Susie Wolff made her full test debut with former champions Williams on the final day of the Young Driver Testa at Silverstone, the biggest step by a woman driver in Formula 1 for more than 20 years – and the consensus was she did a good job – with grand prix regulars paying her compliments.
“I think she was pretty good, she was pretty quick and that’s really fantastic to see a lady driving Formula 1,” Ferrari’s Felipe Massa told reporters after the final day of a young driver test at Silverstone.
“I was really happy when I saw the lap times and pretty happy for her.”
Wolff, now 30, may not be a young driver but she was as thrilled as any of those making their test debuts after completing 89 laps and setting the ninth fastest time of the 16 drivers on track during the day.
Her best lap of 1:35.093 seconds compared to the day’s fastest of 1:32.894 set by triple champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull.
“It was important for me to show I had the performance,” the Scot, wife of Mercedes motorsport head and Williams shareholder Toto Wolff, told reporters.
“It was fantastic today. The team did a great job getting me through the day, talking me through everything step by step.
“Physically it wasn’t easy but it was what I was expecting. I was well prepared so it was completely manageable,” added the development driver who spent seven seasons racing in the DTM (German Touring Car) series but scored only four points.
Formula 1 has not had a female driver in decades, with Italian Giovanna Amati the last to try to get on the grid when she failed to qualify in 1992. Compatriot Lella Lombardi was the last to start a race, in 1976.
Wolff has taken part in straight-line aerodynamic tests, without other racing drivers present, and as development driver was the first to drive this year’s car.
“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,” said the Briton.
She added, “DTM is difficult to get in the right position to get in a winning car, I was never in that position, so for me it was about going out there and showing what I can do. As much as I was nervous about today I also saw it as a brilliant opportunity. There’s not many people that get a young driver day, there’s only a handful of us, and it was my chance to show everybody what I was capable of.”
“It was important to show that given the limited number of laps that I had I can be on the pace and I was only four tenths off the Formula 3 European champion [Daniel Juncadella, who tested for Williams on Thursday], the guy who’s rated as an up-and-coming young star,” Wolff pointed out.
“And if that has more meaning for other people because I am female then of course I’ll use that to my advantage. But I’m not going to play that card as a way of ‘give me the right now because I’m a girl and I was fast enough’. At the end of the day there was a lot of great performances over the three days, we’re all fighting hard to get into Formula 1 and I’ve got to also keep fighting hard.”
Williams chief engineers Xevi Pujolar said, “Susie did a great job for us today. We did some aero tests this morning while she familiarised herself with the car and then we moved onto some performance and development work with her.”
“In the afternoon we combined some general running with live pitstop practice, which is an area we are keen to improve ahead of the next race. We made some good progress and Susie was good at stopping on the mark every time,” added Pujolar.
Spaniard Maria De Villota was appointed test driver for Marussia last year, before she lost an eye in an accident during an aerodynamic test in England. However she never took part in a general test with other drivers.
Britain’s Katherine Legge also tested a Minardi in Italy in 2005. (Reuters-Apex)