Susie Wolff backs Saudi Arabia's Formula E debut to inspire women throughout the Kingdom
LONDON: Susie Wolff knows all about making history in a male-dominated world.
The intrepid Scot became the first female driver in 22 years to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix meeting when she drove in a practice session ahead of the 2014 British GP.
As a test and development driver at the Williams F1 team, Wolff repeated the feat at that year’s race in Germany — and in the following season in Spain and Silverstone.
Now, Wolff is treading new ground again after becoming the first female team principal in Formula E, the all-electric car series.
It is apt, then, that Wolff’s debut as boss of the Monaco-based Venturi team will be at this weekend’s history-making inaugural Saudi Arabian E-Prix.
The race, which takes place in the Ad-Diriyah district of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and which also features the debut of the Gen2 car, comes just six months after the lifting of the ban on Saudi women driving.
Wolff said this was a hugely “progressive and positive move,” which will boost “equal opportunities for future generations of girls and women” in the Kingdom.
Now the wife of the boss of the all-conquering Mercedes Formula One team, Toto, Wolff hopes this month’s race will encourage a new generation of female drivers to get behind the wheel.
“Can Saudi Arabia produce a top woman racing driver? The first thing to know is that these things don’t happen overnight,” the 36-year-old, who retired as a racing driver in 2015, told Arab News.
“I think it’s already a big step forward that women in Saudi are allowed to drive.
“Women are driving and can be inspired and become very passionate to take it to the next level and go on to a race track. It always takes only one (person). Sometimes in life you just need to believe it.
“I believe that there are a few Saudi women who are already racing in drifting, so I think that over time, with the right support and the right level of inspiration, that it could be something that could happen in the future.”
In 2016, Wolff — whose racing career encompassed several disciplines such as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaf (DTM), the German Touring Car series — launched an initiative called Dare to Be Different aimed at inspiring more women into motorsport.
Wolff regrets that she was not able “with the timing to put on a Dare to Be Different event” in Riyadh, but hopes to launch it at next year’s race.
She is, however, thrilled that at least seven female racing drivers will take part in a Formula E test the day after the Saudi race.
Those confirmed for the test include the UAE’s Amna Al-Qubaisi, who started karting at 13 and has competed internationally in Formula Four. Her father Khaled was the first Emirati to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
Wolff’s choice for Venturi, meanwhile, is Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro, who competed in two Formula E races in 2015 and was a test driver with the Sauber F1 team the year before.
“Saudi Arabia has been very supportive of trying to get Saudi women out on the race track,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic to see women getting the chance to drive in Formula E.
“I was in Riyadh in September, my first time (there). I was very heavily briefed as a woman going, but I was very positively welcomed and was very positively surprised by the enthusiasm to have the race there; the track looks fantastic.
“As the season-opener, it’s going to be very exciting for Formula E to go to a new destination.”
Venturi finished a disappointing seventh in last season’s championship, but have been buoyed by the addition of the former F1 star Felipe Massa.
Wolff is delighted to have someone of the caliber and experience of the Brazilian, who won 11 Grands Prix in a 15-year F1 career, on board.
She said Massa and his teammate Edoardo Mortara can secure “regular top-eight finishes” as she targets slow but steady progress.
“I made it clear from the beginning that this is a three-year-plan,” Wolff explained.
“This year it’s about consistency and being consistently in the points.
“It’s difficult to aim too high in terms of race wins and regular podiums because obviously the level of Formula E is getting tougher and tougher as there are more and more manufacturers.”