Having defined herself as an influential figure in racing through her intense hard-work and talent both behind and away from the wheel of a racing car, Susie Wolff is no stranger to grabbing a challenge with both hands and overcoming it. Her grit, determination and willingness to learn and teach others makes her not only someone I greatly look up to, but also the perfect ingredients for a Team Principal for a ‘life after racing’.
“It was never in the game plan,” Susie tells me as we sit down for this one-to-one interview in the back of the garage for Venturi Formula E Team at Formula E Pre-Season Testing. Despite the torrential rain outside resulting in no running on track, the Venturi team remain busy with their season five driver line-up, Edoardo Mortara and Formula E debutant Felipe Massa, making the most of their time spent with engineers and mechanics.
“I knew I wanted to do something on the more business side of the sport, but this was never a possible career move – Team Principal was not really on my hit list. But, this opportunity came and it just felt absolutely right. I met Gildo Pallanca Pastor many years before because we had discussed me driving for Venturi. That is how the initial contact was there and actually.
“At the time Formula E was in its infancy and I had the opportunity to stay in Formula 1. It was a bit of a no brainer to stay in something so established at such a great time like Williams and I was a bit of a cynic of Formula E at the beginning. I really take my had off to Alejandro and his team for everything they’ve achieved though, because when you walk up and down this pitlane and paddock full of brilliant manufacturing brands it’s a testament to what they’ve achieved.
“I think when Gildo realised that Formula E started to get more competitive with more manufactures entering, he knew that he needed a different structure in his team. Because I had known him over the past, he picked up the phone and the conversation accelerated quickly and we came to a deal.”
As well as bringing a great deal of racing knowledge to the role, Wolff also works closely with a wide range of luxury brands within motorsport. Her most known is probably for She’s Mercedes, a platform they quote as being “dedicated to inspiring, connecting and empowering women to unleash their best”. As well as her work with Mercedes, Wolff has also founded an initiative titled Dare to be Different which connects, inspires and celebrates women within motorsport. Wolff actually became Formula E’s first female Team Principal when her role was confirmed earlier this year, however gender is an irrelevant characteristic when it comes to how she performs in her new management role.
“It is difficult for me to judge because I’m just me doing what I learned to do and following my passion,” Susie states when we mention she is the first female Team Principal the sport has seen in its four seasons. “But, if what I am doing can inspire others, then of course, I see that as something very positive. But, it’s up to me to do this job well. I am very passionate about making sure that this sport is diverse and making sure that we have enough talented young women and girls coming into the sport because I think as long as you are good at what you do, your gender is irrelevant. Put yourself out there to show what you are made of and the opportunities will come. There are so many people who talk about motor sport being such a male dominated environment, and it is, but someone has got to do something about that for it to change.”
When Wolff isn’t fighting the corner for a more gender-balanced pit lane, she is working with Venturi to help brand the organisation as not only one of the most competitive Formula E teams on the grid but also to shout about their proud Monegasque headquarters.
“There are many steps into making it a luxury brand. I’m very lucky that there is a great team of people working with me and on the team and we are most definitely going to make it known that we are made in one country. Monaco. We are one of only motorsport teams in the world to be based out of Monaco. We have a fantastic president in Gildo Pastor who was a regular pioneer within electric automobiles and we have to absolutely create our story. Make sure that our brand is pitched to the right level and that’s something that we’ve been working hard on. We are family and we are not such a big team, like some of the manufacturers and I think we can also use that to our advantage.
Being made in Monaco is clearly a factor that runs deep through the team’s veins, so a driver line-up would be expected to reflect that luxe and glamourous feel that the team so desperately desire. Edoardo Mortara, someone who drove for Venturi during their fourth season is helping carry that high quality calibre into the following season and all with the help of a new, globally-known and hugely-loved, team-mate.
“I think the driver pairing of Felipe Massa and Edoardo is one of the strongest on the grid and both rank very, very highly. Obviously, Felipe, I can rightly say is not just a fantastic talent, but with a wealth of experience and technique he has without a doubt helped us attract the commercial partners and to become more relevant in the paddock. He very much works in perfect harmony alongside Edoardo who is someone with a lot of Formula E experience and I felt the two would work very well. They’re going to be two of the big driving forces within the team. Together, we are on a journey to bring Venturi back to the front.
As for targets next season, things “can’t change things overnight,” Susie claims. “This is a very, very competitive paddock with big brands and big drivers so for us, it is about getting a bit more consistency as a team.”
Image Credits: VENTURI Formula E Team.