Tag Archives: Susie Wolff

UK motor sport careers for girls

Dare to Be Different karters at Daytona Sandown

Few of us know of or appreciate the vital economic contribution UK motor sports makes to our economy.

The last figures from the Motor Sports Association (MSA) tell us that in 2012, the UK motor sport engineering and services industry earned no less than £9 billion, having nearly doubled this turnover in a decade.

And that period included a long and tough recession.

Some 4300 companies are part of the motor sport industry and employ about 41,000 people with nearly 90 per cent of these businesses exporting worldwide. And, as you might expect, there is a particular focus on R&D with some firms spending more than 25 per cent of their annual turnover on development.

What is the most important resource in the motor industry?

Guess what resource is the most important to any ambitious industry and employer? It’s the human resource of course – the best talent there is on offer – regardless of gender, race and age.

Yes, motor sports is undoubtedly the sexy side of the motor industry (compared to working in a garage or selling car parts although each to their own) yet it has the same dilemma. That of getting its career message through to as many appropriately talented and ambitious females alongside the already open door for traditionally petrol-headed males – that girls can do and can enjoy a wide range of industry careers that have been previously thought of as no-go areas for them of old…

Getting the motor sports career message out to girls

A UK motor sports initiative to change this gender stereotype raced off the starting grid at Daytona Sandown Park on 13 April 2016 with 100 schoolgirls gaining an invaluable insight into every element of motor sport from driving and engineering to media skills, fitness and nutrition.

Founded by former Formula 1 driver Susie Wolff and the MSA, Dare To Be Different is a high-profile new initiative designed to inspire, connect and celebrate women in every aspect of motor sport. Following months of preparation Dare To Be Different’s first event took place at the state-of-the-art Daytona Sandown karting facility in Surrey, bringing together 100 girls from ten local schools.

Daytona provided Honda-powered 160cc Cadet and 200cc Junior karts for the girls to earn their racing spurs and compete in a tyre-changing pit-stop challenge, Williams sent along an F1 show car for technical tours and photo opportunities and Sky F1 presenter Natalie Pinkham taught the eager participants the tricks of the trade when it comes to interview etiquette.

Dare to Be Different hovercraft buildingNot only that, but ambassadors from national flagship programme STEMNET (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network) gave up their time to assist with a fun and educational hovercraft-building exercise.

In addition to all this, workshops on diet and fitness meant that each girl left with a comprehensive understanding of every facet of this fascinating sport – and as an official Dare To Be Different delegate.

Dare To Be Different Ambition

Former F1 racing driver Susie Wolff explained what the thought process is behind such an event.

“We want to see more girls coming into motor sport at grass-roots level, and karting is just one aspect of that. The breadth of potential careers within motor sport is immense, and to reflect that, beyond the karting we also offered the girls journalism and media presentation skills, hovercraft-building, fitness workshops and nutrition advice. Today is just the start of the Dare To Be Different journey – there’s so much more still to come.”

The MSA – the UK governing body of motor sport – was represented by its CEO Rob Jones, who added

“Motor sport is one of the very few sports in which women can compete at the same time and on equal terms as men – it offers a level playing field for everyone, and each event entails a phenomenal behind-the-scenes effort. By the same token, behind every driver are hundreds if not thousands of people working in different but equally essential areas of the sport.

“It was fantastic to have the Williams F1 car here. Claire Williams is the perfect role model to illustrate what women in motor sport can achieve. We hope that some of these girls will ultimately come to work in motor sport, be that as competitors or in some other professional capacity. That is the underlying aim of this campaign – to market and raise the profile of the career opportunities available within the sport – and what we saw today was a fantastic start.”

There are currently around 1,500 female MSA licence-holders in the UK which, whilst a significant number, represents only five per cent of all those competing in motor sport events throughout the country – a proportion that Dare To Be Different is eager to increase.

Dare To Be Different 2016 dates:

17 May, Nutts Corner, Crumlin, Northern Ireland
22 June, Daytona Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes
25 August, Knockhill Circuit, Fife, Scotland
15 September, Daytona Manchester, Manchester

To Find Out More

Here’s the Dare To Be Different MSA website details where these events will no doubt be announced at soon.

FOXY says:

This is a marvellous initiative and one I’d love to see as part of a Big Picture motor industry careers roadshow to sell the message of ALL motor industry careers to women. To women of all ages, including those that chose an early career in a more female friendly industry and who now could be tempted to bring their much needed business and customer service skills into automotive Boardrooms and senior management roles… As well as selling apprenticeship roles to young females and males alike.

But how marvellous to see Susie and Claire paying back – doing their bit to encourage other females into following in their impressive career footsteps. Two fantastic role models that WILL make a genuine difference to gender recruitment in UK motor sports in future.

And who knows… maybe a future spin off of Dare To Be Different might result in a new racing championship for females? As I see it, if women can have their own golf, tennis, swimming and team sports championships, why not a motor racing league for women too? Why wouldn’t we Dare To Be Different here as well?…


PS: Here’s what FOXY Lady Drivers Club does and how to join the club.

Is equality the only way forward for females in F1?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Jennie Gow’s excellent programme on Radio 5 questioning why there are so few women involved in F1. Thankfully this situation is starting to change with Sauber taking on the first female team principal but progress is slow elsewhere.

Susie-WolffDuring the programme we heard from Susie Wolff (in the photo), a development driver with Team Williams; Alice Powell one of many up and coming female racing drivers; Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal at Williams; McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh; national racing treasure Sir Stirling Moss and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Sir Stirling suggested that few women have the same derring-do attitude as men in this area. He might be right but one thing is crystal clear to me – you’d be foolhardy to ever say ‘never’ with such female determination to prove the opposite in Formula One. But the odds seem stacked against today’s hopefuls when it comes to sponsorship.

As long as motoring and motorsport is perceived to be a male only industry and UK sponsors are mainly confined to motoring related products, I can’t see this changing much in the short term. Although it’s very different in the US with high profile Danica Patrick and her career in NASCAR and Indycar racing.

Is Sir Stirling right?

I think there is a shared male and female undercurrent that agrees with Sir Stirling’s opinion that women lack that ruthless streak, mental toughness and flat out fearless ability to drive faster than anyone else. After all it’s only speed that counts in racing and all other associated matters pale into relative insignificance…

Yet there’s no problem to do with female hand-eye coordination, today’s racing cars are increasingly intuitive to allow us to concentrate on speed and if multi-tasking was a pre-requisite surely we’d be leading the field? But can women develop the bulging neck muscles and back strength they’d need to cope with the g-forces they’ll experience during a sustained race period?

Much more to the point, should they have to? I’m not so sure.

Gender Issues in F1 racing

Could it be that many of us are confusing equality with the desire to compete in all areas? Women that are naturally ambitious are used to competing and winning at school and University. The only obstacle to ambition in education achievement may well be University fees in the UK today.

And whilst the battle for equality remains to be won in many employment areas competition is a good thing here because it means a better talent pool and higher standards for the future.

But there are still stereotypical male perceptions that could be holding women back in motor racing. You just have to read the uncomplimentary comments made by men whenever the subject of women and our motoring prowess is mentioned. When Maria de Villota had her awful accident at Duxford last year I doubt there were many that troubled to read that this had nothing to do with her being female. And whilst men in the know support Susie, Alice and the other many aspiring female racing drivers, there are still many men out there that think women couldn’t do it no matter how good they get…

Zoe Wenham

I’d also like to see successful women drivers being more assertive about their achievements.

Why do so many say they don’t want their ambition to be confused with any crusade for feminism, that they haven’t been discriminated against and that they want their results to be based on equality merit alone.

That all sounds honourable of course but where has it got them, the many fast females we’ve never heard about in the past and those female racing drivers (like Zoe Wenham in the picture above) who are just as good but mightn’t be as lucky as them in future?

And do the rest of us average women drivers really care just how fast they drive compared to Lewis or Jenson? Wouldn’t we and most men be just as happy to see the pick of the female bunch racing fast and entertaining us all during a female friendly track day out? For a change.

I am sure there’s a time and a place for women racing drivers being generous to men (who’ve had more opportunities than them to date) but that’s particularly female and short sighted in my opinion. let’s get out there and prove our strengths first, not our weaknesses, on a big stage…

F1 Women

If we can have a racing drivers club for women, a motoring club for women, business clubs for women, football and rugby teams for women and separate tennis tournaments for women at Wimbledon why can’t we have our own Female Formula Racing League?

Take Formula Renault for starters where we’ve seen Susie Stoddart (now Wolff), Pippa Mann, Paula Cook, Laura Tillett, Emma Selway, Katherine Legge and Alice Powell to name but a few.
And we’ve had Vicki Butler Henderson, Jo Kramer, Annabel Mead, Amy Chambers and Mel Healey in the full national Clio series. And how many of these names do you recognise now?

I found all this out by accident when I asked Renault why there were no females out of the fourteen contenders in this years Clio Cup Series. Marc Orme explained the reality of racing life to me… ‘If a female driver turns up with the budget, we’d be more than happy to see them on the grid.’

And there you have it. We have the female talent, the glamour to make it a potential spectacle (grid boys were suggested – that’d be equality for you) to address the fact that women drive cars as well as men. I’m confident that there are many FOXY Ladies across the UK who would like to see and be entertained by women driving fast in future.

Being Number One in a female field


I do believe it’s possible to have a very different looking podium for a Women’s Championship of sorts.

We need sponsors that appreciate that men and women aren’t the same; and that few females expect to be treated the same. Sponsors that are ahead of the game and recognise the value of the female pound. Ones that are interested in being associated with an event that supports fast female drivers… knowing that most women aren’t but we’d enjoy seeing our racing sisters doing their thing around a racing circuit. Doing it like men, but differently…

And who knows what the future might bring.

I’d like to see the interested parties getting together, reviewing the perception that equality is the only way and developing a blueprint for a motoring event that shows what fast female racers can do – an event that lost of women will support. What’s wrong with being Number One in a female field after all? Isn’t that be something to be proud of? Why wouldn’t this attract a new female audience in future?

Yes, I’m sure it’s been tried before, it probably didn’t work then and yes women are less likely to achieve the speeds that men in F1 do, but I sense the time is right to have another go. Let’s do something different to recognise our female racing talent and to celebrate our being different from men, as if there is any doubt about that!