Paving the way forward: Susie Wolff

In the latest blog post in this inspirational series, we look at the career of former-DTM racer and ex-F1 driver Susie Wolff.

Susie Wolff is a former racing driver who made history in 2014 when she became the first woman to compete in a Formula 1 race weekend since 1992.

Now, she’s retired her racing boots but is currently the driving force behind Venturi Racing Formula E team as the team boss in the ground-breaking all-electric series.

Before gracing some of motorsport’s most elite racing series, Susie began to learn her race craft in karting. Her first true taste of success came in 1997 when she won the 24hr Middle East Kart Championship and the Scottish Junior Intercontinental A title.

By 2000, Susie had a stellar karting CV to her name. In her final year of karts, the Scottish-driver finished 15th overall in the Formula “A” World Championships and was named the Top Female Kart Driver in the world.

“If a little girl is interested in racing, and she switches on the TV and watches racing, she won’t see any role models. So why she should believe that she can do it when she doesn’t see anyone else like her doing it?”

Susie Wolff

Her step up to single-seaters came in 2001, in the shape of the Formula Renault Winter Series. During the following year, she tackled the Formula Renault UK Championship head-on. Learning what life was like at the wheel of a racing car, Susie’s first podium in the series came in 2003.

In 2004, Susie visited the rostrum a further three times, finishing the year fifth in the overall championship. Next on her career path was a brief outing in British Formula 3, before making the huge leap to the world-renowned Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in 2006.

Susie raced in DTM for six seasons, earning her best season in 2010 when she finished 13th overall whilst competitng against the likes of David Coulthard and Gary Paffett.

In 2012, Susie turned heads when she was announced as the development driver for Williams Racing. Impressing the prestigious Formula 1 team, Susie kept her role throughout 2013. The following year saw her commitments grow, with Susie being named as the official test driver for the team.

Working closely with the engineers, team personnel and drivers, Susie made history at the 2014 British Grand Prix when she became the first woman to participate in an F1 race weekend since 1992. For over two decades F1 hadn’t seen a female at the wheel at a grand prix. Wolff, however, changed this on home soil.

Despite the promise, Wolff’s free practice session came to a bitter end when the engine blew. However, she was given another shot at the next round in Germany where she impressed.

The Briton was 15th, just 0.227 seconds slower than team-mate Felipe Massa, an 11-time grand prix winner.

BBC Sport

In 2015, Susie got to drive at two more GP weekends, with the second outing being at the British event at Silverstone. This time, her engine held out and she was able to complete the FP1 session as 13th fastest.

At the end of that year, Susie announced that she would be retiring from racing. However, with motorsport a way of life for her, Wolff decided to give something back to the racing community. This was when Dare To Be Different was founded – a platform that aims to inspire and connect women in motorsport.

Alongside her commitments to D2BD, Susie was a frequent member on the Channel 4 F1 coverage line-up – presenting sports content to fans all over the UK.

Recently, Susie has been raising her young son – Jack – as well as holding the role of team principal at Monaco-based Venturi Racing. Despite no longer racing, Susie remains a very prominent figure in motorsport.

From driving in DTM to gracing the most elite level of motorsport in the world, Susie Wolff has made a huge impact on the future of women in sport. And, with her foundations set in Formula E, she is going to continue to pave the way forward for the generations to come.

Julia Piquet: “I’ve always had a strong character, which I think comes from my Dad”

The Piquet surname is one well-known in motorsport, with Nelson Sr a 3-time F1 world champion and son Nelson Piquet Jr having raced in F1 and winning the inaugural Formula E championship, in which he still races. However, they are not the only members of the family working in the sport, with daughter/sister Julia working with Motorsport.com. I spoke to her about growing up at racetracks and working in a constantly changing media age.

Julia’s father had retired from Formula One before she was born, but with her brother 7 years her senior, she spent most of her childhood supporting him. “I was always following Nelson’s career, so from when he started back in Formula 3 in Brazil and then the British Formula 3 Championship,” she said. “At that time, I was living in France with my Mom so would go to every race and we’d go on so many trips up there (UK), and I’d spend time around the track with Nelson. I’ve got so many relatives in motorsport that I’ve always been around it. My interest grew with it, I always loved being around everything.”

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As she grew up, and her brother’s career took off, more people would recognise both him and their father. Although to most children this would be unusual, for Julia it was normal. “When you’re used to that at an early age, it’s normal to you. It was definitely cool though,” she explained.

Julia was no stranger to racing herself when she was young, participating in friendly go-kart events. “When I was about 10, I started go-karting a little in Brazil. Nelson always organised go-kart sessions with his friends and I was always quite good. I liked going fast, I was never scared and was very determined in my driving. He said to me: ‘you should start racing!’ so I did a few karting coaching sessions and I was doing well, but to be honest my Dad wasn’t sure about it, it made him too nervous,” Piquet told me. “Funnily enough, two years ago when I fell off my horse in competition and tore all my ligaments in my right shoulder, Dad told me the worst mistake he ever made was not let me race go karts. ‘Horse riding is a much more dangerous sport’ he said.”

18th birthday

Having moved to the US when she was 19, Julia studied at the University of Miami, earning a bachelors in Management and Economics, after which she went on to get her MBA (Master of Business Administration). 6 months into her course she was offered an internship at Motorsport.com, and after impressing her bosses, was presented with a job offer. “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought about motorsport as a career before because it was something I really enjoyed and I knew a lot about. One thing led to another and here I am and I’m really happy.”

Julia spent several years working towards a degree in Economics, but that doesn’t mean she no longer uses the skills she learnt despite now being in motorsport. “When you attend a great school like the University of Miami, especially the Business school, it prepares you no matter what area you go into. I think more than anything you take the different tools and lessons you’ve learned along your life, because when you start working for a company it’s about not just what you are able to do, but how you deal with people and how you present yourself,” she told me.

Now working at Motorsport.com, Piquet is responsible for developing online news content such as the Fast Track podcasts and Motorsport Report episodes. Speaking of her job, she explained: “Motorsport Report is released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a focus on 2 or 3 major headlines. The show is in video form so you have graphics that help support the story you’re telling. With our Fast Track Podcast, it’s more like you want to hear the biggest racing headlines in 3 minutes. The podcast is released weekdays, and we typically feature 12 or 13 headlines – so it’s just a different way for our audiences to absorb motorsport news. I write the scripts every day, taking the most important and relevant news segments from our website, and then our editor does a fantastic job reviewing everything before we air.” Although Motorsport Report tends to be more F1 focused, the Fast Track podcast covers a variety of motorsport categories, meaning Julia must have a good knowledge of many series. Luckily, her childhood has prepared her for this, as she has been learning about several forms of racing since her youth.

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These online episodes often include Julia interviewing drivers and those involved in the sport, something she really enjoys doing. “It’s always nice to have someone in (the office) and research about them and then get their view point on different subject matters. I tend to get a bit nervous, but for me that’s normal. It’s hard in Miami because we’re in an area where there aren’t that many drivers compared to somewhere like London or Switzerland,” Piquet explained, adding: “one of my favourite people that I interviewed was Kurt Busch, just because he was very enthusiastic, extremely friendly and I just got a very easy-going vibe from him.”

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With a family involved in the sport, Piquet has had to interview people she knows very well. “I don’t get nervous or anything when it’s my brother, but he doesn’t really like interviews so I try to keep it short for his sake,” she said giggling. Having spoken to many interesting people, there are still 2 drivers on her list of those she’d love to interview. “Realistically, Helio Castroneves,” Julia explained, “just because I know he lives in Florida and we’d all like to know a little bit more about what he’s going to be doing in the upcoming years.” However, speaking of her dream interview, she said: “I’d really like to interview and just get to know Max Verstappen. He’s quite the Formula One sensation. I also come from a Dutch background, my Mother’s Dutch and I have a Dutch passport. Also, I have a bit of a sixth sense when it comes to people, and he seems like a great guy.”

Working online can be challenging with media and fan engagement constantly changing. This means sites such as Motorsport.com must also adapt to keep up with their competitors and keep their fans interested. “We’ve got lots of big plans, but it’s all dependant on a series of things in the company,” Julia told me, “we definitely have ideas for new shows, and really what we’re trying to do is engage with the younger F1 audience. Nowadays with the declining attention span of online users, people want to watch short entertaining videos, so our goal is to produce content that’s fun and that people can watch on our website as well as social media platforms.”

Julia Piquet is at the forefront of a new way of interacting with motorsport, providing podcasts and online episodes to racing fans around the world. With her childhood spent around circuits and cars, there is really no area she was more destined to work in. When asked about her advice for those wanting to work in the industry, she replied: “if you happen to have contacts, don’t be afraid to use them. Even if you don’t, shoot someone an email, connect on LinkedIn – don’t be afraid to TRY! The worst that can happen is you either you get declined or don’t get an answer. Also, most importantly, always be true to yourself. F1 and motorsport are male-dominated environments that require you to be sharp and on your game at all times. I’ve always had a strong character, which I think comes from my Dad, and it’s allowed me to never back down from what I believe in and never be afraid to give my opinion.” A strong female working in motorsport, Julia is a great role model for those wanting to follow in her footsteps.

(heading picture credit: motorsport.com)

Emma Walsh: “I just love being behind the wheel”

The way the media works has changed dramatically over the past few years with the rise of social media stars and YouTubers. One of those who dedicates a lot of her time to sharing her passion for motorsport online, is Emma Walsh. Having grown up in South Africa, toured with ‘Grease: The Musical’ and starred in Made in Chelsea, car vlogging was not the expected next step for her, so I spoke to Emma about her love for the sport and how working on Formula E radio came about.

As mentioned, Emma spent her childhood in South Africa though says there was “not much” of a motorsport culture during her youth. This has since change though with Walsh saying: “it’s come a long way since I was a child…”

This doesn’t mean that Emma herself didn’t have an interest though. “I used to watch Formula One with my Dad when I was a kid, and I used to make him take me down to a go-kart track which was just down the road from my house,” she explained. However, her brothers and sisters were not so interested meaning she spent a lot of quality time with her father through their mutual love of cars and racing.

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In 2011, Emma moved to London after touring with the musical Grease. Wanting to continue working in the West-End, she chose to relocate in order to audition for more musicals. “I had a British passport so I ended up staying here,” Walsh told me. Performing is still something she loves, but the long hours and performing 8 exhausting shows a week can really take its toll.

“I miss it! But I don’t know if I will get back into it full-time unless something amazing comes up. But I definitely do miss it, though I’m not into it as much as I used to be,” she explained. Having spent 12 years in the industry, it was difficult to stop, but had Emma not moved for her theatre role, her current career may not have progressed as it has now.

So, when did Walsh decide to pursue her motorsport career? “Probably after Made in Chelsea,” she said. “I had talked about getting my racing licence, it had always been on my bucket list, and after talking with a friend, he convinced me to do my own (YouTube) channel.” Made in Chelsea is the show that really propelled Emma into the spotlight, though was never something that she was looking to do. It happened through her friendship with MIC stars Binky Felstead and Ollie Locke, who she was going away with for the weekend. The producers came along, and after seeing her do a Ferrari track day, approached her to be on the show.

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However, after having no control over the edit and not always being happy with how she was portrayed, Emma decided to start her own YouTube channel. “It was just documenting my life at the time,” Walsh explained. “I was doing some random stuff, adrenaline and car stuff and hanging around with some of the other car YouTubers and they we’re always making videos, so I thought ‘why not?’.”

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“When I came off MIC, which is quite a glamorous show, on purpose I stripped everything back. I wanted to start subtly to focus on the cars and my love for them. It’s a very male-dominated industry and being a girl, you get a lot of guys turning their noses up at you. I keep reminding people it’s a lifestyle channel with cars featuring quite heavily. I’m not a car journalist, but my passion is there and I am learning as I go. I just love being behind the wheel,” she said.

Starting her channel has changed her life. She has been able to do and experience things that she would never have been able to otherwise. The standout moment for her so far involved a certain 4-time F1 World Champion. “With Ferrari I’ve had a great run because of social media. I’ve managed to create quite a nice friendship with them. Interviewing Sebastian Vettel at Silverstone was great so probably skipping in the garage with him is a standout moment,” Emma told me, adding: “another highlight was working with BMW South Africa when I hosted the M Festival there.” None of this would’ve happen if she hadn’t been encouraged to start her YouTube channel.

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Having got her racing license shortly after leaving the E4 show, Emma Walsh is keen to do more driving, though being a full-time driver is not something she would like to do. “When I think about it outside of the car I’m terrified,” she said, a feeling reiterated by many, though she also says: “the minute I get in the car I feel comfortable and I really enjoy driving. I’m always up for track days, I definitely have a lot to learn, but hopefully this year I will get to do a race with one of the championships, just to see what it’s like.”

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Her online presence has also allowed the South African to venture more into another form of media. “I’ve done a fair bit of radio in the past, not in terms of having my own show, but I really do enjoy it,” Emma explained to me. “I prefer to do TV work, but the opportunity came up and it was a great way to meet people and better my interviewing skills.” Through her role on talkSport Radio, she has also been recruited for a new initiative in one of the newest series of motorsport: Formula E Radio.

“A friend of mine, who’s a car commentator put me up for the job. It’s definitely a different race, I grew up watching F1, so this is new for me. It is a very exciting race to watch and there’s always something going on. I have a few friends that drive in the Championship which keeps it interesting, but I’m really enjoying getting into Formula E,” Walsh said. Despite her love of radio, her ultimate aim is to move from the airwaves to our TV screens. “Cars and TV are a good mix for me,” she said when talking about her desire to be a presenter on F1 coverage on TV. “As long as I know my stuff, I think I’d be OK.”

Having worked in several mediums of media, Emma has the ability to deal with any situation that may arise. Her work on radio means she is able to communicate quickly with the audience, and work on YouTube means she is able to create short and entertaining videos. Both important parts of working to a timescale for F1 coverage, we could see Emma Walsh on our screens sometime soon.

(all photo credits: Emma Walsh)