Susie Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to take to the track at an F1 grand prix
But the Scot only lasted four laps before engine failure forced her to withdraw
Wolff will have another chance to drive in practice ahead of the German Grand Prix
The 31-year-old drives for the Williams F1 team
It has taken over 20 years, but a woman was back on the track in the male-dominated world of Formula One .
Unfortunately not for very long.
Susie Wolff became the first female since 1992 to take part in an F1 weekend, but after just four laps at Friday’s British Grand Prix practice session the 31-year-old Scot had to retire because of an oil pressure problem.
“It was a really tough day,” a dejected Wolff told reporters at the historic Silverstone circuit, after her stricken car was hoisted back to the pits. “But that’s F1 sometimes.
“Although there has been a lot of media around my run, when it’s just you in the car it’s the best feeling.
“I felt very ready for today – I knew in my head what I had to do, it was good to get that first run of a race weekend in the bag.”
Wolff’s best time of one minute and 44.212 seconds was set at the very start of the session and was not representative of her ultimate pace.
Claire Williams – deputy team principal of her father’s eponymous race team and another strong female role model in the sport – explained the team did not need to judge Wolff’s driving abilities during her practice debut.
“That was heartbreaking really,” said Williams. “The rest of the team are so disappointed for Susie as she’s put in so much effort and hard work and she’s been subjected to so much scrutiny.
“It was nothing that she did, it was an issue with the car that we are investigating.”
Williams’ deputy team principal praised Wolff for her diligence ahead of the session.
“We don’t have a question mark over her,” Williams told the media. “We’re not running her to see how good she is, that’s not what we’re doing.
“She knows the car, she’s done a lot of preparation in the simulator, she’s spent a lot of time with the engineers and she’s perfectly competent in the car without causing any hindrance to the team.
“She goes out there with her peers in a competitive situation.”
Wolff, who competed for six years in the popular German touring car championship before joining F1, has been up against it both on and off the track.
As the wife of Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff, who also owns just over 10% of the Williams team, she has had to bat away suggestions that she owes her opportunity behind the wheel to nepotism.
“I’ve always said he’s my biggest supporter and also my biggest critic,” said Wolff at Silverstone.
“He knew I had to go out there and do a good job today. He’s also quite sad that I didn’t get the chance to show it. He would have loved it if I’d have done the session and done a good job.”
Williams’ deputy team principal has also had to deny employing Wolff as the team’s development driver was just a publicity stunt.
“It would be naive to say that having a female on board doesn’t bring you commercial benefit but everybody knows that Williams is a serious racing team,” she said.
“We’re not only going to do something because it’s a marketing gimmick or could bring us in a load of dollars.
“Susie hasn’t bought in those dollars and we haven’t had any expectation that she would. She has to deliver technically which she’s done.”
There was also support for Wolff from her British peers at Silverstone – former world champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
“She’s very, very talented,” said Mercedes driver Hamilton, who raced against her in his junior career in karting and Formula Renault. “It’s really cool to see her in a Formula One car.
“I didn’t race against many girls. Susie was one of the very few, if not the only one, I raced against. We shared a podium together a couple of times.”
McLaren’s Button added: “She’s already driven in a test this year and went very well. It’ll be good to see her on track.”
Wolff will get a second chance to make her mark in first practice at the next grand prix in Germany.
“I’ve still got one more shot at it,” said the 31-year-old Wolff. “So, head up high and look forward to Hockenheim.
“I didn’t prove or show anything today. I really want to use that opportunity to show what I can do.
“To get into an F1 car is so difficult that you want to maximize it.”
Asked why it had taken more than 20 years for a female racer to be given another opportunity in a competitive F1 session, Wolff told CNN: “Firstly, if there is no role model out there doing it, for all the little girls who come to the tracks and watch on TV, if they don’t see a girl on track then they’re not inspired to want to do that themselves.
“That then leads to the second problem that there’s not enough girls karting or starting at a young age.
“But sometimes in life you just need a chance, and I got that chance with the Williams team – Frank and Claire gave me that big break.”
Williams – who grew up in motorsport’s macho environment – told CNN: “I’m always a believer that it’s up to individuals to come up and do it and that hasn’t happened for whatever reason.”
Giovanna Amati was the last woman to drive in the sport when she attempted to qualify for a race in 1992.
The Italian was competing in an era of F1 when there were only 26 spots on the grid and more than 30 cars pushing for those places.
Amati, driving for the Brabham team, attempted to qualify at three races but was not able to break through with a largely uncompetitive car.
Of the seven women to join the F1 world championship, only two have ever qualified to start a race.
The most prolific of these was Italian Lella Lombardi, who started 12 grands prix in the 1970s.
Lombardi made history while driving with March at a difficult 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, becoming the only woman to register a point-scoring finish in a grand prix.
The late Maria de Villota, who died in October last year, also began her F1 career along with Wolff when she was signed as a development driver by the Marussia team in 2012.