With Susie Wolff being confirmed by Williams to run in two Friday morning practice sessions this season, I thought it was appropriate to look at the last female driver who attempted to qualify for a Formula 1 event – Giovanna Amati.
Italian Amati signed for the Brabham team in January 1992 to partner Belgian driver Eric van der Poele after testing for 30 laps driving for the Benetton team at the end of 1991 season. She joined a very select list of women that made it to the top level of motorsport. The others are:
- Maria Teresa de Filippis – 1958-1959 – 5 entries, 3 starts
- Lella Lombardi – 1974-1976 – 17 entries, 12 starts, 0.5 points
- Divina Galica – 1976, 1978 – 3 entries, 0 starts
- Desire Wilson – 1980 – 1 entry, 0 starts
It was clear that Amati was out of her depth when she stepped into the car. In practice for the opening race of the season in South Africa, Amati managed to spin her Brabham on no less than six occasions, and when it came to qualifying, she was more than four seconds behind team-mate van der Poele and nine seconds behind pole sitter Nigel Mansell in his Williams. Van der Poele scraped into the race in twenty-sixth position, but Amati was thirtieth and last and failed to qualify.
It was no better in Mexico for the second round of the year, when Amati was three seconds off van der Poele’s pace. Again she was thirtieth and last, almost nine seconds off pole sitter Mansell’s time. Van der Poele also failed to qualify in a Brabham that was underpowered and under-financed.
Round three was held in Brazil, and again Amati failed to qualify, this time by over ten seconds. It was the last straw for Brabham and despite her bringing in some much needed cash to the team Amati was dropped after Brazil, and was replaced by future world champion Damon Hill. The Brabham team would not see out the year, when money ran dry.
Giovanna Amati’s F1 record
1992 South African GP – 30th – DNQ
1992 Mexican GP – 30th – DNQ
1992 Brazilian GP – 30th – DNQ
It has been twenty-two years since Amati’s failed attempts at qualifying for a formula 1 race, and while Susie Wolff is not in a position to attempt that, to see her compete in an official session will be good to see. While Amati was obviously out of her depth, Wolff’s performance in last year’s young driver test for Williams proved she was not.
“I had a fantastic chance from the team, they took the chance to put me in the car today,” said Wolff. “Many people said they were crazy, why were they wasting a day on me and they took that chance.
“I was happy that I could do a good job and pay them back for that. I saw what he [then Williams test driver Daniel Juncadella] had done and the team were quite impressed with that so that was my goal.
“I was only four-tenths off a Formula 3 European champion, the guy who is rated as an up-and-coming young star, for me that was really important.”
In recent years Katherine Legge and the late Maria de Villota have both tested F1 cars, but none have done so in an official session. At Silverstone with Susie, this will change.
“Competing in two FP1 sessions, alongside an additional full test day this season will be a big step and I am looking forward to the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the FW36 on a grand prix weekend”, said Wolff.
“It’s a challenge that I will relish and it will be a great chance for me to continue assisting the team.”
With Sauber signing Simona de Silvestro to be an affiliated driver, and with the likes of Wolff, Michela Cerruti and Alice Powell coming through, the likelihood of seeing a female racing in Formula 1 becomes a little bit more realistic.
And about time too in my opinion.