Simona De Silvestro and the Most Successful Female Formula 1 Drivers

Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

Simona De Silvestro and the Most Successful Female Formula 1 Drivers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Simona de Silvestro is the latest in a short line of women to be considered for a drive in Formula One.

    Last week, the Swiss Indycar driver was announced as an "affiliated driver" by the Sauber team.

    She will take part in certain test events with an initial aim of acquiring an FIA Super Licencewhich is necessary if a driver wishes to actually race in F1.

    If she does make it, she'll be the first female driver since Giovanna Amati in 1992, and only the sixth ever.

    Here are eight women, including the five who made it, in order of the success they had in F1 cars.

Simona De Silvestro

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Simona De Silvestro is one of the best-ever female prospects to appear on the F1 radar.

    She started racing in 2005, and scored her first win the following year in Formula BMW USA.

    De Silvestro then moved to the Atlantic Championship (formerly Champ Car Atlantic). Her first two years were mediocre with just a single win, but in 2009 she finished third overall with four wins and a further five podiums.

    Just six points behind the series winner, she could have won it had she not suffered a first-lap retirement in the final race of the year.

    A move to IndyCar was next. In four seasons, her best placing in the final rankings was 13th in 2013, with a best race result of second in the same year.

    It's easy to look at her record and write her off as a no-hoper, but she's never had the best machinery and was not embarrassed by her teammate, former IndyCar champion Tony Kanaan, in 2013.

    Judgement should be reserved until we've seen her in an F1 car.

Maria De Villota

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    Following her father Emilio into motorsport, Maria de Villota entered and won her first karting race in 1996.

    Moving up the ladder, she had some good results in Spanish Formula Toyota, then drove in the Spanish F3 series with little success between 2001-05.

    After two seasons in the Ferrari Challenge Europe series, de Villota made a few appearances in the World Touring Car Championship and drove a single Formula 3000 race.

    Superleague Formula beckoned, and de Villota drove three seasons for the Atletico Madrid team, with a best finish of fourth.

    In 2011 she made her F1 test debut for Lotus-Renault at Paul Ricard, and joined up with Marussia as a reserve driver in 2012.

    In August that year, de Villota had just completed a straight-line test run in the MR01. As she entered the service area, she collided with one of the team's transporters.

    De Villota suffered serious head injuries and was lucky to escape with her life. After 17 days in hospital she returned home to Spain.

    But tragically, she passed away in October 2013. Complications arising from injuries sustained in the accident were blamed.

Susie Wolff

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    Malcolm Griffiths/Associated Press

    Susie Wolff started life as Susie Stoddart, and it's under that name that fans may better recall her racing exploits.

    She started off in karting at a young age, and won several Scottish championships.

    Her single-seater career began with the British Formula Renault championship in 2001. Wolff remained there for three seasons, scoring a number of podiums and achieving a best overall placing of fifth.

    An attempt to move up to Formula Three in 2005 was dashed by an injury.

    In 2006 Wolff made the switch to touring cars, competing in the DTM. She remained there for seven years.

    Her time there was not a success, but this was partly down to never having the most up-to-date cars. Wolff's best results were two seventh-place finishes.

    In 2012 she became a development driver for Williams, and made her testing debut at the 2013 Young Driver Test at Silverstone.

    Her best time was a respectable 1:35.093, around a second slower than the fastest time set by the team's other test driver, Daniel Juncadella.

    Wolff remains a development driver for Williams, but it's unlikely she will ever graduate to a race seat.

Giovanna Amati

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    Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

    Giovanna Amati acquired some unwanted fame long before she made it into F1. The daughter of a wealthy man, she was kidnapped in 1978 and released after 75 days when, according to the Montreal Gazette, her father paid a near-$1 million ransom.

    After four years with no success in Formula 3000, her foray into F1 began in 1991 when she did a short test for Benetton. At the time she was rumoured to be romantically involved with their team principal, Flavio Briatore.

    The following year she was offered a drive at Brabham, providing she paid for it. Unfortunately for her, Brabham had fallen a long way from their peak, and the car was woefully uncompetitive.

    But in fairness to the BT60B, so was Amati.

    She entered three events, but failed to qualify for any of them (in those days, F1 had more entrants than grid slots, so the slowest drivers did not even qualify to start the race).

    Her best qualifying effort was three seconds slower than anyone else in the first two races, and five seconds slower in the third.

    With a lack of funds proving as much a problem as her lack of speed, Amati was replaced by future world champion Damon Hill, and her F1 career was over.

Divina Galica

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    Mike Powell

    Divina Galica first came to public attention when she represented Great Britain in the slalom and downhill events at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck.

    She also competed in the 1968 and 1972 games, but did not win a medal.

    Galica started in motorsport after a chance outing in a celebrity racing event in 1974, and in 1976 entered the British Grand Prix with an outdated Surtees. Notably, she selected 13 as her numberthe first time it had been used in the world championship era.

    Her performance was less notable, and she failed to qualify.

    Driving a Hesketh, she attempted and failed to qualify for two more races at the start of 1977. Leaving F1 behind, she entered a couple of Formula Two races before becoming an instructor for Skip Barber Racing Schools.

    Galica also found time to take part in a demonstration event at the 1992 Winter Olympics, at the age of 47. Fittingly, it was speed-skiing.

Desire Wilson

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    Desire Wilson started racing at the age of 12, and won the South African Formula Ford (FF) Championships of 1975 and 1976.

    After moving to Europe, Wilson came third in the British, Benelux and Dutch FF 2000 series. She then entered the British Aurora AFX championshipa "national F1" series of sorts, for second-hand F1 cars.

    And it was in this series, in 1980, that Wilson became the only woman in history to win a race driving an F1 car. The field for the Evening News Trophy at Brands Hatch wasn't exactly brimming with talent, but a win is a win.

    Later in the year, she attempted (and failed) to qualify for the British Grand Prix at the scene of her triumph.

    Wilson had more luck in sports cars, partnering Alain de Cadenet to win both the Monza 1000 Kilometres and Six Hours of Silverstone races in 1980.

    However, in 1981 she took part in the non-championship South African Grand Prix for Tyrrell. Run to Formula Libre regulations, the race attracted a strong field. Wilson qualified 16th and ran as high as sixth before crashing out.

    But despite seeming to prove she deserved at least one more shot, she never raced in F1 again.

    Wilson came 7th in the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans, and continued racing until 1997.

Maria Teresa De Filippis

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    The car in which de Filippis made her F1 debut, the Maserati 250F.
    The car in which de Filippis made her F1 debut, the Maserati 250F.Arnaud 25

    It's tough enough for a woman to make it in the world of motorsport in modern times.

    So spare a thought for the trailblazing Maria Teresa de Filippis, who started racing in the 1940s.

    A native of Naples, Italy, de Filippis won her first-ever race driving a Fiat 500. After a few years of competing at various levels, she came second in the 1954 Italian sports car championship.

    Her F1 debut came at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, where she (along with half the entrants) failed to qualify. Keeping her company in the DNQ list was a young man called Bernie Ecclestone.

    In total she entered five races and qualified for three of them. It would have been six, but at the 1958 French Grand Prix she was excluded from taking part by the race director.

    In a 2006 interview with The Observer, she revealed he told her, "The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser's."

    De Filippis' only finish was at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix, where she came home in 10th place.

    She retired from motorsport the following year.

Lella Lombardi

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    Lella Lombardi is the most successful female driver F1 has ever seen.

    After promising results in the lower formulae, Lombardi entered the 1974 British Grand Prix in an outdated Brabham BT42, but failed to qualify.

    The following year she secured a season-long drive in a March. And in her third race, she wrote her name into F1 history.

    The 1975 Spanish Grand Prix was a disaster. Driver concerns over the safety of the Montjuic circuit almost resulted in the race being cancelled, but they were eventually forced to take part by the threat of legal action.

    Three drivers withdrew at the start in protest and several crashed out. Then on Lap 25, Rolf Stommelen suffered a rear-wing failure. His car flew over the barriers and five spectators were killed.

    Four laps later, the race was red-flagged.

    Lombardi was two laps down on the winner, but that was enough for sixth place. Because only 29 of the scheduled 79 laps were completed, half points were awarded.

    The Italian started 12 races in total (from 17 entries), but never added to the half-point from Montjuic.

    Lombardi later competed in sports car racing, and died at the age of 50 in 1992.

    To date, no other woman has finished in a points-paying position.

    Maybe de Silvestro can change that.