Former F1 test driver and Formula E team boss Susie Wolff is hopeful of making a significant change to female representation in motorsport.
Wolff, who left her racing career behind in 2015 after spells in DTM and as a Williams test driver, became the team boss and CEO of the Venturi Formula E team.
She left this role at the end of 2022, and is now concentrating on a new F1-led initiative called Formula 1 Academy, an all-female racing series that aims to help identify female racing drivers and give them the opportunity to impress and progress up the motorsport ladder.
Wolff has been appointed as the managing director for the Academy, whose calendar still has four rounds left to run this year after initial events in Austria and Spain. One of those scheduled races will see F1 Academy race as part of the support programme for the United States Grand Prix.
Susie Wolff: No female racer in almost 50 years a ‘depressing statistic’
Wolff sat down with Sky F1 over the course of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend, where it was pointed out to her that a female racing driver hadn’t scored a point in the sport since Lella Lombardi’s half-point score at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park.
“That’s a really depressing statistic. It’s been a very long time,” she said.
“I think, fundamentally, there hasn’t been many women over those years trying to progress in the sport. I think participation over all disciplines in motorsport has never gone above 5%. So we need to change that. I think with the Formula 1 Academy, we can certainly inspire the next generation and try and push impactful change but certainly, a long time since we’ve had a woman on that grid.”
Wolff is hopeful that the alignment with Formula 1 will allow for the racers in Formula Academy to enjoy greater visibility to prominent motorsport leaders.
“I’ve been so proud to see those young drivers fighting hard for race victories, and there’s been some great racing,” she said.
“It’s been really a fantastic journey to see already – already three races and how many different winners we’ve had. Also the teams are obviously pushing them incredibly hard to make sure that they’re nurturing them to be the best racing drivers they can be.
“Obviously, we have our penultimate round in Austin with Formula 1. That’s something where I think we all see the huge potential of the build-up, but then finishing with Formula 1 in Austin and then, obviously, we will have a champion who we hope will go on to progress.
“We’ve seen such a growth in women’s sports, which has taken a long time, but now is really getting momentum and I think of ourselves as incredibly lucky that we get to join one of the biggest global sporting platforms in the world.
“We’re joining to get the audience that F1 does, obviously getting a lot of support from their broadcasters. So we’re jumping in and getting immediately that wide audience and that’s going to be just so helpful in terms of raising awareness and inspiring the next generation.”
Susie Wolff outlines hopes for ‘Discover Your Drive’ initiative
As Managing Director of the new F1-aligned women-only racing series F1 Academy, Wolff is overseeing a new initiative called ‘Discover Your Drive’, which aims to identify and encourage female participation in motorsport across all its sectors – not just the racing.
“With F1 Academy Discover Your Drive, we want to create accessibility to the sport,” Wolff told the official F1 website.
“We want to have wide-reaching initiatives, which really enable those young girls – who are fans of the sport or who have a passion for trying to pursue a career in sport – to really find their first foot in the door of understanding, ‘Do I want to be a driver, or do I want to be an engineer?’
“We want to inspire that generation, create the accessibility, and create the opportunity for them to progress and also be a form of talent identification.”
Going into partnership with Motorsport UK and karting venue operator TeamSport UK, the intiative has already discovered that some 45,000 women take part in karting sessions annually, but very few enter competitive racing. As such, the number of women entering even the easiest form of motorsport to access is miniscule compared to male representation.
The plan is to remain focused on the UK in 2023, before going international in 2024.
“Why have we started in indoor karting?” Wolff said.
“Because, for those young girls and women watching from their sofa on a Sunday, it’s the first access point into the sport. Wheel-base challenges – unlike in tennis or football where you just need a ball or a racket – you need a kart to go racing, and you need to get to a race track.
“Indoor karting is the first touch point of starting the journey to be a racing driver – but not just a driver – or to be exposed to that environment and to understand what opportunities are available.
“I think the fact that there’s already 45,000 young girls going to these venues and participating, that’s an encouraging statistic. But why are so few not coming back and not progressing with their participation?
“A lack of role models – if you can’t see it, you can’t believe it. I think there’s this belief that motorsport is still quite a male-dominated environment that we really need to break down, and we need to also create the opportunities.”
Wolff outlined what she hopes to achieve with the initiative in the coming years.
“If you ask me in five years what the goal can be, it’s 100% to turn up to an F1 Academy event or race and to have young women there who say, ‘I’m here because I got touched by Discover Your Drive’,” she explained.
“Obviously it’s hard to quantify those numbers, but I think F1 Academy and F1 Academy Discover Your Drive can be very impactful in a wider way. We’re trying to break down the barriers, create that accessibility and provide role models for the next generation so they can see that this is a possibility for them in the future.”