“Changing the game, to me, means following your path, staying true to yourself, and never giving up”. Becoming the first woman in over twenty years to race in the Formula One race weekend, Susie Wolff is more than just a gamechanger to us.
For years, Susie Wolff has been at the forefront of changing the game. Ever since she was young, racing has been in her blood. It was her love of speed and competition that put her into the driving seat as a child. And since then, Wolff has gone on to make a seismic impact on the world of racing, and on the future of the sport.
“Changing the game, to me, means following your path, staying true to yourself, and never giving up,” she says. And that’s exactly what Wolff did. From starting her career at the age of 8, to progressing into Formula Renault, to Formula Three and DTM (German Touring Car Masters), being nominated for the British Young Driver of the Year Awards, and becoming the first woman in over twenty years to race in the Formula One race weekend. Though, despite the success throughout Wolff’s life, it hasn’t been a story that comes without its hardships and challenging times.
Wolff talks about how lonely a place sport can be at times, as there can only be one winner, and success does not always come your way. But beyond that, the loneliness was twofold because she was often the only woman in the room.
When asked during our AMG 55 Years trailer shoot, ‘how can we encourage more women to enter motorsports?’ “We create role models,” she replied. “Because if you can see it, you can believe it. What would I say to aspiring young girls who want to race? Believe in yourself. And go for it.”
Stepping back from the driver’s seat at the end of 2015, Wolff co-founded Dare To Be Different – an initiative in collaboration with the UK Motorsport Governing Body and the Motor Sports Association that set out to provide greater access for women to enter motorsport across all areas. Since then, in 2019, the initiative joined forces with the FIA Girls on Track programme, which created one global outreach in order to raise awareness of the opportunities for women and girls in motorsport, forging a new precedent for future generations.
We sat down with Susie Wolff to find out more about who and what inspired her, what it felt like to often be the only woman in the room, and how she hopes to empower and inspire…
Who has always been some of your biggest inspirations?
Obviously, my biggest inspiration, but also the people that made it possible for me to follow my path, were my parents. I'm very lucky to have a strong mother. She had her own business and was a great role model for me. In my career, the big step change for me was when I met my husband. Suddenly, I wasn't fighting on my own anymore. I was part of a team. And he is someone who supported me massively, but also pushed me. He is my biggest supporter, but also my biggest critic. I think that really allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone and challenge myself massively.
When you say that you ‘no longer had to fight on your own’, is that in light of being a woman in a male dominated environment?
It's very difficult to talk about being a woman in a male dominated environment, because I only have my own perspective. So, I can't really judge if it was hard or not. I can only tell you that sports can be a lonely place, because there's only ever one winner, you can't win all the time, and you've got to learn to cope with failure. And I think probably being quite often the only woman in the room made it even one step lonelier than if I had been a man. But there were lonely times, there were also very challenging times, and moments of huge pressure. But that's part and parcel of being a sportsperson.
How do you want those kinds of environments to be different to future female racing drivers?
Well, I think it has already, let's say, improved in that these young girls have role models to look up to. I think the sport is starting to become more accessible. The push for more equality definitely had an impact on the sport as well. You can't ignore diversity anymore. You can't ignore equality. But there's still a lot that can be done. Now, if you're a young girl, there are so many more opportunities out there than there were when I was racing, and I'm happy about that. That's something we've got to keep pushing for.
How do you hope to empower and inspire?
Empowering and inspiring comes first of all by leading by example. My team were the most diverse team in top level motorsport, but we're also performing, currently sitting second in the standings. For me, it's not just about having the most diverse team leading by example, but also showing that diversity is successful. Because in the end, in my role as CEO, I'm not judged on how diverse my team is, I'm judged how successful my team is. So, for me being able to combine the two, I hope, is an inspiration to others. In the end, I like to give back, I think the sport has given me so much, and that's why I tried to help create opportunities. Every email I received from a young girl gets answered. I do what I can. I can't change it on my own, but I have a loud enough voice that can be heard, and can force change in the long term. However, it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a collective effort.
How would you like others to see your work and your life?
I often get asked about my legacy, but in the end I'm on my journey. I appreciate every day, and count my blessings for what I have. I never set out to be a role model, I set out on my path, and I was lucky enough to be given to self-belief from an early age. My path is something to be very proud of, but not something that I've set out to do.
As motoring had always been a part of your life growing up, did going into the career ever feel slightly inevitable?
Not at all. My father had a motorbike shop and my mother had a fashion shop, but I had a passion for it. I was a very competitive little girl. My brother got a little motorbike and I wanted one. We started karting, I loved it. My parents made it possible, though they didn't ever force or push me. They were just great supporters and enablers. Without their support, I wouldn't have been able to make a career out of racing. I do think that it was in me; I love speed, competition, and the adrenaline – those character traits fit into being a driver.
What would you say have been the greatest moments of your career so far?
Being nominated for the British Young Driver of the Year Awards, because that's fundamentally what got me noticed by Mercedes-Benz. I was the first ever female to even be nominated. The second, which changed my life massively, was being signed by Mercedes-Benz. At the time I was 22, struggling to make ends meet, and my life changed overnight. I'm always going to be incredibly grateful for that opportunity. Later on, I would say that the big standout moment was definitely taking to the track in the Williams Formula One car at the British Grand Prix.
What power do you think Mercedes-AMG, and all of the people that make up the brand, has in changing the motoring game in the future for the better?
In the end, you always need people that are willing to push themselves out of their comfort zone – companies which are willing to push the boundaries of innovation. For me, that's what AMG does. They're not scared to go where others fear to go. In the end, that’s what they stand for. That's why I think they'll continue to push the boundaries within the automotive industry, which is what makes them so iconic and appealing as a brand.