Susie Wolff knows more than most about fighting for equality and diversity in motorsport. In 2014 the Scot became the first female in 22 years to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend, driving in a practice session ahead of the British GP. She is currently the first, and only, female Team Principal in Formula E, at ROKiT Venturi Racing.
Since Formula 1 returned in July, World champion Lewis Hamilton has criticized F1 for a “lack of leadership” in the fight against racism.
Speaking on CNN Sport’s Instagram Live, Susie Wolff told Amanda Davies that Hamilton’s comments are absolutely valid.
“I’m someone who’s been in the paddocks with Lewis from a very young age,” said Wolff. “I remember him when he was 8 years old, and I was slightly older in karting, and I think his comments are absolutely valid and in the end he knows what it’s like because he’s living it. And we’ve got to take on board the fact that his experiences are real experiences. That’s why, as much as he is one of the few successful black drivers, we’ve got to take a board what his experiences have been to make sure that we can make it better for the next generation.
“As much as we think the sport might not be racist, if Lewis is telling us it is, it’s from his own personal experience and that counts for so much.”
After retiring as a driver in 2015, Wolff started the Dare to be Different non-profit organization with the aim of getting more women involved in motorsport. This has now united with the Girls on Track initiative run by motorsports’ governing body, the FIA.
Wolff joined Venturi Racing as Team Principal in 2018 and they have committed to the FIA’s new PurposeDriven movement, a commitment to bringing positive change to society and equal opportunity.
With the Scot at the helm, Venturi is the most gender diverse team in Formula E with one third of the key roles held by women. On the track, there hasn’t been a female on the starting grid of a Formula 1 Grand Prix since 1992 and a woman hasn’t competed in Formula E since 2016. But Wolff says that shouldn’t be the focus.
“What I believe needs to change is the fact we need to get more women in at grassroot level. We need to get more little girls karting, we need to get more little girls interested in motorsport, for the best to then rise to the top. It’s simply a numbers game.”
Electric racing returns
Wolff spoke to Amanda Davies directly from Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport where the Formula E season will resume with six races in nine days, starting on August 5. The 2019-2020 all-electric season was curtailed in March after just five rounds due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“From a really selfish perspective, I’m so happy to be back at a racetrack,” admitted Wolff. “I’m so happy to be back racing and I think in the end, we wanted to finish this season, and with so much instability and so much, let’s say, not knowing what the future holds in terms of there being another lockdown, I think to get the season finished here was the right decision.”
As per German government guidelines, a maximum 1,000 people are allowed on the site at any given time during the season six finale. Two days ahead of the first race, 1,421 people tested received negative results and two received positive results. Those two have entered self-quarantine.
“Of course there’s an element of worry,” Wolff continued. “Most of the team is here and I would hate for someone to come into problems and have real health issues, but I think the reality is that we’re all committed to going back to racing. We have complete faith in Formula E and the management of Formula E that they’ve gone through strict protocols to be allowed to make this race happen. So in the end, we’re wearing our masks, we’re practicing social distancing, there’s hand sanitizing everywhere.”
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Susie Wolff already has an idea of what to expect without any fans having attended the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last weekend with her husband, Toto Wolff, Mercedes F1 Team Principal and CEO.
“There was no atmosphere because there (were) no fans. And that was really missing but actually when the racing got underway it was still as exciting and thrilling as it normally is.
“Obviously here we’re missing the fans terribly and I really can’t wait for that to return to normal and have people back here, to have our partners back here, to experience this adrenaline and emotion with us.”
Under Toto Wolff’s leadership, Mercedes has won six consecutive Formula 1 double World Championships. While she is “hugely proud” of her husband, after two years as a Team Principal Susie Wolff is steering her team in her own direction.
“I’m a very different leader to how he is because we’re different characters and I’m someone that it’s very authentic. You see what you get with me.
“Certainly there was a couple of moments in my first year where I really wondered what I got myself into. But now we’re at a stage where the team’s got a great structure. We’ve made huge progress since I first joined and it’s fantastic to be part of such a team and I’m absolutely relishing the challenge, enjoying every race that we can get to, and still learning a lot from Toto. But yeah, standing on my own two feet at the same time.”