27 Aug 2012

Will a woman ever win F1?

As racing driver Susie Wolff prepares to test drive a Formula 1 car, ex-World Champion Damon Hill tells Channel 4 News it is “inevitable” women will eventually compete with the men for the top title.

The last time a woman was on the grid in a world championship F1 grand prix was 1976. For a female driver to get anywhere near the sport is rare – it is largely a man’s world.

The paucity of women at the pinnacle of motor sport is largely blamed on numbers. Drivers say there are not enough role models to encourage younger girls into the sport.

Scottish racer Susie Wolff recently signed with Williams as a development driver. She is one of only two women drivers in the world contracted to F1 teams. The other, Maria de Villota, was seriously injured during a test driving session in July.

Susie’s role as a development driver involves simulator work and aerodynamic testing before she gets behind the wheel of an F1 car later this year for a test drive. It is a coveted job, and could lead to further opportunities within F1.

It’s not so much about being in a man’s world – it’s my world. Susie Wolff

Susie has been driving since she was just eight.

“I don’t see myself as anything different or anything special, I just see myself as someone following their passion, someone who loves what they do and someone making a dream come true … it’s not so much about being in a man’s world – it’s my world,” she said.

But she concedes it is still a sexist sport.

“I try and always make the point I’m racing for myself. I’m not racing to prove how well a female can do up against the men, I’m racing for me, but of course there is still a lot of sexism.”


Former World Champion Damon Hill started his F1 career in a similar way to Susie, as a test driver for Williams.

Speaking at an event to promote the charity HALOW, Hill told Channel 4 News he thinks it is “inevitable” that one day a woman will be competing against the men at the front of the grid.

Damon Hill in 1996 (Reuters)

“It’s a little bit hard in motor sport that women don’t have their own category but the women drivers I’ve spoken to don’t want their own category, they want to show they can compete against the men.

“Maybe it’s just numbers, maybe not enough women have chosen that career path and eventually someone will and show they are every bit as good as the best guy out there.”

I’m a driver, everyone else is a driver I’m racing against, and we pretty much all have the same dream. Alice Powell

One young driver hoping it will happen is 19-year old Alice Powell from Chipping Norton. In 2010 she became the first female to win a Formula Renault Championship and currently competes in the GP3 series for Status Grand Prix.

She told Channel 4 News her ultimate dream is to reach F1, and she is already preparing physically for the years ahead.

“I train for the next level, so I’m training at the moment not for GP3 but GP2, I’m training my neck for G-forces of GP2 or Formula 1 so hopefully if I get the chance to move up my body is ready for it and my neck won’t be screaming. You’re always training for the next stage up,” she said.

And what about being one of the few women in motor sport?

“It doesn’t phase me at all. I’m a driver, everyone else is a driver I’m racing against, and we pretty much all have the same dream. So for me I’m not fussed.”