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Wolff: female F1 driver 'will definitely happen'

26 February 2013

Danica Patrick's success in becoming the first female driver to win a pole position for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race last week has reopened the speculation about female drivers in modern F1.

Patrick went on to lead the race at one point and ended up finishing in eighth place, the highest-ever final position for a woman in the Great American Race. The media attention surrounding her appearance in the Daytona 500 hugely boosted TV audiences for the event.

Williams test driver Susie Wolff said that Danica Patrick's success in the NASCAR race had not gone unnoticed in F1 circles, either.

“Bernie Ecclestone for one is massively pushing that it happens at some point I think in the future we will definitely see it happen," said Wolff. "I know many people want it to happen."

There have been five female drivers in F1 in the past, starting with Maria Teresa de Filippis competing for Maserati in 1958, but the most recent was in 1992 when Giovanna Amati drove for Brabham. Between them, the quintet have driven in only 29 Grand Prix races in total and amassed just half a point.

"I think the fact that there hasn't been a successful female in F1 maybe makes people wary over whether it's possible or not," agreed Wolff. "I fully believe that it is possible but it's just going to take time for it to happen."

The biggest problem is where are the female driving stars of the future going to come from? With Danica Patrick by far the most successful role model for young woman considering a career in the sport, it doesn't bode well for F1 that she's finding her current new level of success in stock cars in the US.

“There are more male drivers which is why possibly it's even tougher for a female because there aren't as many of us trying to get into F1,” Wolff admitted.

Danica Patrick actually started her career in open-wheel single-seater series, moving to the UK in 1999 to race in the British Formula Ford Championship and competing against the likes of Jenson Button before returning to the US to work her way into the IndyCar Series. At one point a move to F1 seemed a genuine option, but there was nothing on offer to match the deals she was presented with to move into stock car racing full-time in 2012, firmly shutting the door on that possibility.

"It has to be said that the technical level in the US does not compare to the level in F1, said Niki Lauda when asked about Patrick at the weekend. "This is also reflected in the drivers."

Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko was also of a similarly dismissive frame of mind when asked what Patrick's success on the predominantly oval-racing US racing circuit meant for F1.

"You have to look at Danica's results in the road races," he said. "It's not enough." He did add that he'd still happily give Danica Patrick a test opportunity in F1 if she was interested, however, but that she would have to prove herself from there. "We are looking for drivers based on performance, not by quota."

Wolff herself agreed with that sentiment.

"Of course I had to come in, I had to earn respect from the team members but any drivers has this responsibility. But I must say I had no issues at at all," she said.

In any case, Patrick has already politely declined Marko's back-handed offer, calling it "nice" but insisting that she had "never been really interested" in following that path.

"It is speculation in the media, but it has never been seriously discussed," insisted Patrick. "I do not need to be in F1 to have a full life."

F1's current world champion Sebastian Vettel is probably happy to hear that. "First of all, hats off to Danica for her achievements," said Sebastian Vettel last week while attending the pre-season test session at the Circuit de Catalunya. "But motor sport in the US just has a completely different culture."

And indeed it does seem that in Danica's case, it's perhaps more a matter of her nationality than her gender that would get in the way of any already-improbable move into F1 in the future.

"The last American who had success in Europe was Mario Andretti," pointed out Niki Lauda. "And that was in my day!"

As for Wolff, she's optimistic about her own chances of crashing through the glass barrier and earning a place on the F1 starting grid in her own right in the future.

“I've done more time in the car now. I feel even more comfortable in the car, it doesn't seem like it's an unrealistic dream," she said. "The tests went very well, there was no issues physically, there was no issues with not being able to handle the car.

"But I think we all know how competitive F1 is, how many drivers are fighting for a chance to be on that grid," she admitted. "I don't want to come out with any bold statements or dream of saying 'yes, I want to be on the grid next year'.

"I'm in the right direction, I'm taking each step at the time, I'm showing the guys in the team what I can do.' she added. "But let's see how it goes, I'm taking each step at a time. For sure a superlicence is the next thing on the to-do list, so let's see."


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