Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Women drivers in Formula One tests since 1992

1992 marks the last time that a female driver, Giovanna Amati, drove a contemporary Formula One car in a Grand Prix. Since then, other women racers have been linked with F1 drives, although none has ever materialised.

There have been a few women who have tested F1 machinery, however; in most cases, the tests were well-publicised, but in one case, their status remains unclear. Below are details of these F1 excursions.

Sarah Kavanagh - Irish racer Sarah’s name was linked with more than one active Formula One team in the early and mid-2000s. She may well have undertaken some testing laps for at least one team. Statements made by the teams themselves about her have been ambiguous or lacking, so it is hard to gauge exactly what the nature of the testing was. In 2001, she passed a fitness test organised by McLaren, and confirmed by team director Martin Whitmarsh stating that “there is nothing in the results that suggest that Sarah could not drive a Formula One car right away”. Driving tests at Pembrey followed, but these were done through the Carlin Formula Three team, and did not involve F1 machinery. Again, this was confirmed by a positive statement by team owner Trevor Carlin. The tests did not lead to a racing or development seat.

In 2004, she was linked to a testing and development drive for the Jordan team, following her performances in a Jordan in EuroBOSS. The deal was said to have collapsed at the last minute due to a lack of funding, or due to contractual issues. The Jordan team made no official communications relating to this deal. It is not known whether Sarah ever did test a current Jordan.

At the same time, she was linked to a very similar role at Jaguar, which was confirmed by the team themselves. She was offered a testing and development seat in return for a sufficient sponsorship package to allow her to compete in British F3 with Carlin, as preparation. The package was said to be in the £1 million range. Sarah and her management were unable or unwilling to raise the money, and the testing went no further.

Sarah Fisher - IRL regular Sarah definitely tested a then-current McLaren-Mercedes F1 car in 2002. The test, which was more of a demonstration, was carried out in the very public arena of a support slot for the US Grand Prix at the Indianapolis road circuit.

The test did not lead to any further test laps, and was done more for publicity purposes than as genuine driver assessment. At the time, Sarah was one of the IRL’s most popular drivers, and Formula One wanted to capitalise on her fame, in order to promote itself in the United States.

Katherine Legge - prior to her Champ Car season, Katherine tested for the Minardi F1 team in 2005. The test itself appeared to be a genuine driver assessment, carried out at an official test day at Vallelunga. During the first day, Katherine spun her car after only three laps, damaging the front right suspension. The car was repaired for the second day, and she completed 27 laps, with a fastest time of 1:21:17, only sixteen hundredths of a second slower than official Uruguayan driver, Juan Caceres. She was faster than official Minardi tester, Chanoch Nissany.

Although Minardi boss Paul Stoddart pronounced himself impressed with Katherine, her test did not lead to a race seat. Minardi had already been sold to Red Bull at that point, and the new Toro Rosso squad was selected by them.

Maria de Villota - tested for the Lotus Renault team in August 2011. The tests took place at Paul Ricard as part of official sessions. Maria covered 300km in the 2009-spec R29, which would be enough for her to be awarded a Superlicence, should a race seat be offered to her. Eric Boullier, the Lotus team principal, described her as “not putting a foot wrong all day”. No lap times have been published.

Further to the test, Maria also did some demonstration laps at a World Series by Renault meeting, this time in a 2010-spec car. Negotiations to drive with Lotus were said to be ongoing, but no contract was signed. Maria was instead signed by Marussia, in order to undertake testing duties in 2012. She was seriously injured in an accident at her first test session, at Duxford airfield, and died in 2013.

Susie Wolff - signed as a development driver by Williams in 2012. She mainly concentrated on development work in the simulator, and the wind tunnel, but took to the track for the Friday practice sessions of the British and German Grands Prix in 2014. Her British session ended abruptly after only one lap, when the engine on the Williams failed. The German session threatened to go the same way after an electronic fault stopped her from changing gear, but the problem was rectified. Susie did several practice laps and some practice pitstops, and undertook some aerodynamic testing. 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.

This was the first time since 1992 that a female driver has directly participated in a race weekend. She did some more Friday testing in 2015, but decided to retire mid-season, due to a lack of actual racing opportunities.

Simona de Silvestro - signed as an "affiliate driver" with Sauber, for the 2014 season. This was intended as a year of development and preparation for a possible race seat in 2015. As FIA rules strictly limit testing, her work was done in a 2012 Sauber car. In April, she completed at least 190 laps in a Formula One car, at Fiorano, and now qualifies for a Superlicence. She also tested at Valencia during the summer. No times have been published, although a short video was released of her Valencia test. Sauber managers were very positive about her performances in the media, and engineer Paul Russell stated that she had "drove well, had a good pace and was consistent." Simona herself keeps a relatively low media profile. Unfortunately, Simona's sponsor pulled out, leaving her unable to take up any further Sauber drives.

Carmen Jordá - signed as a development driver by Lotus, in February 2015. Her role in the team was rather vague and her duties appear to have been confined to the simulator. She was quietly dropped from Renault F1's test driver roster in 2016, and was referred to instead as a Renault Sport test driver.

Tatiana Calderon - announced as a development driver for Sauber in March 2017. She will work in the simulator, and undertake some testing duties.

Rosemary Smith - the veteran rally driver did some practice laps in a recent Renault Formula One car in summer 2017. She was 79 years old at the time. The test was purely a media exercise and was made into an advertising video celebrating 40 years of the Renault marque.

Aseel al-Hamad - drove one lap of the Paul Ricard circuit in a non-current Renault F1 car at the 2018 French Grand Prix. Aseel is from Saudi Arabia and her drive was in recognition of Saudi women being given the right to drive in their homeland. No times were published as this was a promotional exercise.

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