Susie Wolff, a British former racecar driver who has worked in various roles within motorsports, agrees that increasing gender diversity in racing behind the scenes is essential to ultimately producing more female racers.
Formula 1: On and Off the Track
“It’s not just about putting a girl in the car,” Wolff said. “There are generally 20 or 30 drivers on track, but thousands involved in making a race happen. On-track drivers get the most publicity, but it has to be much more than that.”
Wolff knows firsthand what it is like to be one of the few women in a racing garage. In 2012, she signed as a testing and development driver for the Williams Formula 1 team, and two years later she became the first woman since 1992 to participate as a driver in a Formula 1 race weekend. In the summer of 2018, she became the team principal of Venturi Racing, a team in the electric racing series Formula E. She said she has been met with skepticism at every job she’s ever taken.
“I will never forget when I was announced as team principal,” she said. “I was with 16 journalists, and the first question was, ‘What qualifies you for this job?’ The second question was, ‘Did your husband get you this job?’ And the third question: ‘How can you manage the travel involved, since you just had a baby?’” Wolff is married to Toto Wolff, the longstanding team principal of the Mercedes Formula 1 team.
By the end of her tenure, spending one year as chief executive, she had silenced the critics by bringing Venturi from nearly last place in the constructors standings to a championship contender. She is hopeful that women who assume roles in racing in the future will not need to endure the same type of scrutiny she did.
“I was successful, and suddenly everything about my gender and being the only female didn’t matter,” said Wolff, who left Venturi after the 2022 season.
Another obstacle facing women who want to race, Wolff said, is the lack of defined pipelines for them. Breaking into higher levels of racing is difficult, often carrying a steep financial cost, and there are few dedicated programs designed to encourage and support young girls. That is partly what inspired Wolff in 2016 to establish Dare to be Different, a nonprofit organization that promotes motorsports to girls.