While Danica Patrick has been breaking the mold in NASCAR as the sport’s most successful female driver, two women have caused a similar wave of change to sweep through the Formula One paddock.
Williams Martini Racing team principal Claire Williams and her team’s former reserve driver, Susie Wolff, have proven it’s possible for women to succeed in the male-dominated world of motorsports. In doing so, they’ve helped accelerate the narrowing of F1’s gender divide.
Williams recently told British Vogue that since she assumed command of the team her father founded, she’s seen a “seismic shift” in the number of women in the sport. She admits it might not seem that way from the outside, however.
“If you’re talking in pure number terms, the sport is male heavy,” Williams told Vogue, “but at this stage that is still something of an inevitability. … Currently, 8 percent of our engineering workforce is female, which doesn’t sound like much until you take into consideration that seven years ago it was zero.”
Although the increased percentage of female workers at the Williams Martini Racing factory undoubtedly proves F1 is making strides, the most public proof yet came at the 2014 British Grand Prix. Wolff fielded Valtteri Bottas’ car during free practice at Silverstone Circuit, becoming the first female to participate in an F1 race weekend since 1992.
That was an important moment for the sport, as many girls might not have realized they could be racers until they saw her on track. But Wolff knows it’s equally important that she continue to expose girls to racing at a young age.
“If you are a successful woman, that can inspire the next generation,” Wolff said, via Vogue. “When I decided to stop racing, I really wanted to give something back to the sport and for me it was always going to be about inspiring young girls and women.”
The 34-year-old Wolff launched her Dare To Be Different organization after she retired from F1, and recently spoke to children at “F1 Live London” about pursuing careers in motorsports.
Thumbnail photo via Daimler