Brought to you by TJ13 contributor Danilo Schöneberg
In the last part of this mini series of articles, we have a look at the possible future of women in motorsports. Are there any girls, who could make it or could have made it under different circumstances?
1. What do they need?
Well, first and foremost any girl with aspirations to run in F1 needs speed. We are talking about motorsports and the most important bit is still arriving first at the finish line without crashing the vehicle.
Secondly – and that’s a sad state of affairs – they need money. Not only do they need money to make it through the increasingly expensive junior formulae, they also need to bring money for an F1 ride. There is only a handful of teams, who can afford to select drivers on talent alone. Most are now forced to look for a monetary background as well.
It isn’t in any way related to motorsports and from a neutral point of view appears rather shallow, but good looks help. Not so much with the racing, but it certainly helps acquiring sponsors and therefore the probability of making it up the racing ladder.
One might scoff at that, but in the end, being fast is still the best option – a pretty face merely makes things easier once the results are coming.
If I was a Formula One team boss, I would go the full mile and hire two women to drive for the team. In fact, I’d probably try to make the team a showcase for the womanfolk, so most of the pitcrew and technical staff would be female as well. Such things have been tried before.
Shawna Robinson ran several NASCAR races with an all-female pitcrew and Cyndie Allemann, Natacha Gachnang and Rahel Frey formed the crew of an all-female entry at Le Mans for Matech.
So let’s have a look at whom I – as a virtual team boss – could choose from.
2. The “obvious choice“ club
There is no doubt that she’s the most high profile woman in current motorsports. I often wonder how F1 never managed to pick her up. She was scheduled to test for Honda in 2008, but since they chose to abandon the first competitive car they ever built and withdrew, this test never came to happen. That would remain the closest she ever came to making it to F1.
While her race craft is often doubted by the good ol’ boys from the south, like Kyle Petty, many of her immediate rivals, including proven champions like Tony Steward, Dale Earnhart Jr, Jimmy Johnson and others have publicly defended her from such criticism. I think if a woman earns the respect of her rivals to the point that they spring to her defense against unwarranted criticism, she’s done something right.
Patrick did what not too many Americans did – she came to Europe at a young age to hone her racing skills. She was running in the Formula Ford and Formula Vauxhall series, culminating in a second place in the 2000 Formula Ford Festival behind Anthony Davidson.
Caught up in a political struggle between her mentors at Ford and her team – Ford suspected that the money they spent on Danica’s development was abused by the team to run other drivers – she found herself out of a drive in 2002, before then Jaguar F1 boss Bobby Rahal signed her up for his Atlantic series team – an equivalent to F3 in the Champcar ladder of the time. Running consistently in the top 10 for two years, she scored several podiums and a pole position, finishing 6th and 3rd in the championship.
This prompted Rahal to promote her straight to the Indy Racing League, where she would spend the next seven years mainly turning left, scoring 3 poles, 1 win, 6 further podiums and 63 non-podium top 10 finishes from 114 races.
Unfortunately, she then went to race NASCAR and seems now lost to the openwheel world. A big chance was missed by F1 by not signing up the most competitive female the openwheel world has seen in a long while.
After relatively competitive racing in Karts, being awarded „Top Female kart driver of the world“ in 2000, Wolff made the jump to openwheel racing. Between 2001 and 2004 she ran in Formula Renault, earning 4 podiums. She was named BRDC Rising Star and was nominated for BRDC Young Driver of the Year award in 2003.
After an injury-interrupted Formula 3 season in 2005, she was was “promoted“ to DTM, which in hindsight, would prove to be a dead-end. After losing Opel as a manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz and Audi were left as the sole manufacturers. The result was that the grid was filled up with smaller private teams who ran cars as old as 3 years.
For most of her 7 years in DTM she ran in woefully uncompetitive cars, so her best results remain two 7th places scored in a two year old car. While that may sound like a damning verdict, the result is put into perspective, considering that proven F1 winners Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard had equally disappointing results in old cars.
The situation came to head after the 2011 season, when scathing criticism from media, fans and the ITR caused Mercedes and Audi to abandon the old cars and they supplied the remaining privateer teams with contemporary machinery, a move that was enabled by BMW’s return, but also came too late for Susie. She instead was signed up as a test and development driver for Williams F1, a team of which her husband Toto Wolff is a stakeholder.
It is safe to say that Toto Wolff probably had a hand in signing her up with Williams, but Susie is far from a trophy wife. She recently proved her critics wrong with a good showing at the 2013 Young Drivers Test at Silverstone. She drove 89 trouble-free laps and was just 0.400 sec slower than fellow DTM alumni Juncadella the day before. With 524 km of running in a contemporary car, clocking competitive times, she fulfilled the minimum requirements for a FIA superlicense and it remains to be seen if she’s being granted the license and given the chance to run in free practices for the rest of the year.
3. The Swiss Connection
When one thinks about motorsport strongholds, Switzerland doesn’t immediately spring to mind, mainly because most forms of motorsport have been forbidden there since the 1955 Le Mans disaster. There have been Swiss Grand Prix and there are even Swiss championships in various junior categories, but they are run in France, Italy and Germany.
Yet, for reasons beyond my imagination, Switzerland has produced not only several Formula One drivers – Clay Regazzoni, Marc Surer, Sebastian Buemi, Jo Siffert to name a few (note that I’m deliberately not touching the grass that has grown over the shambles that were the GP entries of Jean-Deniz Délétraz) – they also have not one, not two, but an astonishing four competitive lady drivers in the current generation.
One of the few forms of motorsport, which are not verboten in Switzerland is karting and Cyndie Allemann and fellow Swiss girl Natacha Gachnang practically owned swiss karting at the turn of the century. There was absolutely nothing to win for the boys, including one Sebastian Buemi, as Cyndie Allemann and Natacha Gachnang won each and every championship race among them in 2000, with one invitational non-points paying race won by Maxi Götze being the only male win in that year.
Cyndie Allemann was Swiss junior kart champion in 1999 and 2000 and also European junior kart champion in 1999 at the age of 13.
She switched to openwheel cars in 2004 finishing 6th in the Swiss Formula Renault, before finishing 12th in the German Formula Renault, which was much heavier contested than the swiss counterpart. The next step went to the German Formula Three championship, which saw her compete against future F1 drivers/testers Davide Valsecchi and Nico Hülkenberg. She scored her first pole position and first podium at the East Side 100, the second and so far last Formula 3 Oval race on European soil on the 2-mile Superspeedway at the Lausitzring. She finished the season in 9th position.
In 2007 she moved to the Formula Three Euroseries and failed to score a single point despite driving for a top team. The reasons for this have never really been found out. My pet theory is, since she was in a third car for Manor Motorsports, it wasn’t quite up to the standard of the two primary cars.
Three car teams have rarely worked in the past with usually the third car being the fifth wheel on the waggon, often used to give junior engineering personnel and pit crew a chance to gain experience. The only functioning 3-car team that immediately springs to mind is Andretti Autosport in Indycars.
That’s where Cyndie went after the disappointing 2007 season. She moved to the small, single-car, modestly funded American Spirit team in the Indy Lights, scoring a best result of 4th with an amazing drive in the torrential rain at Mid Ohio. She finished the season in 14th position after scoring further top ten finishes in both St. Petersburg races and at Watkins Glenn.
After the Indy Lights her career started to go nowhere. She had sporadic entries in GT racing, namely the German ADAC GT Masters, an all-swiss-female entry at Le Mans using a Ford GT, as well as a part-season job driving an Audi R8 in the Japanese Super GT championship.
In 2011 she was signed up as a racing instructor for the Mercedes AMG driving academy and started to work for German Television. As part of that she coached two amateur drivers for a year and ran a barely modified Mercedes SLK in the 2013 Nürburgring 24h race with them for Rowe Racing.
After making up more than 60 positions from 159th on the grid, former ski jumping legend Sven Hannawald, one of her two ‘pupils’, crashed the car in atrocious wet-weather conditions. This whole process has been outlined in the 6-part Dunlop-produced documentary ‘Ziel: Grüne Hölle’ that is freely available on Dunlop’s YouTube channel.
Since March 2013 she is a co-presenter of the German car show Auftrag Auto, a format similar to various TopGear challenges, where she takes on a Stig-like role as the resident racing driver. In contrast to the Stig, however, she does speak and is definitely not tame. Her heavy French accent, her exuberant Clarkson-esque driving style and her in-depth knowledge about cars have made her the star of the show.
Natacha Gachnang, Rahel Frey
These two ladies are the other two thirds of the 2010 all-female Le Mans entry. While Gachnang fought with Cyndie Allemann for karting supremacy, Rahel Frey’s results were somewhat more modest. All three of them made the switch to openwheel racing in the Swiss Formula Renault at the same time together with Gachnang’s cousin, a certain Sebastian Buemi.
Like for Allemann, the careers of Gachnang and Frey soon went nowhere. Burdened with second rate material in junior formulae, they just couldn’t bring in results that would make them stand out. Frey soon did the same mistake as Suzie Wolf and signed with a grid-filler team in the DTM, except she signed up with Audi. The Audi cars however were equally if not even less competitive than the Mercedes. Despite early troubles to adapt, she managed a career best of 7th.
Gachnang, Frey and Allemann drove one of three Ford GT for Matech Competition at Le Mans in 2010. All three Ford GT’s retired due to mechanical failures however.
Simona de Silvestro
She managed a win and two fastest lap in Formula BMW USA, before graduating to the Toyota Atlantic championship. America’s counterpart of Formula 3. Over the course of three seasons, she won 5 races, 4 poles and one fastest lap, ending the 2009 season in 3rd position in the championship.
Graduating straight to the Indycar series with KVM racing, she found good results hard to come by, as Indycars are dominated by the big three Penske, Ganassi and Andretti with all other teams merely fighting for the odd surprize win. In 2012 she proved she had a lot of patience, when KVM ran the ridiculously underpowered Lotus-badged Judd engines.
As of 2013 results have been improving as KVM now has a competitive engine package and de Silvestro has become a reliable mid-field runner.
4. Her Majesty’s Ladies
Her Majesty’s Empire also provides two further candidates besides Susie Wolff.
Legge is one of the few Ladies, who has test experience in an F1 car. In 2005 she was given the chance to test a Minardi. She binned it after just 2 laps. Getting a second chance next day, she ran 27 trouble-free laps with respectable lap times.
Like Simona de Silvestro, she soon ditched Europe and went to climb the ladder in America and she did it in style. Entering the Toyota Atlantic series, she won her debut race at Long Beach, the first ever win for a woman in any of the American openwheel feeder series. She recorded two further wins at Edmonton and San Jose and ended the season in 3rd place.
Graduating to Champcars, she recorded a number of top-ten finishes with the best positions being two 6th places. Her time in Champcars is probably mostly remembered for her horrific accident at Road America. Loosing her rearwing in one of the fastest sections of the track, her car was completely smashed to pieces and it is a major miracle that she walked away from it mostly unharmed.
Her next stop was the formidable black hole of women’s careers that is called the DTM. Even though one of her three years was with 2008 champion team ABT Sportsline, she was the only driver in the team, who had to run an old car. She never scored any points.
After her departure from DTM it is not difficult to guess what happened – right – her career went nowhere. She was sporadically running oval races for Dragon Racing in Indycars in 2012 with a best finish of 9th at Fontana. In 2013 she created headlines in the run-up to Indianapolis, when she was entered by Sam Schmidt Racing on the very last day of qualifying with no preparation or practice whatsoever and immediately qualified, bumping more experienced drivers out of the field in the process.
Mann stayed a bit longer than Legge in European junior formulae and became the first woman to race in the Formula Renault 3.5, a series from which a number of drivers have graduated straight to Formula 1. She collected 6 points over the course of two seasons. After a short intermezzo in the British Porsche Carrera Cup she went to America and joined the Indy Lights championship, the last step in the ladder to Indycars. In the two seasons she scored three pole positions and a win at Kentucky Speedway.
She sporadically ran in Indycars in 2011 and 2013, but mainly with smaller teams, so her 9th place at this years Pocono race remains her best result so far.
5. The verdict
There are probably many more promising young Ladies, who haven’t been mentioned, like Netherlands Beitske Visser, who recently became the first girl to be signed up for Red Bull’s junior program. The ones I’ve listed here are those, the careers of which I’ve been following over the years.
I think most of those listed in this article would have deserved at least a proper F1 test, but with the stupid testing ban rules, teams cannot afford to test a whole bunch of drivers, something that Minardi did routinely, so we’ll probably never find out if any of them could have made it. But if I look at drivers like Max Chilton, Esteban Gutierrez or Guido van der Garde, I’d hazard a guess that someone like Danica Patrick or Susie Wolff would have made a better job of it.
So could you put together an all-female F1 team? I bet you can. In fact I sometimes do.
The genre of F1 Management computer games was hot property in the late 90s with Geoff Grammond’s Grand Prix Manager of 1996 and Grand Prix World of 1998. But after that, with the FIA not handing out licenses, the genre died.
In 1997 I wrote an editor for Grand Prix Manager 2 that allowed it to be updated to any season. To my utter surprise I’ve learned that a piece of software that I wrote a whopping 16 years ago is still in use today!
In 2010 Kalypso media released the first F1 Management game in 12 years, so the genre has been revived and whenever the time allows, I spend a bit of time managing my own virtual F1 team. Lead driver is Danica Patrick with Susie Wolff as number two and Cyndie Allemann as test and reserve driver.
How about that Mr. Mateschitz? Since you rarely promote any of your Toro Rosso drivers anyways, how about going for the full PR bingo and establishing Scuderia Toro Rosso Femminile? That’d be PR gold.
Here is a video documentary of Danica Patrick, enjoy…
If you missed the previous two parts: