Susie Wolf is currently in New York City, probably walking around Times Square or enjoying a fine cup of latte at a cafe near Central Park. She’s probably savoring her last few moments of peace before the first track analyses and team reports start flooding her inbox ahead of this weekend’s Formula E race.
A few weeks ago Wolff was named team principal of one of the series’ most popular racing teams: Venturi. The Monaco-based outfit threw Wolff into the fire right away despite there only being one race left in the season—and while most would think it would’ve been better to wait, Venturi CEO and founder Gildo Pastor made Wolff’s authority effective immediately.
Roughly two weeks after the announcement, Wolff finds herself on the verge of her first racing weekend as the first female team principal in the history of Formula E.
Adding more oomph to the important milestone in FIA-sanctioned motorsports is the fact that this weekend’s silent race isn’t just any in-season race; it’s the season finale and it’s a double-header. So while Wolff most likely fights the city traffic on her way to sponsor commitments, the two championship contenders Jean-Eric Vergne and Sam Bird are biting their nails ahead of the Big Apple showdown—which by the way—actually takes place in Brooklyn, not Manhattan. In addition, both contenders’ racing teams, Techeetah and Audi Sport, could clinch the constructors’ championship if luck favors one over the other.
But, in the midst of this nail-biting competition, Wolff will have to fight an unfair bias that most people would think doesn’t exist in 2018. Sure, barriers have been torn and people like Monisha Kaltenborn, Claire Williams, and Wolff can assume positions of great responsibility and power, but there’s still that tiny and annoying mosquito buzzing around that confirms that women like Wolff are and will be scrutinized more than their male counterparts.
Whether this actually crosses the minds of these highly intellectual women—I’m not sure, but what I do know is that if this bias didn’t exist, there would be another two Wolffs in Formula E, and another half-dozen or so in Formula 1. If women weren’t so tightly regulated and forced to perform better than their oftentimes lousy male partners, there would be more female racing drivers across the board.
Heck, if the racing fraternity welcomed women with open arms, as the FIA says they do, Wolff would’ve actually raced in Formula 1 instead of just putting around in Friday practices, and Carmen Jorda would be competing rather than exploiting her charm and physique on Instagram in exchange for cash and lavish trips to Monaco and Paris.
Wolff may have the pedigree for the job, but that doesn’t mean the paddock will take it easy on her when things go wrong. As a former karter and podium-finisher in Formula Renault, Formula 3 and DTM, Wolff is as tough as they come. When Williams gave her the opportunity to drive in Formula 1, but then turned around and gave her an underperforming car that oftentimes broke down within a lap or two, Wolff didn’t cry or complain to the media, she simply kept at it and worked to find a way to increase her involvement with Formula 1.
After several years of not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel at the pinnacle of motor racing, she decided to call it quits in 2015.
To make matters even worse, the fact that her husband’s influence in the world of motorsports wasn’t enough to land Wolff a full-time seat at an entry-level team is almost disgraceful. Her husband of seven years, Toto Wolff, is the principal and CEO of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and a major shareholder of Williams F1 and other DTM and open-wheel teams. If this doesn’t upset you, just remember that Williams F1 driver Lance Stroll and F2 driver Santino Ferrucci used their daddies’ cash and connections to land their incompetent and arrogant selves coveted racing seats.
In an interview with Sky Sports, Wolff said the following: “In the summer after I had driven the car for the last time I looked at my options for next year and I always said if I couldn’t keep progressing, and the next natural progression was to be on the starting grid, then I would call it a day and it became clear that I wasn’t going to get onto that starting grid, so the decision was pretty easy in the end to make.”
Three years later, the 35-year-old Scottish racer will be on the starting grid but playing a much different role. One can only hope that this time Wolff is able to progress in her career rather than be suppressed by a hypocritical FIA. Only time will tell.