Martina Navratilova once said “the key is for women not to set any limits”. This statement represents everything that an athlete endeavours to achieve: to break barriers and break records.
Unfortunately, Williams test driver Susie Wolff reached her limit, announcing last week that she will retire from motorsport after the Race of Champions on 20 November.
Susie Wolff had moulded a successful career in a sport dominated by money and men. Formula One has had a murky past when it comes to equality, with 86-year-old former British driver, Sir Stirling Moss claiming in 2013 that women lacked the mental aptitude for motor racing. F1 Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone has never shied away from a derogatory comment in the past and you need look no further than the ‘pit girls’ to establish the sport’s feeling towards women. But, that did not stop Susie Wolff. At last year’s British GP she became the first woman to take part in a Grand Prix weekend for 22 years. At just 32-years-old, it seems like a young age to be retiring, but Wolff realised that her dream of racing in F1 just “isn’t going to happen”. It is almost unimaginable what the moment must feel like when you suddenly realise that your dream just “isn’t going to happen”.
It is tragic that in 2015 the possibility of a female racing in F1 again cannot happen and will not happen. The very position of Wolff as a test driver signifies the position of females in motorsport: second place. Williams ruled out the possibility of her being a support driver earlier this year and for Wolff this signified the beginning of the end. NASCAR in the USA has featured successful female drivers such as Danica Patrick for several years, but Wolff herself has noted the absence of support for females from within the sport.
In a recent blog for the Huffington Post, Wolff wrote: “we have two issues – not enough young girls starting in karting at a young age and no clear role model. Sometimes you just have to see it to believe it”. It has been traditionally thought in the world of motorsport that women are not built to drive: physically, mentally and emotionally, and many cite the reason that females are not taking up the sport, is that they purely just do not want to. Wolff is hoping to work with the Motor Sports Association and inspire a new generation of young girls to take to the track, but it is disappointing that the very role model that this new generation could look to will not be on the grid.
Throughout F1’s sixty-five-year history, five women have entered a Grand Prix but only two have ever qualified and started a race, with Lella Lombardi being the only woman to ever score a point.
The female racing driver club is an elite one. It looks like the female drought amongst British racing is going to continue as Wolff is rumoured to become the new face of Top Gear, another outlet with a reputation for antiquated views. Wolff has conceded that we are unlikely to see a female driver racing on the circuit in the near future. Former driver Janet Guthrie once answered criticism about her lack of physical strength with the response “you drive the car; you don’t carry it”.
Sportswomen are quickly labelled as pioneers within their sports but why can they not be considered as athletes first? Wolff is one of many to highlight the pressure of feeling the weight of women everywhere on your shoulders. Why as a society and media do we feel the constant need to present a messiah in a sport, and then force a duty upon that female to change the world?
Why is it that a man can be considered to just be competing, but that a woman is a revolutionary? Sadly, for this driver, it is lights out and away she goes.
Image courtesy of Flickr user crazylenny2