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Valtteri Bottas' Injury Highlights the Struggle to Find a Female F1 Driver

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2015

Williams test driver Susie Wolff.
Williams test driver Susie Wolff.Drew Gibson/Getty Images

Despite Bernie Ecclestone's assertion that, "It is inevitable that there will be another female [Formula One] driver," as reported by Luke Smith and Christian Sylt in Forbes, recent developments mean a woman on the F1 starting grid is anything but inevitable—at least in the near future.

Williams test driver Susie Wolff is currently the closest female driver to a race seat. Last season, she became the first woman since 1992 to take part in an official F1 session during free practice at the British Grand Prix. For 2015, she was promoted from reserve driver to test driver, with the promise of further practice outings.

Wolff at the British Grand Prix.
Wolff at the British Grand Prix.Jon Super/Associated Press

Then, at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix last week, Williams race driver Valtteri Bottas injured his back during qualifying and was unable to race. The F1 sporting regulations state that any driver substitutions must be made before qualifying, so Wolff was ineligible to race in Melbourne.

But surely if Bottas is still injured next weekend, when the teams travel to Malaysia, Wolff will get the race seat there, right? That's what all those test and practice sessions and hundreds of hours in the simulator are for, no?

A full-time race seat at this point is highly unlikely for the 32-year-old Scot, but a one-off to replace an injured team-mate would be the perfect opportunity to get her some race experience.

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Not so fast.

"Susie Wolff is our test driver not our reserve driver, "deputy team principal Claire Williams told the BBC in Australia. 

"I don't want to think about what we will do if he's not fit," she continued. "But clearly we'd have reserve drivers," although they don't have one right now.

Valtteri Bottas and Claire Williams.
Valtteri Bottas and Claire Williams.Christopher Lee/Getty Images

In other words, for a one-race cameo, it seems the team would be open to bringing in a new driver with no experience in the Williams FW37 rather than use Wolff, who drove the car in preseason testing. And that, despite the massive exposure the team would gain from letting a female driver race.

Meanwhile, Simona de Silvestro, who was training for a potential race seat at Sauber in 2014—or so the press releases said—is now back in IndyCar.

Of all the women involved in F1 recently, the 26-year-old Swiss driver had the best chance of actually starting a grand prix, due to her superior racing pedigree. Unfortunately, she ran into money problems last season, per Autosport's Ben Anderson.

Simona de Silvestro testing for Sauber.
Simona de Silvestro testing for Sauber.Marco Vasini/Associated Press

And then there is Carmen Jorda, Lotus' new development driver. While having a larger pool of female talent to draw from makes it more likely that one of them will eventually get an F1 drive, it could be argued that Jorda actually sets back the cause of female drivers.

In three years of GP3 racing, she did not score one point—her best finish was 13th. Last year, Jorda's best finish was 17th before Dean Stoneman replaced her for the final two rounds of the season. He won the feature race at both events.

Renault Sport F1 @RenaultSportF1

One Step Closer - Formula 1 dream gets closer for @CarmenJorda: http://t.co/rkUpVFk730 #F1 #BienvenidaCarmen http://t.co/CWqz2NBOmZ

In 10 years of car racing, per driverdb.com, Jorda has yet to win a single race. With teams clearly already reticent to give female drivers a chance, it's unfortunate that many of them could potentially have their prospects harmed further in those teams' eyes by Jorda's lack of success.

As long as female drivers are used as a gimmick, with no intention of actually letting them race, it will be harder for the serious racers among them to be taken seriously.

It is surprising that teams have not spent more time identifying talented young girls and nurturing their careers the way they do with young male drivers. There will be huge marketing benefits for the team that does bring a successful female racer into F1—first, they just have to find her.

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