Good news, everyone who’s been waiting on pins and needles to see a woman race in Formula One: Susie Wolff has been promoted to be Williams Martini Racing’s full-time test driver for 2015. That’s one step closer to race time, m’dears.
Women only make up 49.6% of the world’s population, yet zero, zilch, nada, goose egg of us are currently racing in Formula One. To see Wolff inching ever so close to race time in the highest levels of motorsport is a promising sign that times are changing. Racing’s become much more accepting of our presence on the grid and now F1’s finally starting to show it.
Only five other women have entered an F1 grand prix before her, and only two of them have ever qualified and started a race. While Wolff is still just a test driver, this puts her as the first person Williams will likely bring in should Valtteri Bottas or Felipe Massa be unable to participate in a race.
Williams did incredibly well in 2014, finishing third in the constructor’s championship. The strength of the FW36 car played a huge part in that, but having two competent pilots in Bottas and Massa was a key component to their success, too.
While some people like to write off the appearance of women in the upper levels of motorsport as some kind of a stunt to get more press or sponsorship, I don’t believe for a second that Williams is in a position to do that. “Look at who we brought to drive for us” is a stunt best saved for mid- or back-field contenders who aren’t making headlines for racing well.
Williams has solidified a spot near the top of the grid in 2014 and surely wants to build on that momentum, and that means getting the most competent drivers in the car that they can. Susie’s in because she’s got talent, not because she’s got boobs. That’s what I like to see.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams had this to say of the decision to James Allen on F1:
We are delighted to have Susie continuing with the team next season in this new role. She continues to impress us with her strong technical knowledge, the feedback she delivers and the performance when she drives the car both on the track and in the simulator. She has steadily increased her time behind the wheel since she joined us in April 2012 and her appointment as official test driver was a natural progression.
Haterz are quick to point out the fact that she’s married to Toto Wolff, the executive director for the Mercedes F1 team. Williams’ F1 car currently runs a Mercedes power unit. Still, I don’t think there would be a promotion if this were a token “please be nice to my wife” role. Williams, as mentioned earlier, needs to keep reestablishing their place at the pointy end of the grid after years of being a mid-field also-ran. You don’t do that by handing out key positions based on nepotism or favors.
Admittedly, Susie Wolff’s resume of past DTM, Formula 3 and Formula Renault results is not very good. Some of the butt turrible pay drivers have more impressive lists of F3 and GP2 wins to their name. That being said, if she’s proven useful in car setup, technical advice and shakedown runs, perhaps Williams’ F1 car is the niche she’s been needing for years.
Photo credits: Getty Images