Is Formula One’s female trailblazer Susie Wolff about to park her ambitions to race?
The 32-year-old – who is married to Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff – is the leading woman driver in F1 but told CNN she is now considering abandoning the sport because of a lack of opportunities.
As a test driver for the Williams team, Wolff became the first woman in more than 20 years to take part in an F1 weekend when she drove in four Friday practice sessions during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
But Wolff is no closer to racing against her male peers in F1, and a female racer has still not driven when it really counts – in a grand prix – since Italian Lella Lombardi competed in the 1970s.
“I can’t wait on the sidelines forever for my chance,” Wolff told a special “Women in F1” edition of CNN’s The Circuit.
“There doesn’t seem to be many opportunities for next year to get onto the grid. This is going to be a winter of reflection because either it happens or it doesn’t.”
Asked how confident she was of ever making it onto the F1 grid, Wolff responded: “I’m very ambitious but I’m also very realistic.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be very tough.”
Claire Williams, the deputy team principal of her father’s historic race team and a supporter of Wolff, told CNN that, just like every other driver on the grid, Wolff still had to prove she had the ability to earn a seat in F1.
“Susie has to keep working hard,” Williams explained. “She has to make sure she’s the full package she can be. At the moment Susie is our test driver. We’ll see where we end up at the end of the season.”
A golden opportunity seemed to be on the horizon for Wolff when Williams’ Valtteri Bottas injured his back and had to sit out the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
But instead of announcing Wolff as the Finn’s replacement for the next race in Malaysia, the team unveiled former F1 driver Adrian Sutil, who had no affiliations with Williams, as its reserve to stand in if required.
“It wasn’t the best time of my career,” reflected Wolff. “It was certainly tough.
“My first thought was for Valtteri, who is a good friend, but being an egoistic racing driver my second thought was, ‘OK, would I get the chance?’
“There was a lot spoken about it in the media. Adrian hasn’t driven or tested the car so it was a lot of hot air about nothing in the end.
“At the time when Adrian was announced, of course it wasn’t great for me. It just made me more determined to do a good job when I got in the car.”
The media criticism came because the team was perceived to have overlooked Wolff in favor of Sutil.
Claire Williams explained to CNN: “We needed someone that was race ready. They had to have been in a race seat with previous history.”
At the time, Wolff also didn’t have a super-licence, a requirement for all participants in a grand prix under the rules set out by the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
But CNN asked whether other forces, perhaps related to her gender and which didn’t want to see Wolff line up on the F1 grid, were also at work?
“You have to see both sides of the story,” the level-headed Wolff answered. “If I put myself in the shoes of the team, they had a car that was quick enough for a podium and they had a test driver that had never driven an F1 race before.
“They wanted someone with race experience in the car, and I can see that side of the argument.
“There are no forces working against me within the team … I don’t think there are any forces at work it was just the right decision – the team felt – at the time.”
Wolff joined the ranks of F1 as a development driver with Williams in 2012 after an impressive six-year spell competing in the popular German touring car championship.
In her junior karting days she competed against current F1 world champion, and fellow Briton, Lewis Hamilton.