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Wolff will become first female F1 driver since 1992

Queen Street on a Monday morning is not usually the best place to hook up with a stranger, but that was the setting for my first meeting with Susie Wolff, nee Stoddart, over a decade ago.

Susie Wolff will take part in free practice at Silverstone on Friday. Picture: SNS
Susie Wolff will take part in free practice at Silverstone on Friday. Picture: SNS

From the outset, it was obvious the Oban-born youngster was ambitious without being arrogant, and in love with motor cars, and the minutiae of machinery. When she stated during our chat: "I want to be a F1 driver", it might have sounded an unrealistic goal, but for the firm click of the jaw which accompanied the statement.

Now, and to a backdrop of intense publicity and a relentless media itinerary, Wolff is gearing up to create a slice of history by becoming the first-ever Scottish women to compete in Formula One when she participates in Friday's free practice session for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Yet she hasn't forgotten that tete-a-tete in Glasgow all those years ago. "It is pretty hectic at the moment and I am moving from one TV studio to the simulator, then back to another studio, but that Herald [Magazine] piece was one of the first times anybody had ever written about me, so it was special," said Wolff. "And, whatever else I am doing this week, I wanted to make sure I got back in touch."

This attitude helps explain why she is so highly regarded among her peers and has traversed numerous obstacles en route to attaining a significant part of her F1 dream. From her perspective, the incessant chat about her gender tends to obscure what she regards as the crucial question in the equation: namely, does she deserve to be where she is with the Williams team? Because her whole life, ever since she was racing tiny karts at various tracks across her homeland as an eight and nine-year-old, has been spent in the fast lane, whether in DTM, or as a test and development driver in the same milieu as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

"A lot of fuss has been made about the fact I am a woman, but, for me, this is simply the next step on my F1 journey," said Wolff. "I realise it will be a special occasion, and it is great to be involved in what is Silverstone's 50th birthday, but this isn't the final chapter. I have never made any secret of the fact my goal is to make it as an F1 driver.

"As for the gender issue, it's not important to me and it never has been. This isn't comparable to football or tennis where you can see who is doing what and there are separate competitions for men and women. Once we have climbed into the car, and we have put our helmets on, it is down to which of us performs the best and it doesn't matter what sex you are.

"The only thing in my mind is to lay down a marker, not for me, but for the Williams team, and help the guys [Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas] prepare for qualifying and Sunday's race. Everything else - the media attention and the talk about me being a trail blazer - is nice, but it has nothing to do with how I perform."

The history, none the less, can hardly be ignored. The last female to compete, albeit very briefly, in Bernie Ecclestone's domain was Italy's Giovanna Amati in 1992 and there remains a significant section of the petrol head fraternity who argue that F1 should be the sporting equivalent of a lads' mag. It must irk them that Wolff is not only gifted behind the wheel, but possessed of a mischievous sense of humour and a genuine personality, unlike some in the current ranks who make Daleks sound like masters of spontaneity.

Wolff has issued a YouTube video where she explains how and why her accent has changed the longer she stays in Europe (and is married to Austria's Toto Wolff). But, as she explained, she is proud of her Scottish heritage and background.

"I have a Saltire on my helmet and on my racing suit, and I've benefited from the advice of many Scots in my career, so it will be pretty special once we get to Silverstone and my parents join me in the pits," said Wolff. "I am going to be driving the car which gained pole position [for Massa] in Austria, so I know it is fast and although this is a new challenge, I want to help Williams retain the momentum from the last outing. It's a big responsibility, but this is something I have been working towards for a very long time."

There will be more attention on the free practice than is normally the case. Whatever Wolff's own feelings on the matter, much of that will revolve around her maiden appearance in F1.

But one suspects nothing really fazes her these days. "I don't want to be in a man's world and only be there because I am something different," she told The Herald in 2012.

"I want to stand on my own two feet and be independent and compete against the guys."

Susie Wolff has moved on since then. Friday's action should offer a pointer as to how much further she can advance.

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