For several months the topic of women in Formula 1 has been discussed on numerous occasions by many leading figures within the paddock, including Red Bull team principal Christian Horner who believes women in F1 is “only a matter of time”. With the likes of Susie Wolff already associated within an F1 team, former IndyCar Series sensation Simona de Silvestro has completed a surprise switch from the ovals of America to become an affiliated driver with Sauber.
After making her debut in single-seater racing in the Formula Renault 2.0 Italian Series in 2005, the Thun-born Swiss driver switched from Europe to America to compete in the Formula BMW USA Series for 2006. From there, she progressed at a tremendous rate in the Formula Atlantic Series to eventually land herself a drive with HVM Racing in the 2010 IndyCar Series. During her debut season, de Silvestro managed a personal best finish of 8th at Mid-Ohio whilst also finishing 14th during her first endeavour at the legendary Indianapolis 500.
In recent years Simona de Silvestro has undoubtedly improved within the increasingly competitive IndyCar Series, taking her maiden podium finish in Houston last season with 2nd position behind race winner and eventual series Champion Scott Dixon. With her ultimate ambition always being to compete in Formula 1, she completed a slightly surprising switch to Sauber at the beginning of 2014 to become an affiliated driver with hopes of progressing onto the grid as a full-time race driver for 2015 at the Swiss outfit. With Formula 1 preparing to enter a new era ahead of the new season, Richland F1 caught up with the Swiss ace to discuss her decision to join Sauber and women in motorsport in general.
Richland F1: First of all Simona, many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. You spent four years in the IndyCar Series in America competing with both HVM Racing and KV Racing Technology, however you have recently joined Sauber with intentions of racing in Formula 1 by 2015. Was competing in F1 always your target, regardless of the success you had in the States?
Simona de Silvestro: My ultimate goal has always been Formula One since I was a little girl and the opportunity that came up, something like that doesn’t come along twice in your life. Joining Sauber is a huge opportunity, especially since F1 has always been my goal. If you put yourself in my shoes this is something that you can’t let pass by, you have to take it and commit to it fully to make it happen.
RF1: During your last season in the IndyCar Series with KV Racing Technology, you managed to record your maiden podium finish in the series at Houston on your way to 13th in the Championship overall. With your results improving greatly in America, could you say that the best is yet to come from you?
SdS: I think the best is still to come for me. Last year was a pretty good season, but I think I could have been a little bit better. For sure having that podium in Houston was a big relief for me. I think last year I really matured a lot and everything is coming together even on the F1 side. I really feel ready and think that things are coming into place so that I can be even more successful. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m ready to take on that work in order to be at my best every time I’m in the car.
RF1: The most recent female driver to compete in Formula 1 was Giovanni Amati back in 1992 for Brabham, and since then only men have lined up on the grid in the sport. In stark contrast to Formula 1, seven female drivers including yourself have competed in the IndyCar Series since 1999. Why do you think America has become a more successful option for female drivers, including those from Europe such as yourself and Pippa Mann?
SdS: I don’t think that IndyCar in the U.S. is easier, but what Danica [Patrick] managed in IndyCar kind of opened more doors so that the people in the U.S. are more used to seeing women drivers. Now Formula 1 is a completely different animal because it is the highest level of racing that you can get to and when you look at it there’s only 24 places on the grid and so many race car drivers out there. For sure it’s difficult and I think there are a lot of things out there that have to go your way along with all the hard work that has to be done to achieve that goal. I don’t think it was easier in the U.S., but I think they were more open to women in the past.
RF1: Continuing on from the last question, what do you think has been the major barrier between woman and Formula 1?
SdS: It’s kind of hard to say what the major barrier to Formula 1 is, but in my opinion in order to get to Formula One you have to be really competitive in other series. You don’t get to F1 just because. So far I’ve been able to achieve results in other categories, so I think that’s why I’m being taken serious for this next step to come into Formula One. I think the main thing is to be competitive and really fast in a race car.
RF1: During the 2014 season you will undergo a training programme with Sauber in a bid for you to secure your superlicence and then progress to a full-time drive with the Swiss outfit in Formula 1. Due to the differences between Formula 1 and IndyCar, what will you find longer to adapt to and why?
SdS: There’s going to be a lot of testing. It’s a little bit hard for me to say how difficult it’s going to be because I haven’t sat in a Formula One car yet. I think the biggest challenge for me coming from the U.S. is that I’m really familiar with the tracks there, but I haven’t had a chance to race in Europe for a couple of years. I think learning the tracks and also how the car is, since the car is going to be quite different from what I’m used to driving. I think the downforce levels are much higher in Formula One, so getting to know how everything works will probably be the biggest thing I have to adapt to. If you look at an F1 outfit there’s about 300 people working there, so I will need to get into the F1 mode from that respect as well. I don’t think it will be that much different, but there are a lot of little pieces that you have to get accustomed to and feel comfortable with.
RF1: For the 2014 Formula 1 season, double points have been introduced for the final round at Abu Dhabi in November, causing considerable unrest within the paddock. With IndyCar issuing points down to the 33rd classified finisher and for acquiring pole, leading at least one lap and leading the most laps, what are your thoughts on F1 adopting double-points?
SdS: The double points… I think it’s interesting. In IndyCar they have points down to 33rd which I think is a bit strange too. I think from both categories there’s a lot of good and not so good. But at the end of the day, that’s the rule and it is what it is. Whichever series you compete in, you just have to get the best out of it that you can.
RF1: Finally, why have you decided to enter the world of Formula 1 with Sauber? Was it purely due to the Swiss connection or were there other factors involved?
SdS: For sure the Swiss connection is nice, but it’s not the main factor as to why we were able to do this with Sauber. As a team Sauber has such a legacy. For a private team they’re really competitive and for me it’s always been about going to Formula One in the right circumstances, with an outfit that’s competitive. Sauber happens to be Swiss which is really nice, but in general how the team is and how they work is what’s most important. I’m really comfortable with Sauber and I’m looking forward to the work that we’re going to accomplish together.
Many thanks to Trish Donovan and Simona de Silvestro for the communication and time taken to complete this interview.
Picture(s) Copyright © Sauber Motorsport AG & Forrest Mellott, Chris Owens & John Cote/IndyCar Media Service