Susie Wolff had a fast track to a Williams F1 test with her husband being part-owner of the team but I very much doubt that even she will ever get a race seat other than strictly on merit ( and, given F1 finances today, probably money from a big outside sponsor ).

      Sadly the only female drivers I can recall that have been able to beat the men in equal machinery have been Pat Moss and the fantastic Michelle Mouton, both in rallying and Danica Patrick in IndyCar.

      In allying and single seater racing there seems to be no particular physical barrier for a female driver to overcome so it’s a pity that Danica does not seem to be interested in pursuing a career in F1.

      Nevertheless, it can only be a matter of time before one makes it through the ranks to F1.

      1. Davexxx says:

        and just to remind everyone who wonders why Danica doesn’t go for F1, she said it’s mainly all the hassle of international travel.

      2. leukocyte says:

        lets not forget Jutta Kleinschmidt with her sequence of competitive placings in the Dakar, a consistent top 10 performer including an impressive overall victory in 2001 (albeit inherited after a time penalty for Jean-Louis Schlesser).

      3. Jonathan De Andrade says:

        There is also a Brazilian Driver Bea Figueredo racing occasionally IndyCar, not the best of the crop, yet better that many on that series.

      4. iceman says:

        If we consider bike racing as well, I would include Cat Green who finished 3rd in the British Motostar Championship this year and won a race at Cadwell Park. Motostar (formerly 125GP) is arguably the third most prestigious motorcycle series in the UK. I believe she’s the first woman to ever win a British championship race.

      5. someone says:

        What about Desirée Wilson, who got a 4th place behind Elio de Angelis in Brands Hatch 1978, British Aurora F1 series. She even won a race there. Funny thing is: She raced Maria de Vilotta’s father Emilio and was about as fast as the great Giacomo Agostini, who also races F1 cars in the Aurora Series.

      6. someone says:

        …what about Desirée Wilson, who got a 4th place behind Elio de Angelis in Brands Hatch 1978, British Aurora F1 series. She even won a race there. Funny thing is: She raced Maria de Vilotta’s father Emilio and was about as fast as the great Giacomo Agostini, who also races F1 cars in the Aurora Series.

  10. Angie says:

    It’s interesting to see the newer management trying to take the team forwards. It’s always sad to see a once successful team consistantly struggling.
    As for Bruno Senna, I think Korea was the first race for quite a while where he didn’t stuff it into the barriers. Judging his performances so far, and at his age, I can’t see any team wanting to employ him, other than to exploit the Senna name.
    I don’t know how anyone at Williams manages to keep a straight face when they mention Susie Wolff as a development driver. She does have alot of DTM experience though, finishing well outside the top ten that is.
    As much as I want to see Williams return to it’s former glory, this was one appointment that doesn’t do much for it’s credibility.

    1. Fernando Cruz says:

      “As for Bruno Senna, I think Korea was the first race for quite a while where he didn’t stuff it into the barriers.”??????

      Bruno Senna rarely makes mistakes in races, very different from a guy like Grosjean or even Maldonado. Qualifying has been his main problem this year but he can improve it a lot next year.

      Senna ridiculously off Maldonado’s pace was only seen in qualifying, in a year we also saw Button ridiculously off Hamilton’s pace. In both cases it was a problem related to the performance window of this year’s tyres, hurting drivers with a particularly smooth driving style. Being much more experienced and having the full support of a Top Team Button sorted out his problems quicker than Senna, which is understandable. Futhermore Senna loses FP1 almost everywhere and that doesn’ t help him either. But he can be much quicker in qualifying, he showed it in GP2 and last year with Lotus. In races Senna is as quick as a Maldonado or a Grosjean and sometimes even quicker. In Suzuka he was one of the quickest drivers during the race and managed a brilliant passing move on Grosjean at 130R.

      If he can do a second year with Williams I’m sure he will improve a lot in qualifying pace, just like Maldonado improved in his second year in the team in terms of pace. I have no doubt that he (Bruno) has the potential to become a driver as good as a Button or a Rosberg if he has the opportunity to develop himself in F1 in proper conditions, without losing FP1 almost everywhere and more adapted to the performance window of the tyres.

      1. Angie says:

        I assume you haven’t watched all of the practice sessions then. He regularly went off, often hitting the barriers, resulting in a shortened session for him.
        I agree though, that in the race he has kept it on the track, and in most respects, that is where it counts.

      2. Fernando Cruz says:

        Angie, as you said the race is where it counts. We never see Vettel crashing in races but we have already seen him crashing in practice many times and the same can be said for others. Yes, he (Bruno) often crashed during practice, but I’d like to see him in a season without losing FP1 almost everywhere.

      3. Martin says:

        A big problem for Senna though is that Bottas gets even less track time and there are regularly made comments that Bottas is quicker than either Senna and Maldonado. One of his benchmarks is getting less car time than him, so the lack of running excuse is diminished in the eyes of the team.

        There is no certainty that the problem with the tyres will go away next year. The design could change again to one that also doesn’t suit. At the moment, Senna hasn’t shown anything that makes him a contender for a front line team where outright pace is critical for winning races as getting to the first corner first is often vital for success.

      4. Fernando Cruz says:

        Bottas has impressed the team with his speed but lacks consistency to do better than Senna if he is given the opportunity to replace him next year, which is only natural, as the brazilian has already some experience that the young finn has not. But even in speed we have to consider Bottas can drive as fast as he can while the others have to do what is needed in order to set up the car properly for the race and not only for qualifying. Futhermore I notice that lately Bottas has not been near as quick as Maldonado or Senna, very different to what happened sometimes in the first part of the year.

        Talking about Senna’s problems with tyres this year, I think not even the driver himself can be absolutely 100% sure he won’t have any of them next year. But I think most probably he will be fast enough again (as he was in 2011) so that he can win races if he has a good car. He has a smooth style similar to Button, so he may never be as quick as a Maldonado in a single lap, just like Button is always a bit slower than Hamilton. But drivers like that can still win races and with some luck even championships, as Button has proved. Remember he won his first race in F1 in his 8th year and I believe Senna can do better than that if he is given the oportunity to develop himself in F1, with a first proper season, without having to lose FP1 almost everywhere. If he can’ do that in Williams (if Bottas replaces him) he still may have an option with Force India.

  11. Adam says:

    >>the great expense of hosting guests in the Paddock Club at F1 Grands Prix<<

    Would that again not suggest that Bernie has milked the cow for about all it can give and an economic reversal is likely for the Paddock Club? Especially as the Paddock Club was pretty much empty in Korea, hard to make a nickle when the place is empty!

    1. Monza01 says:

      The grandstands were half empty as well……

  12. zx6dude says:

    am I the only one that thinks that there may be a connection between Maria’s accident and Timo’s stuck throttle issue in FP3 at Singapore? sounds too coincidental. Does anyone know if an investigation was made into this?

    Good luck Susie!!! :)

  13. Mad Kiwi says:

    I hope that this sort of showcase becomes more common. Efforts to bring the teams, the fantastic historical cars etc closer to the public eye can not only enhance the fan base for the respective team but then also improve the sponsorship chances and return not to mention minor shareholders.

    I applaud Williams new management team for this initiative.

    Some of these F1 teams seem so elite that they appear to be stuck up there own backside…..

    Well from the distance that my perspective in NZ gives anyway…perhaps locally they do have a better public presence but it doesn’t seem that way. To their own detriment I think.

  14. CTP says:

    i thought they weren’t allowed to test cars less than 2 years old?

  15. tom in adelaide says:

    Can’t believe they risked the ’96 car in the hands of Maldonado…. :S

  16. Racyboy says:

    I look forward to seeing women actually racing consistently in F1.
    Always had a soft spot for Team Willy and business is business, but I can’t help thinking if Barrichello and Hulkenberg were still there,they’d have scored a few more podiums and a lot more points.

    James,
    Just curious as to how serious her lap times were and what tyres she used?
    Could Williams have possibly gleaned any more tyre info? ( I imagine officials and rivals would’ve been keeping an eye on that)

  17. Sudha S says:

    Why dont women reserve/test drivers like Susie Wolff get a SuperLicense? It would improve their credibility in F1 a lot more.
    When Maria De Villota’s accident happened there were many unkind comments about this. It makes these women drivers appear more a publicity stunt, than serious contenders for a F1 seat

    1. SteveH says:

      They aren’t getting super licenses because (stolen from Wikipedia):

      To qualify for an FIA Super Licence the requesting driver must already be the holder of a Grade A competition licence, and additionally meet the requirements of the FIA International Sporting Code, Appendix L. These requirements state that the driver must be either the reigning champion in a lower category of motor sport, for example Formula 3 (British, Italian or Japanese championship, or Euro Series), Formula 2, or GP2 Series (formerly known as Formula 3000), or must have consistently finished well in these categories. For example, a driver finishing in the first three positions five times within the last two years in GP2 will be eligible for a Super Licence.

    2. zombie says:

      And what makes you think Maria’s drive or Susie’s drive wasn’t a publicity stunt ? When a woman will start winning titles in GP2,Indy or some other competitive series, they will get a place in F1 irrespective of their gender, not to mention a Grade A license from FIA. Unfortunately, neither Susie nor Maria are top of the crop when you have guys like Jamie Alguessuari, Buemi, Heidfeld and others without a drive.

    3. aaron parsons says:

      In this case I think it was a publicity stunt.

  18. IanC says:

    “Without a doubt Maria was in my thoughts today and I was out there for both of us.

    What a load of drivel. The hard fact is neither Wolff nor de Villota have the talent to drive in f1. Both got their tests for PR reasons.

  19. Craig says:

    I wish the Williams would return to that colour scheme. Its absolutely beautiful.

    I understand that they have sponsor commitments but when you sponsor an icon like Ferrari or Williams or McLaren, you know that car will look a certain way.

    Please Sir Frank and Toto, return the Cars to their old paint schemes of yesteryear.

  20. Thompson says:

    Now I may be sticking my neck out on this but why should women race in F1?
    Not being funny but why don’t an organisation start a F1 series for women only – like how they did with football and boxing

    Its not about if they can compete or not its just not something that is sport in the objective sense, men v women on the same field never works, only in the novelty sense.

    Give them their own series I say – I ain’t gay or nuttun like that but….you know, like womens tennis, football, boxing its a completely different level in terms of performance.

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