We caught up with Susie Wolff during FIA Formula E Sanya ePrix. This was before we launched Paddock Sorority and the interview was published as a Chinese translation on a Chinese sports website. We think now is a good time to resurface it for more people to read in its original language. We talked about her transition from a driver to team management, her work at Venturi, and the D2BD initiative.
Your parents were more into the racing on two wheels, and they were kind of the inspiration for you to get into motorsport. What made you choose four wheels instead of two wheels?
My parents were always into racing and bikes. They still own the same shop thirty years later. I was into the bikes when I was very young and then I also tried karting. I think for my parents the thought of their little girl racing on four wheels is slightly easier for them to cope with than two wheels. Because as you know two wheels can be very dangerous. But we only started it as a hobby, our family did it for fun and then become more serious when I became more passionate about it.
When you retired from racing, what was your thought process in deciding what was next?
I would like to say there was a master plan behind it but to be honest I didn’t think I would be back in motorsport, with my family situation and the work of my husband that I would no longer be working in motorsport. I saw the difficulties surrounding his position so I was looking at different avenues. I did a bit of TV work because I was at the races anyway, but I knew that wasn’t where my future lies. I was also doing different investment because I was in an investment office. Then I got a call from Gildo Pastor and that started a conversation. From the minute we started talking it just felt right. I’m someone that relies a lot on my gut feelings so I knew this is the right direction for me to take.
As someone who had a long career as a driver, can you talk about the biggest differences you’ve experienced when transitioning into a management role? Does managing a charity prepare you in any way for being the team principal or does it require very different skills?
I think with charity for me the mission is always about the impact we can have and to create something that inspires the next generation and having a lasting effect. Coming into the team principal role on the management side, for me there is much more responsibility for the team. In the end the team is always about the people and the team. There is definitely more responsibility to make sure that we are a functioning organization and that we are being successful and delivering the right result. This comparing to being a driver, it requires a lot of different aspects. As a racing driver, you are very selfish, you are only thinking of yourself and your own success. As a team principal I need every individual to perform at their best in order for the team to perform. From that perspective it was very different. Watching my husband won five titles, I saw first hand how he did it. I can analyze it down to the details. I watched him in different moments, I saw how he coped with challenges, failures, and where are the strengths. Basically that was a blueprint for what I was coming into. There are certain areas I still need to learn more. But I also stand on my own feet to find my own style and not just copy paste what he did. I think with the combination of being a driver, knowing the environment, and having my husband in this position very successfully, allowed me to come in with a bit more knowledge.
Now almost a year in your role at Venturi, was there anything unexpected looking back?
I was expecting that I would be pushed out of my comfort zone. There were moments when I realized the enormity I took on. There are many areas I just had to prioritize and decide what I can achieve now, and what I can achieve in the next 6 months and what can wait till season 5 is done. I’m very happy with how the team has progressed. With our tracks of success, clearly we are moving in the right direction. There is still going to be challenges along the way, that’s racing. It’s not going to be easy, this is a competitive environment which means we need to constantly moving.
When you founded D2BD what did you envision it to be? Now three years in, how would you evaluate where it is right now?
I started it because I thought to myself, what would I wanted as a little 13 year-old with the dream of racing in Formula 1. I had no role model, I had no network, I had nobody I can turn to ask for help or advice or to see how they have done it. If now I’m 13 years old starting again, with D2BD you can join our community, you can have a network of women working here around you. You can email me if you want advices. I’m happy to pass over the right hand. From that perspective I feel like we’ve created a network, a supportive network. Now the next stage is to get FIA to globally make sure we actually inspire young girls, those who are not already in the environment, that there are possibility in motorsport, not just on track but also off track. D2BD and Girls on Track is combined, I really take my hat off to Formula E management. When I came to them together with FIA with the idea of rolling out Girls on Track. They loved it, they wanted to be the platform, they said yes we want to engage more female audience. They immediately gave us a lot of support.
Do you miss being behind the wheel?
Not at all. A lot of people said to me, do you not wish to just jump in the car and do a few laps. I have so many other things going on in my head, no, leave that to Felipe and Edoardo. When we were doing the track walk in HK, it was wet. And I said to Felipe, it’s over to you, those days are finished for me. The thought of trying to understand how the grip works, where is the racing line, those days are over. Even if I weren’t the team principal now, I had a fantastic career, I pushed to the limit, I got the scars I could. I would’ve love to have done a race in formula 1. I didn’t get to do everything but I’m very thankful for the career I had. There are many great drivers who I raced against that never made it that far. I’m thankful, I closed the door and I moved on to the next thing.
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