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Sunday 31 August 2014

Wolff pack leads the chase to put girls back on grid

Prospect of Susie and Danica in the F1 circus
is a tantalising one, writes David Kennedy

Published 13/07/2014 | 17:00

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Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff
Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff

It's not every year that a British Grand Prix delivers a British winner but last weekend Lewis Hamilton had a dream result, which now propels him from a deficit of 29 points to a tantalising four short of his closest rival and Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, who retired in the race.

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From a British winner in a German car to a Finnish driver in a British car, also with Mercedes power, Valtteri Bottas had an inspired race, climbing from 14th on the grid to a personal best of second in the race. Williams celebrated like they had won. Who knows what Massa could have achieved had he not been collected by Raikkonen's out-of-control Ferrari.

The talking point of qualifying was the blatant and fundamental errors by the experienced hands of Ferrari and Williams when they misjudged the weather and got the tyre strategy wrong during changeable conditions in Q1. That Williams salvaged second in the race is down to the extraordinary efforts of an in-form Bottas and a resurgent Williams.

Status GP enjoyed a fantastically successful Sunday too, with a win and runner-up in the GP3 support race. Considering that our New Zealand driver Richie Stanaway was locked in an almighty and costly battle with HM Immigration to try and get into the country to race, he did well to concentrate on the job in hand. Briton Nick Yelloly followed him to a well-deserved second.

With the Status GP team factory up the road, this was a spectacular home win. The drivers stood on the same podium Hamilton and Bottas would occupy later. The F1 powers-that-be look at GP3 to pluck the fruits of future talent. As a showcase for providing that opportunity, there is no better place than Silverstone.

Toto Wolff, the German boss of the Mercedes F1 team, had much to celebrate at the British GP between pole position, a win and other Mercedes-powered successes.

But closer to his heart, in another garage, his Scottish wife Susie was running a Williams in practice, for a team in which her husband once had a shareholding. It was a short-lived outing as a blown engine prematurely ended her stint but she gets a second stab at it in Germany next weekend and she'll be hoping to reduce the eight seconds' deficit and do better than the four laps she managed at Silverstone.

Susie has never won a race at senior level and she's come in for some criticism for enjoying a gilded career path thanks to her powerfully connected husband.

Women in F1 is a brief tale. The last woman to take part in Formula One qualifying was 22 years ago when Giovanna Amati struggled and was as much as 11 seconds off the fastest driver, Nigel Mansell. She failed to qualify for the grid in three attempts and was replaced by Damon Hill, who didn't fare much better as he continued the DNQ record for the next five races.

Amati, the daughter of a wealthy Italian family, was kidnapped when she was 15 and held in a cage for 75 days. She was 32 when she drove in F1. There was a lot of fanfare when she arrived but it was short-lived. Just being a woman isn't enough to keep you there. F1 is no country for slow female racing drivers.

Before her, another woman, Lella Lombardi - who once raced in Mondello Park back in the 1970s - was gutsy and competitive. She competed in F1 in '75/'76 and earned half a point in the 1975 Spanish GP. Lombardi died of cancer when she was 49.

Across the pond in the US, Danica Patrick has both the looks and flashes of speed. She is the fifth highest-earning American female athlete on $13m. She flits from pole to pin-up with ease, which garners some critical headlines as well as complimentary ones. She currently races successfully in Nascar having also competed in Indy cars.

Gene Haas is an American who intends to compete in F1 in 2016. He's a self-made man with a vast tooling company that has a turnover of over a billion dollars. His aim is to double that figure using the global publicity that competing in F1 brings. If he takes Danica Patrick along with him he could probably achieve it.

The prospect of F1 with Wolff and Patrick next season would shake up the staid image of the sport as a dated club with a clock that's stuck in an era when women adorned cars and men bought them. At every Grand Prix you see a host of comely ladies in identical kit who applaud the winning drivers as they head up to the podium. That, I am reliably informed, looks like something out of the Stepford Wives or a page from a 1950s 'guide to being a good housewife'. In fairness, women are well represented now in several teams in management and engineering but not on the track.

Sauber's 'affiliated' driver this season, Simona de Silvestro, is something of a dark horse. She took part in a Sauber test at Ferrari's Fiorano circuit earlier this year. The Swiss 25-year-old has done most of her racing in the US in Formula Atlantic, where she finished third in the championship. She also raced Indy cars. She had a spectacular crash when her Indy car was enveloped in flames and she was lucky to escape with her life. If she does compete in F1 in 2015, she has some decent credentials behind her. One problem with Wolff and Patrick is their age is against them. Both were born in 1982 which makes them closer to retirement in F1 than to fresh neophytes.

Germany is next weekend and the Hockenheimring is the venue for the penultimate Grand Prix before the summer recess.

Can Mercedes go one better and have a German driver in a German car with German power win the German Grand Prix. Not if Lewis Hamilton stays on a roll. Sebastian Vettel might just decide this is perfect timing for a comeback. Last year he, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Alonso, Hamilton and Button made up the top six.

Hamilton delivered an indirect insult to Rosberg when he declared that the only driver he admires in F1 is Alonso. It's a reciprocal club of two members because Alonso says the same of Hamilton. A rattled Rosberg? He's doing a good job in the face of superior talent and keeping your head through all the shenanigans is what it's all about. And that just might be all that it takes to win this title.

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