“Can you imagine Michael Andretti being asked who’s looking after his kids?” #21: Susie Wolff,
As the late American author
Spencer Johnson put it: “Life moves on and so should we.” This is particularly pertinent in motorsport where we must keep moving forward, in every sense.
In June this year, my new role as team principal and a shareholder of the Monaco-based Venturi Formula E Team was announced. What followed this quite standard statement reminded me how hard people find it to move on. In the hours and subsequent interviews that followed, the first questions I was most frequently asked were: “Exactly what qualifies you for the role?” “Did your husband help get you the job?” And, wait for it: “Who’s going to look after your child?” Silly questions are nothing new for me – they’re par for the course – but the latter was a new low.
The first question I can understand, if someone hasn’t done their research. The second question, although insulting to all parties involved, I can understand if someone doesn’t know my husband. But the third question, can you imagine Michael Andretti being asked who’s looking after his kids while he’s running his team?
For the uninitiated, I’ll sum up my race driving experience in a couple of sentences. I was 13 when I was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year; 18 years later I made history at the 2014 British Grand Prix by becoming the first woman to take part in a Formula One race weekend in 22 years. In 2015 I decided to end my driving ving career – it wasn’t a difficult decision and I had no hesitations tions in moving on with my life.
So that was it, driving done. But my passion for motorsport was still very much alive, and doing something with all that experience became essential for me. After more than 20 years in the sport, I thrive in this environment and I felt pretty qualified to recognise its strengths and weaknesses and very well placed to do something about them. I wanted to make a difference.
In 2016 I launched Dare To Be Different, a call to action aimed squarely at driving female talent in motorsport by inspiring the next generation and ultimately increasing female participation in all levels and aspects of the industry. It’s a grassroots legacy project, and with incredible support from the global motorsport community, we are ensuring that girls and women of all ages are aware of the opportunities available to them. In just two years we have already connected and showcased some fantastic future and current female talent across the motorsport world.
But why is it so important to have women in motorsport? It’s not just a box-ticking exercise. It’s time for a much more meritocratic approach to become the norm. The old topic of women not being physically strong enough to compete at the pinnacle of motorsport, F1, still rears its ugly head. In my experience it’s just not true, and I’ve done the race distance at pace during testing, so I’m entitled to a view. It’s really very simple: people, regardless of gender, should be judged on their talent and contribution alone. It is time to let go of these misconceptions.
And so to moving on. My new role as team principal of Venturi is the start of the ne next chapter in my life. The fact that I’m female, married or a mother should no longer be topics; all that should matter in motorsport is performance. Watch this space.