Susie Wolff makes her point and gives F1 food for thought after Silverstone test bow
After a positive full debut test with Williams, we assess Wolff's performance and what the future might hold for her
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 22/07/13 11:42am
In the same week in which one world-renowned sporting competition - The Open Golf Championship - has found itself at the centre of a row over its Muirfield host's male-only membership policy, it was timely for Formula 1 that Susie Wolff became the first female driver to take part in a high-profile event for over 20 years.
While Wolff herself didn't want to play what she herself described as the "female card", the fact that the Williams development driver simply took to the Silverstone track at the same time as the male assortment of established race drivers and up-and-coming stars was always going to be noteworthy event in itself on Friday, irrespective of how the 30-year-old Scot performed.
But it was her subsequent commendable performance across 89 laps - finishing just over two seconds behind World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the timesheets - in the FW35 that caught the attention and served to vindicate the team's decision to run her.
Make no mistake about it, there has been plenty of cynicism surrounding Wolff and her role at Williams. Both her record across seven seasons racing in German Touring Cars (DTM) - she scored just four points in 73 races - and accusations of nepotism - she is the wife of former Williams Executive Director turned Mercedes chief Toto Wolff - have been routinely used as sticks to disparage her driving abilities.
Wolff hopes her Silverstone performance has at least gone some way to turning the tide: "It's quite hard after such a tough end to my DTM career, many people presumed that I was just always at the back and wasn't quick enough, but I think today can show that that was possibly an unfair judgement."
With so many different parameters having been at play in this particular three-day 'young driver' test, it's harder than ever to accurately read much into the headline timesheets and provide a definitive assessment of Wolff's performace. Yet it's certainly clear to see that Wolff did herself justice.
Her best time from Friday of 1:35.093 was the 23rd fastest out of the 33 different car/driver combinations in action during the test, and more meaningfully, was within a second of the two best times set by fellow Williams debutant Daniel Juncadella (1:34.098) and regular race driver Pastor Maldonado (1:34.116).
The 30-year-old herself admitted that she had targeted a 1:34 laptime but the fact her best time was set on her fourth flying lap of the stint, rather than the first, showed she hadn't extracted the full potential of the medium tyres straight away. Speaking to Williams' chief engineer Xevi Pujolar at Silverstone, he explained that getting the most out of the tyres straight away had been a challenge for both Wolff and Juncadella.
"To extract the potential of the new tyre she was missing a bit, similar to what we had with Daniel," Pujolar said. "These tyres, especially when they do the run with the mediums, if you don't get the first or second lap you are losing grip and by laps four, five when they get more comfortable with the car the grip is not there. So I'm sure that if we had more new tyres in the afternoon the performance would have been better. It's difficult with these tyres just to get the lap one to get both axles together."
That learning curve aside, Pujolar was impressed with Wolff's performance: "I think she did a good job. She didn't do any mistakes, she didn't go off at all, and she made good progress with the new tyres. For someone who hasn't got much experience in the car I think it's positive."
After revealing that on her first flying that she "had my heart in my mouth a little bit", Wolff herself did own up to one small error during her 89 laps on track - "a little trip over the grass between 13 and 14" - but felt her lap times undoubtedly showed "I had the performance" to one day make the grade in F1.
Competent statement made then - but where Wolff goes next in her quest to land a full-time F1 seat is less obvious. Having been granted an 'A' licence by the FIA to participate at Silverstone, Wolff said the governing body had told her to come back after the test to speak about a superlicence - the mandatory requirement all drivers need to compete in a race weekend.
Both Wolff and Pujolar ruled out the prospect of her taking part in any Friday practice sessions this season and while the driver admits she would be keen to return to some sort of race environment in 2014 after a year's absence, she wouldn't want to give up her F1 activities with Williams.
"It depends on my options," Wolff explained. "Formula 1 is so fast-paced, it's changing a lot very quickly, so it's about figuring out in the winter what a possible programme in Formula 1 could be and if that's enough and going to take up a lot of capacity because as much as I'm not racing you're in the sim a lot, there's a lot of work in the background and in all honesty to do a full race season and all the sim work it would be quite tough. I just love driving Formula 1 cars. There's nothing that comes close to that feeling of being out there, especially on a fast track like Silverstone. To give up that chance would be quite hard."
Whether or not Wolff, who turns 31 in December, ever becomes the first female driver to take part in an F1 race weekend since Giovanna Amati in 1992, or even the first since Lella Lombardi in 1976 to start a grand prix, remains to be seen but in the words of Felipe Massa such a prospect "would be very interesting for everybody".
And perhaps not just for those of us in F1.