Story Highlights

  • Female drivers in Formula One
  • Formula Expo and the US Grand Prix
  • Caterham supports Petrov decision


Female drivers in Formula One


Last week Marussia announced Maria de Villota was appointed as official test driver for the Anglo-Russian team. De Villota, daughter of Spanish former Formula One driver Emilio de Villota, will however not participate in any Formula One race in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, de Villota’s dream has come true, she finally found a place in Formula One, "I am very happy to be joining the Marussia F1 Team test driver programme. This is a fantastic opportunity to work closely with a Formula One team and gain important experience to help me progress my career, including the chance to drive the new car later in the year at the Abu Dhabi test.”

And she added, “ I will be joining the team trackside so I'm looking forward to working alongside them at the first race next weekend and this can only help my future ambition to step up to Formula One racing.”

Maria De Villota, test driver, Marussia F1 Team
Maria De Villota, test driver, Marussia F1 Team

Photo by: xpb.cc

Female drivers in Formula One are a rare breed, only five women have ever participated in a Formula One race. First woman ever to compete in a Formula One race was Italian Maria Teresa de Philippis. She participated in the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix but failed to qualify her Maserati 250F. She did qualify for the Belgium Grand Prix that same year, and finished in tenth place behind Briton Roy Salvadori and Swede Jo Bonnier.

De Philippis also qualified for the 1958 Portuguese and Italian Grand Prix but had to retire from those races with technical problems. In 1959 she again did not qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix this time in a Behra-Porsche. In 1959 Porsche team leader Frenchman Jean Behra died during a supporting race for the 1959 German Grand Prix at the AVUS Ring in Berlin, de Philippis a good friend of Behra, then decided to turn her back to motor racing. De Philippis, born in Naples, Italy, is now 85 years old.

It took another 15 years before another Italian woman, Maria Grazia "Lella" Lombardi tried her luck in Formula One. Lella Lombardi became the first woman to finish a Formula One race in a points scoring position, she finished sixth in the tragic 1975 Spanish Grand Prix on the old Montjuich circuit. A tragic race as five spectators were killed after German Rolf Stommelen had crashed, as a result the race was halted while Lombardi was in sixth position, and as the race was stopped after only completing 29 laps, Lombardi was rewarded with 0.5 championship point.

Davina Galica
Davina Galica

Photo by: Greg Nichols

It was also her best performance, Lombardi participated in 17 Grands Prix, started in 12 of them, and drove for March, RAM and Williams. She made her debut during the 1974 British Grand Prix, but failed to qualify, her last race was the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix in which she finished in 12th position. Lombardi died of cancer on March 3, 1992 at the age of 50.

Number three on the list is Briton Divina Mary Galica, who actually started her sports career in skiing, she was very successful as she participated in the 1964, 1968,1972 and 1992 (!) Winter Olympics. But Galica was also attracted to motor sports and in 1976 she tried to qualify for the British Grand Prix in a Surtees, but failed. In 1978 she again tried to qualify for the Argentinean and Brazilian Grands Prix, but again failed. Although she officially participated in three Grands Prix, she never participated in the actual race.

Two years later in 1980, South African Desiré Wilson failed to qualify for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in a non-works Williams, it was the one and only Formula One race she participated in and like her colleague Galica never participated in the race itself. She later continued her motor racing career in the American CART open-wheel series (1982-1984,1986), the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1983,1983,1991) and the Indy Lights (1986 and 1991).

The fifth and last woman on the list is Italian Giovanna Amati. After having started her career in the Italian Formula Abarth and Italian Formula Three series she moved on to the F3000 Championship in 1987. She scored her best result in 1991 when she finished in seventh place during the penultimate round of the F3000 Championship at the French Bugatti circuit.

Desire Wilson, 1952 Glockler Porsche
Desire Wilson, 1952 Glockler Porsche

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

After a test in a Benetton, arranged by Flavio Briatore, who was her partner at the time, Amati started her Formula One career in 1992 in a Brabham BT60B Judd, but failed to qualify for the first three races of the season in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. To make things worse, her sponsorship deal fell through and as a result she was replaced by Damon Hill for the remainder of the 1992 season. After Formula One Amati was active in sportscar racing, she is now 49 years old and writes for Italian media and is occasionally TV commentator.

And back to de Villota, the 32-year old Spanish lady has admitted she only has a test role at Marussia, “I am available but I am a test driver, not the reserve driver.” And if Timo Glock or Charles Pic would not be able to race this season, “Everything is to be decided by the team,” she added. But de Villota will be present at all 20 races this season, and she concluded, “I'm looking forward to working alongside them at the first race next weekend and this can only help my future ambition to step up to Formula One racing!”

Formula Expo and the US GP


Although the United States Grand Prix to be held on November 18 this year has again hit a few bumps after the original promoter of the race, Tavo Hellmund and his Full Throttle Productions company, decided to sue co-investors Bobby Epstein and Red McCombs for ‘improper and unlawful takeover’, the race itself is still very much ‘on’ and the Circuit of the Americas has announced a new promotional activity for the American Formula One fans.

Artist's rendering of the Circuit of the Americas
Artist's rendering of the Circuit of the Americas

Photo by: Circuit of the Americas

Together with Formula Expo, a public event to take place on the weekend of June 16-17 at the Austin Convention Center, the COTA wants to inform the public about Formula One and of course also about the progress of the track currently under construction south-east of Austin, Texas. According to a publication of the COTA, the exhibition “will be a multi-faceted event open to the public, which will provide families and motorsport enthusiasts the opportunity to connect to the race experience, history, technology and prestige of the Grand Prix.”

In a statement, Ian Weightman, founder and president of Formula Expo declared, “We are thrilled with the support and interest being shown for this event, which will allow visitors to really understand why this [F1] is by far the most popular motorsport in the world.”

COTA Circuit President and CEO Steve Sexton was equally enthusiastic, “This is a unique opportunity for businesses, families and motorsports enthusiasts of all backgrounds to engage more closely with the Grand Prix experience while enjoying some of the unique sights and sounds that make Austin a one-of-a-kind destination and fantastic host city. The Formula Expo is sure to be one of many great events that will make the weeks leading up to Austin's Grand Prix unforgettable for visitors from around world.”

Formula Expo stated in a publication earlier this week, “Formula Expo will feature over 120,000 sq. ft. of exhibits and demonstrations from top Formula One teams, as well as the companies creating the sport’s groundbreaking technology. At Formula Expo you will have the chance to meet top drivers and their teams for an early and up-close look at the amazing cars, technology, and rich history that makes this form of motor racing such a compelling sport to more than 600 million people worldwide.”

A Formula One simulator
A Formula One simulator

Photo by: Williams F1

Although the organizers have not disclosed any names, it is expected many current Formula One teams and drivers will be present at the exhibition. The Race Zone will be the domain of the Formula One teams who will be showcasing their cars, and there will be demonstrations of pit crews in action.

Also according to the organizers, “an impressive lineup of racing celebrities” will give interviews and top local musicians will perform on a central stage. There will also be a Formula One History Zone and a Fun Zone, the latter featuring state-of-the-art racing simulators accessible for the public.

The Formula Expo promises all visitors a memorable Formula One adventure, tickets are currently for sale at the website of Formula Expo. Organizers are expecting 35,000 people will visit the exhibition which will be will be held in Halls 1,2 and 3 of the Austin Convention Center in downtown Austin on June 16-17.

Caterham supports Petrov decision


Much to everyone’s surprise it was Vitaly Petrov who hijacked Jarno Trulli’s seat at the new Caterham team just before the start of the season in Melbourne, Australia, but Team Principal Tony Fernandes refuses to admit he hired the Russian solely for his sponsor monies.

“I think he is as good a driver as Trulli, but he obviously brings a Russian commercial element,” Fernandes said about Petrov, hinting he’s not entirely immune to the ‘money argument’. “It gives us the ability to exploit commercial opportunities in Russia.” Perhaps Fernandes was referring to the commercial opportunities for his AirAsia airline, and not his Formula One team, and perhaps he is even looking to expand his business from Asia to the Russian continent.

Vitaly Petrov, Caterham F1 Team
Vitaly Petrov, Caterham F1 Team

Photo by: xpb.cc

But Fernandes is also impressed by Petrov’s C.V. “We've watched Petrov very closely. He's competent enough to be a second driver,” Fernandes added. His words confirm at least that Heikki Kovalainen is the number one driver, and he is not at all worried about his new team mate. “I got along well with Jarno, but a new teammate doesn't change my life in any way," the Finn said. “I have met with Vitaly here in Barcelona and I don't have any concerns. He is definitely a strong competitor but I always give 110 per cent to beat my teammate.”

Petrov is also upbeat about his new team, “The passion and spirit that Tony [Fernandes] and the whole team have to keep moving forwards is infectious, and I am honoured to be able to join them and play my part in helping the team mount a serious challenge to the teams ahead in 2012 and for many seasons to come.”

But today Petrov had enough of being labeled as a ‘pay driver’, and hit out to the highest paid driver on the grid, Fernando Alonso, who interestingly enough only two weeks ago ruled out he could become a pay driver himself one day. “I see no difference between myself and Alonso,” he said, adding, “Everyone knows that he is funded by the money from Banco Santander. Anyway, you only get to F1 because of talent.”

Petrov certainly doesn’t feel sorry for Trulli, as he was himself ousted by Lotus despite having a contract for 2012, a contract that Trulli also thought he had, “Life is hard”, the Russian said regarding Trulli. And to end this episode of On and Off Track where we started, Petrov said about women in Formula One, “They do not have the physical ability and also are not prepared for the high speeds. But everything in life is possible.”

Ooops ….

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One - On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 10