Ranking Simona De Silvestro and Susie Wolff's Chances of an F1 Race Seat in 2015
It has been nearly 40 years since a female driver competed in a Formula One World Championship race. Now, there are two women—Susie Wolff and Simona de Silvestro—looking to end that streak.
Wolff, a 31-year-old Scot, has been a development driver for Williams since 2012. Meanwhile, de Silvestro, a 25-year-old from Thun, Switzerland, has raced in IndyCar since 2010 and recently signed with Sauber as an affiliated driver (whatever that means).
Both women have now tested an F1 car—Wolff at the 2013 young driver test at Silverstone and de Silvestro during a private test at Fiorano in April.
But which driver is actually closer to an F1 seat? Keep reading to find out.
Nothing is guaranteed in F1. Drivers come and go all the time. In fact, only half of the drivers on the 2014 grid are with the same team they raced for in 2013.
In summary, predicting who will be racing where next year—or whether they will have a race seat at all—is like trying to guess the next pope.
Still, there are certain factors that can help us determine who might be on track for a race seat next season:
- Stated team intentions
- Previous records and experience
- F1 testing
- Other driver possibilities
By applying these criteria to Wolff and de Silvestro, we should get an idea of whether either of them has a chance to go racing on Sundays in 2015.
Stated Team Intentions
When de Silvestro signed with Sauber, the team was very clear. She was there, according to the Sauber website, "to gain her super licence and prepare for a race seat in Formula One for 2015."
Nobody at Williams has gone on the record one way or the other regarding Wolff. She has progressed from strictly simulator work in 2012, to the young driver test last year, to two free practice sessions in 2014.
Williams Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds did say that, "Susie has become a valued member of our driver line up and 2014 will see her take on more responsibilities as we seek to make a strong step forward in performance," according to the Williams website.
Still, that does not necessarily mean that the next step is to a race seat.
Advantage: De Silvestro
Previous Records and Experience
Wolff has some single-seater experience from the early 2000s in Formula Renault and Formula Three. Most recently, though, she spent seven seasons in DTM, from 2006 to 2012. She had two points-scoring finishes in those seven years.
De Silvestro, in contrast, has been racing single-seaters since 2005. From 2010 to 2013, she raced in the U.S. IndyCar series and finished 13th in last year's final standings—ahead of former F1 driver Takuma Sato and just behind Sebastien Bourdais.
Of particular note was her second-place finish on the Houston street circuit near the end of the season.
Advantage: De Silvestro
Formula 1 Testing Results
De Silvestro got her first taste of an F1 car at the end of April. She drove a two-year-old Sauber C31 at Ferrari's Fiorano test track.
Specific details like lap times were not released, as there is nothing relevant to compare them to. However, test engineer Paul Russell said, via a press release, that, "Simona drove very well, had a good pace and was consistent. Overall these were two very positive days."
The Swiss driver will get her next opportunity behind the wheel in Valencia at another private test in June.
Wolff put 89 laps on the Williams FW35 on Day 3 of last season's young driver test. Her best lap time was a competitive, if not outstanding, one minute, 35.093 seconds, good for ninth of 16 drivers that day.
Of course, everyone is carrying out different programs at different times on test days, so lap times are not always reliable indicators of performance.
What is important is that Wolff did not look out of place, even impressing veteran driver (and her new teammate), Felipe Massa. "I think she was pretty good, she was pretty quick," the Brazilian said, according to Pete Gill of Sky Sports. "I was really happy when I saw the lap times."
This season, Wolff will also drive in two free practice sessions, at the British and German Grands Prix.
While de Silvestro might have more recent and more relevant racing experience, her private tests in an old car do not compare with Wolff's drives in current machinery on a track surrounded by other F1 drivers and cars.
According to the Swiss newspaper Blick (via grandprix247.com), de Silvestro's tests this season—which may cost more than $3 million—are being funded by Imran Safiulla, an Indian businessman who also supported her IndyCar career.
The report also states that a race seat next year could cost $25 million...not unrealistic since Sauber apparently turned down $14 million from GP2 champion Fabio Leimer for a race seat this year.
Bleacher Report's own Neil James recently explained that Williams is in a solid financial position right now, meaning Wolff may not have to come up with the same amount of sponsorship money, should she find herself in the running for a race seat.
Still, Wolff does not have the level of personal sponsorship that de Silvestro does, both through Safiulla and the clean energy companies that have funded her career so far.
Advantage: De Silvestro
Other Driver Possibilities at Williams and Sauber
The garage at Sauber is getting very crowded. Race drivers Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez are by no means assured of a drive for next season, but former Caterham driver Giedo van der Garde and the Russian teenager, Sirotkin, are waiting in the wings, along with de Silvestro.
Meanwhile, at Williams, Valtteri Bottas is clearly the driver of the future—whether that future is with Williams remains to be seen. If he continues his run of strong performances, he may be scooped up by one of the big teams sooner, rather than later.
Felipe Massa seems quite happy at Williams after eight years at Ferrari, but at 33, he is getting close to the end of his career (though Wolff is not that much younger).
Williams' new test driver, Felipe Nasr, finished fourth in GP2 next year and will have a chance to show his skills in five free practice sessions over the course of the season.
Overall, the Williams driver roster is probably slightly less crowded.
Although Wolff may have less intrateam competition for a race seat, de Silvestro has the best chance of driving on Sundays next year.
However, even if she can demonstrate her skill during testing this year, the Swiss driver will still need to come up with significant sponsorship money.
On that front, de Silvestro has an interesting angle that could work to her advantage: There are lots of premium Swiss brands that would be good fits in the glamourous world of F1, and they may be unable to resist the combination of a Swiss woman driving for a Swiss team.
Right now, we are closer than we have been in a long time to having a female F1 race driver—but there are still a lot of pieces that must come together for it to happen. Will 2015 be the year?
Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter:
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!