That tweet ignited a minor F1 firestorm on Twitter. The usual suspects, like Jennie Gow, chimed in that gender was irrelevant in motorsport, without offering any evidence whether it was or wasn’t. When I asked several of the posters to name a sport where men and women competed equally, I got one response – mixed doubles in tennis. I guess the poster forgot the whole point of mixed doubles was that both men and women would essentially play against each other regardless of their level of talent.
The next day Susie Wollf tweeted in what was clearly a shot aimed at Jorda:
And without fail we got the standard women in motorsport article, this time from Luke Smith, a writer for F1 on NBC Sports, who rattles off the standard collection of female drivers. Smith falls into the usual trap of using women who are famous (or at least known) in motor sport simply for being women, Wolff being one of them, and not for any notable on track achievement, and a collection of women who are at best marginal drivers. And always of course Michelle Mouton – though with her we are drifting far from F1.
Inevitably Wolff is in the thick of any type of women in F1 story today. She has long claimed that being a woman was one of the main reason’s she never got an honest chance to prove her ability in F1. And in today’s world a lot of people lap up her claim without doing any type of objective analysis. And in this article I’ll attempt to do just that – look at her career objectively and determine whether her claim has any validity.
Before I begin let me start off by saying I have no issue with women in F1 or any form of motorsport
If they are good enough to compete – let them. I also don’t have a problem if there aren’t any women in F1, any more than I do not having a driver from China or Norway or Chile.
Susie Wollf (nee Stoddart) was born in the picturesque yet unremarkable western Scottish town of Oban. Her father owned a motorcycle shop there and she claimed she got the urge to start racing from him and spent several years competing in karts.
By 1999 she had been named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year four years in a row. In 2000 she was named Top Female Kart Driver in the World. On the strength of her karting success she entered her first real single-seat racing in 2001 when she drove in the Formula Renault Winter Series. That led in 2002 to a full season in the Formula Renault UK Championship, where she placed 18th in the championship. As the team she drove for only fielded her, it’s difficult to gauge how well she did without a teammate as a yardstick. That would change in 2003 when she moved Motaworld Racing and had Alex Lloyd and Brandon Thomas as teammates, again in the Formula Renault UK Championship. She finished 9th in the championship and a trend that would occur every year until she retired began – never leading the team she was in in the overall points championship.
2004 saw Wolff again compete in the Formula Renault UK Championship, this season with Comtec Racing and with Westley Barber as a teammate. Clearly the car had winning potential with Barber taking six wins. Wolff could do no better than three podiums, with two seconds and a third. Barber would end the season coming second overall, with Wolff fifth, 150 points behind.
After three years in the Formula Renault UK Championship it was time for Susie to move on and up. She secured a drive with Alan Docking Racing for the 2005 British Formula Three Championship. Alas, she was only able to drive in the first two races of the twenty-two race season due to a mysterious foot injury she said she got prior to the season starting. Wolff would never drive competitively in a single-seater again. It’s worth noting Michael Schumacher broke his leg at the 1999 British GP and was back racing in F1 three months later.
For the 2006 season she made the move to DTM with Mücke Motorsport and had Stefan Mücke and Daniel la Rosa as teammates.
2007 with Mücke Motorsport again, Daniel la Rosa and Mathias Lauda as teammates.
2008 saw Wolff move to Persson Motorsport, a team she would stay with until 2012 when her competitive racing career ended. Here are her results from 2008 – 2012, plus comparison to her teammate(s).
2011– Stoddart marries Toto Wolff and from now on is Susie Wolff.
In 72 DTM races spread over seven seasons Wolff scored four points for 2 seventh place finishes. To say that her DTM career was underwhelming would be an understatement.
With her DTM career over, her marriage to Toto Wolff opened up the real chance of some sort of driver involvement in F1. In 2009 Toto Wolff had bought 15% of Williams when it went public. Only Frank Williams and Patrick Head owned more shares than Wolff. Though named “test” driver for Williams in 2012, real testing and development was being done by Valtteri Bottas, a driver that Toto Wolff had a management interest in. That changed in 2013 when Bottas replaced Bruno Senna. Susie Wolff was now the sole test and development driver at Williams.
Wolff would get her first chance to show what she could do in an F1 car at the 2013 Young Driver Test held at Silverstone in mid-July. It was a bit of an odd “Young Driver” test as Mercedes had been banned from it for an illegal tyre test earlier in the year and the FIA allowed regular drivers to appear as long as it was only tyres they tested. While Williams did run Maldonado in a tyre test, his times aren’t indicative but I’ll include them. Wolff’s real benchmark was Daniel Juncadella, who got his test at Williams on the strength of having won the 2012 FIA European Formula 3 Championship. The FW35 was used. The best times of the test were: Juncadella – 1:34.098. Maldonado – 1:34.116. Wolff – 1:35.093.
Over the next two years Wolff would get four more chances – this time in FP1 to show what she had. It’s worth noting Williams never put her up against Bottas who was almost always quicker than Massa
British GP FP1
Massa – 1:39.461
Wolff – 1:44.212 (car broke down after 4 laps)
German GP FP1
Massa – 1:20.542
Wolff – 1: 20.769
Spanish GP FP1
Massa – 1:28.831
Wolff – 1: 29.708
British GP FP1
Massa – 1:36.469
Wolff – 1: 37.262
On November 4th 2015 Wolff announced her retirement from racing, stating “she had gone as far as she could go”. In 2016 she was made an “ambassador” for Mercedes and in 2017 awarded an MBE for services to Women in Sport.
So there we have it. A driver who in 14 years of single-seaters and DTM never once won a race. Never led any team she was on with most points at the end of the season. Never posted a faster time than any of her teammates in F1 testing or practice.
To say that Wolff was an average driver would be being benevolent. She was at best adequate at worst out of her depth. What she was good at was playing the gender card. Anyone who thinks that she never got into F1 because she was a female is deluded. She simply didn’t have the talent and she proved that at every level of racing she competed at. I hope there is a female driver that can break into F1 – but it was never going to be Wollf. And those that do believe she had the talent and was held back by being a women are simply naïve. Her record speaks for itself.