Sunday, 1 August 2010

Susie Wolff (Stoddart)

Susie as a Williams driver

Oban's Susie Wolff (known before her marriage to Toto Wolff as Susie Stoddart) is currently one the top-ranked woman drivers in the world.

As a young karter she was certainly the best female driver. Between 1994 and 2001 she raced all over the world and picked up a string of victories, including a win in the prestigious Middle East 24 Hour Championship. She was also one of Britain's highest-achieving karters of the time.

Susie's introduction to cars came in 2001 in the Avon Junior Formula Ford championship. That year, she combined her on-track activities with college studies and accepted a place on a business studies course. The young Scottish girl was an academic high-flier as well as a racing star and introduced herself gently to full-sized competition in order to complete her education.

Formula Renault was becoming the most talked-about proving ground for young drivers after Kimi Raikkonen's success, and Susie entered the series in 2002 with DFR Racing. As part of a single-car team, she suffered from not having a team-mate to compare notes with and push against, but still ended the season in seventeenth overall, with a best finish of tenth at Oulton Park.

After impressing in the main 2002 championship and that year's Winter Series, top-line Formula Renault team Motaworld offered Susie a seat for 2003. She started well with some solid top-ten finishes but really came alive towards the end of the year, coming an excellent third at Snetterton. This was even more impressive considering that her car was completely destroyed in a fiery accident at the Silverstone round, sapping both her budget and her bravery. She bounced back immediately, to the surprise of some. She finished the year in ninth spot. The icing on the cake that season was being selected as a finalist in the Autosport Young Driver Award, given only to the best young British talent. After a series of driving tests in an F3 and DTM car, the eventual champion was Robbie Kerr.

Going into the 2003 Winter Series, Susie was one of the favourites, but bad luck struck again and she crashed early on. She never regained momentum and only impressed in the consolation race.

Never on to let a setback bother her, she returned to Formula Renault in 2004 with Comtec Racing after securing a lucrative sponsorship deal with BT Broadband. Another welcome cash injection came when she was named a BRDC "Rising Star". A much more accomplished and confident Susie was claiming top-ten finishes from the start and keeping up with her more experienced team-mate Westley Barber. Her best finish was second at Brands, and she was tipped to record her first win before the year was out. Unfortunately, this particular achievement eluded her, but she still finished the season in fifth, with three podiums to her name.

Throughout 2004, Susie was linked to a seat in GP2 for the 2005 season. This did not materialise. She tested a World Series by Renault car at Paul Ricard early in 2005, but instead ended up in British F3, a proven step on the Formula One career ladder. She was snapped up by Alan Docking Racing and much was expected of her. Sadly, her F3 season went out with a whimper rather than a bang after only two races. Susie had been racing with a foot injury sustained on New Year's Day and had to pull out to allow it to recover properly. Her only other competitive outing of the year was a VIP drive in the Porsche Carrera Cup at Brands Hatch.

A revitalised Susie made a comeback in early 2006, making somewhat of a u-turn with a switch to touring cars. She was enlisted by Mücke Motorsport for their DTM effort, diving a 2004 AMG Mercedes. In the first race of the season, the Scottish girl impressed many with a tenth position, up with the more-developed 2005 and 2006 cars. The next few races were more of a trial: she was 15th at Lausitz and Oschersleben and 16th at Brands Hatch, before retiring at the Norisring and the Nürburgring. She was more impressive at Zandvoort, finishing twelfth out of twenty, but was 15th and last at Barcelona. The last two races were more hopeful: she was thirteenth at Le Mans and ninth at Hockenheim, her second top-ten finish.

She stayed with the Mucke team in 2007, although she was now driving a 2005-spec Mercedes C-Class. Although it was newer than her previous car, it was still one of the oldest on the grid. On the track, it was another slow learning year, which must have been frustrating for Susie. She did not finish her first race at Hockenheim, was 16th at Oschersleben and a slightly more promising twelfth at Lausitz. However, she was back down to 16th at Brands Hatch, her home race, and the Norisring. Her best race was at Mugello, where she finished tenth. At Zandvoort, she was a disappointing 17th, and 18th at the Nürburgring. She retired from the Barcelona race and was fourteenth in her last event at Hockenheim.

Looking for a more competitive ride in a newer car, Susie left the Mucke operation at the end of the year, in favour of the Persson Motorsport team. She drove an 07-spec C-Class for the 2008 season. Her team-mate was Gary Paffett, an experienced and competitive racer. Sadly, Susie’s season started badly again, with a 16th at Hockenheim. She improved a little at Oschersleben, coming fourteenth, and was 15th at Mugello. She retired at the Lausitzring, but was a season’s-best tenth at the Norisring, which had previously been somewhat of a bogey track for her, judging by results. She was then 15th at Zandvoort, a more hopeful twelfth at the Nürburgring and 18th at Brands Hatch, before retiring at Barcelona. She was twelfth at Le Mans and retired once more from the Hockenheim round. It had been another difficult season, but it is also notable that Gary Paffett struggled to get into the top ten for a lot of it as well.

Persson retained Susie for 2009, alongside a new team-mate, Jamie Green. They were both given 08-spec C-Class cars. Yet again, Susie’s campaign, in her new pink-liveried car, started inauspiciously with a retirement at Hockenheim. She was then eleventh at Lausitz, tenth again at the Norisring and eleventh at Zandvoort. Pleasingly, she entered the top ten again at Oschersleben, and was only one place behind her team-mate. Another eleventh followed at the Nürburgring, and she was thirteenth at Brands Hatch. A slightly less competitive 15th was her final place at Barcelona. Le Mans gave her a twelfth, and she retired from her final race, at Hockenheim. Although Susie still did not manage to break into the points–scoring top eight in 2009, she showed more consistency in her finishing, and was close to Jamie Green’s finishing positions in some races.

She stayed with Persson for 2010, retaining her 2009 car and team-mate. At Hockenheim, she was eleventh, six seconds ahead of David Coulthard. At Valencia, she was tenth, and at Lausitz, a career-best seventh - her first DTM points. The Norisring was a disappointment, with only a fifteenth to show for it, and she did not finish at the Nürburgring, and she was an underwhelming fifteenth again at Zandvoort. Another early exit awaited her at Brands Hatch. She was back in the top ten at Oschersleben, and seventh again at Hockenheim, but only fourteenth at Adria. The Shanghai round gave her an eleventh. She was thirteenth in the championship.

She remained with the same team in 2011. In all other respects, the season ran in the same way. Susie's best finish was eleventh at Valencia, and she mostly stayed on the track, with one DNF at Oscherselben. She also pulled out of the Lausitz race.

Persson Motorsport retained her services for 2012, now racing under her married name of Wolff. Her best finishes were two twelfths, at Hockenheim and Zandvoort. She did not score any championship points. This was her last DTM season; the Williams F1 team signed her at the beginning of 2012 as a development driver, and she concentrated on this from 2013.

Although Susie enjoyed a high profile as a DTM driver in the UK and Europe, refreshingly, she steered clear of controversy and let her car do the talking. She did trade paint with the series’ other female driver, Katherine Legge, in 2009, but wisely did not allow it to become a media-orchestrated “cat fight”.

Susie continued in her development role in 2013, and also spoke extensively in the media in support of female drivers. Partly, this was due to some disparaging comments made by Stirling Moss, who debated with Susie on UK radio.

After two years with Williams, spent mostly working in the simulator, Susie was added to their active driver roster in 2014. She took to the track for the Friday practice sessions of the British and German Grands Prix in 2014. Her British session was a disaster, with an engine failure after only one lap, right in front of the world's media. This was the first time a female driver had been part of an official Formula One race weekend since Giovanna Amati in 1992, and it was big news. Susie and the Williams team handled the situation with dignity.

The German session threatened to go the same way after an electronic fault stopped her from changing gear, but the problem was rectified after a quick visit to the pits. Susie did several practice laps, some pit stop training, and undertook some aerodynamic testing, guided by her team. She was 15th (out of 22) on the day's time sheets, and her best lap was 2/10 second slower than team-mate, Felipe Massa. Her only faux pas was speeding in the pitlane, for which she was fined.

At the end of the season, she drove for Team Scotland in the Race of Champions, with David Coulthard.

In 2015, she continued her test driver role for Williams, making some appearances at free practice at Grands Prix. In November, however, she conceded that she was not going to be given a race seat, and announced her retirement. The Race of Champions was be her last event.

At the beginning of 2017, she was awarded an MBE for services to women's sport. This was in recognition of her work with Dare To Be Different, an organisation for  women in motorsport that she has founded. D2BD has remained active and organises regular events for young girls, and networking days for adult women.

She was appointed Team Principal of the Venturi Formula E team in 2018.

(Image copyright WRi2)

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