Driving Force

A ride through Susie Wolff’s groundbreaking life and career.

Susie Wolff

Susie Wolff never set out to become a trailblazer: She just wanted to race cars. In the process, she became a test driver for the Williams Racing Formula 1 team in 2015—the first woman behind the wheel in an F1 weekend in more than two decades—and paved the way for many female F1 hopefuls. “Without a doubt, it’s a boys’ club,” she says of the sport, months after stepping down as CEO of Formula E team Venturi in August 2022.

From an early age, Wolff ignored such imbalances. Her parents, who owned a motorcycle dealership in her hometown of Oban, Scotland, treated Wolff and her older brother as equals in all things, including sports.

In a 2022 episode of “Beyond the Grid,” F1’s official podcast, Wolff  relayed her drive despite the lack of female role models in racing (she got her first bike at age 2 and her first go-kart at 8). “There was a lot of noise around my gender because I was one of the few women in the field. I learned early on that performance is power so when I performed, all the doubters fell away,” reasons the 40-year-old Scot.

It didn’t take long for Wolff to prove the skeptics wrong. By age 18, Wolff was named Top Female Kart Driver in the world. She graduated from kart racing to single-seater racing in 2001, progressing through the ranks to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), where she drove for Mercedes-Benz and picked up German (her Scottish accent is slightly flattened by German vowels). In 2003, Wolff raced against a not-yet-famous Lewis Hamilton (he came first, and she, third). The DTM series is also where she eventually met husband Toto Wolff, the current Team Principal & CEO of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. The pair married in 2011 in Capri, and are regarded as F1’s ultimate power couple: intelligent, confident, and kind. Wolff often shares family photos with her 600,000+ Instagram followers.

Wolff had her own trajectory long before Toto—a fact she attributes to her desire to win: “Competitiveness is either in you or it’s not [but] it’s not always an advantage because it means you push yourself a lot. I’m not sure it leads to ultimate happiness, but those who aren’t as competitive don’t have the big highs of winning.”

A peak for Wolff was her foray into F1, in 2012, when she was named development driver for the Williams team. Two years later, she drove at the British and German Grand Prix before being promoted to test driver—a rarity for a woman.

Wolff gets ready to race at the Williams F1 Collateral Filming Days in Jerez, Spain
Wolff gets ready to race at the Williams F1 Collateral Filming Days in Jerez, Spain

What’s remarkable is that Wolff displays zero bitterness about making it as a woman in a male-dominated sport. She focuses her energy on the future of women in the field. In 2019, her non-profit organization Dare To Be Different united with the FIA Girls on Track programme to reach a wider audience, continuing to raise awareness of the opportunities for women and girls in motorsport. During her four years with Venturi’s Formula E team (as Team Principal and Chief Executive), Wolff saw the change she made. “I had one of the most diverse teams in top-level motorsport—one-third of my team was female… I know the power of women, especially mothers. We don’t have time not to get stuff done,” she says.

Wolff also isn’t afraid to share her own challenges. “As women, we’re always trying to juggle it all—which feels impossible. I’ve got my own dreams and ambitions that I want to follow and at the same time, I want to be the best mother and wife I can be.”

With such a demanding schedule, Wolff finds time to connect with her husband while flying, often to the next F1 race. “Quite often, I get on board with Toto and if it’s just the two of us, I don’t want the flight to stop… It’s a valuable time to just be together. It feels like our living room, we’re so comfortable,” she says of their time on board their Bombardier jet. “It’s a place where we are able to recharge our batteries, to find calm.” 

Yet Wolff shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Recently, Formula 1 announced that she would be taking on a new appointment as the Managing Director of the F1 Academy, the all-female driver category that aims to prepare young female drivers for competition. “There is a clear determination to get this right,” Wolff says of the new set of ambitions she’s designed for the job. “I believe the F1 Academy can represent something beyond racing. It can inspire women to follow their dreams and realise that with talent, passion and determination, there is no limit to what they can achieve.”

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