“I’ve always been alone – but that’s changing”
Simona De Silvestro is one of the world’s best female drivers. After ten years alone at the top, she says the world of racing is changing.
Simona De Silvestro is one of the world’s most respected racers, having driven in IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E and V8 Supercars. What makes the Swiss racer stand out, aside from talent, is her gender: she is a woman in the male-dominated world of racing. Simona has been an in-demand, top flight driver for nearly a decade, after making her IndyCar debut in 2010. But she has almost always been the only woman driving.
“Once you have your helmet on, we all look the same”
Both men and women can compete in the same categories of motorsport, unlike most other sports, but very few women have made it to the top. “As a woman, you have to prove yourself”, Simona says. At the start of Formula E season 5, the 30-year-old Swiss has become a test driver for the Monaco based Venturi team, completing simulator and track work, besides her main job as a driver in the Australian V8 Supercars series.
For Simona, motorsport offers a unique opportunity to compete alongside men at the highest level. “Once you have your helmet on, we all look the same. At the end of the day it’s the result that matters. This makes motorsport so exciting.”
“Having the chance to show what we can do is important”
When Simona entered IndyCar in 2010, only one other woman (Danica Patrick) competed in every round of the season. During her first three seasons in this adrenaline-filled series, where cars chase at speeds of 300 km/h or more through the oval circuits, she proved to be more than competitive, flirting several times with the podium. The breakthrough finally happened in season four in Houston, where she finished second – becoming only the third woman after Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick to reach an IndyCar podium.
These good results did not go unnoticed in her home country. At the end of her fourth season, Simona was invited to join the Switzerland-based Sauber Formula 1 team. However, a year of preparation, including testing F1 cars, saw her lose out on the seat (due to funding issues) – but not on the respect of the racing world. So she went on to join Formula E, racing for Andretti in Seasons one and two and becoming the first woman to score points in an electric racing series. For now, she is still the only woman to have done so.
More women are being encouraged into Formula E, however. Ahead of the first race of season 5, for example, nine female drivers were invited to proof their speed alongside men. “This track time is crucial for getting more women into the series,” Simona is convinced. “Having the chance to show what we can do is important. By now, most of the teams have a female test driver on board. Hopefully, many of us will be able to make our way to the front and open eyes to what we are capable of.”
“Women are getting more power in motorsport”
As women are taking on more significant roles in motorsport – on and off the track – their role is evolving: “I’ve always been on my own, as a test driver or even in Formula E. But that’s changing. There are more women in the garages now, like Susie Wolff coming in as team principal at Venturi.” And the process has just started. “The more women are getting into powerful positions in motorsport, the more they can influence a change to the better.”
“The biggest thing is to be passionate about it”
Simona started on her path to becoming a race car driver very young, beginning in karting when she was just six years old, before moving on to car racing in the United States. “To succeed, you have to truly want to become a driver. You sacrifice quite a lot. You have to live for it.” This can involve some tough decisions. “I left Switzerland [for the US] when I was 16. Of course, you might lose some friends, because you’re not really around, but you also experience so many new things.”
Despite setbacks in her career, including an IndyCar crash that left her with third-degree burns, her passion for racing has never dimmed. “After the big crash in 2011, where I burned my hands pretty badly, I didn’t want to get back in a race car. That was tough.” What saved her was her passion. “Passion is the key to success in racing. I loved cars and really wanted to become a race car driver. So I worked really hard and told the people around me that this was my dream, and they were able to help me.” Any aspiring racer can get there, Simona emphasises: “So don’t be shy and work for it.”