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Girl power: A look at female racers

by Peter Allen

Photos: GP3 Media Service/adac-formel-masters.de

Girl racers have become a hot topic in 2012. While the spotlight is on three ladies debuting in GP3 this weekend, another claimed a brave race victory last weekend…

Women in Formula 1. Historically something of a rare occurance, and as such there’s generally, from most quarters at least, a feeling that we would like to see female drivers on the F1 grid.

2012 has already seen two ladies signed by F1 teams in one role or another. Marussia led the way by making Maria de Villota a test driver at the start of March, with Williams following that by making Susie Wolff a development driver last month.

The reactions to these two pieces of news can be split into to two camps. There were those who felt that this was great that women were being given a chance in F1. And then there were those who questioned these two drivers’ ability.

Here at PaddockScout we’re all about searching out drivers who have what it takes to race in F1. While there are considerations like backing, raw natural talent is still more imporant than anything else.

De Villota, 32, contested five seasons in Spanish F3 between 2011 and 2005, failing to score a podium finish. She then spent a couple of years in touring cars and GTs, finishing third in the ADAC Procar Series in 2007, Germany’s second-string touring car series behind the DTM. It was there she claimed her only major race victory to date. During 2009 she joined the Superleague Formula series driving the Atletico Madrid car, returning during the following season and scoring a best result of fourth. Her Marussia role came after doing private tests with the former Renault team during 2011.

Wolff, 29, began racing single-seaters in Formula Renault UK in 2002. The following year she scored a podium finish and in 2004 she bagged three podiums on her way to fifth in the standings. After starting a couple of British F3 races in 2005 she joined Mercedes in the DTM in 2006. In 2010 she finally scored her first and only points in the series, with a pair of seventh place finishes. Formerly known as Susie Stoddart, last year she married Williams shareholder Toto Wolff.

It’s quite clear then to be totally honest that neither driver has been signed because of their talent. Had Williams signed Wolff up when she was still in Formula Renault, that would have been more than acceptable. But now it is quite clear that it is nothing other than doing a favour for the wife of a shareholder, even if they dubiously claimed that Toto had nothing to do with her hiring. As for De Villota, Marussia’s announcement was somewhat more honest, with John Booth making no mention of her career results whatsoever, because of course that had nothing to do with it.

De Villota and Wolff certainly haven’t been the only female racers being talked about during the early months of 2012. The third GP3 season kicks off this weekend and for the first time there will be a girl on the grid. In fact there won’t be just one girl, or two, but three taking to the track in Barcelona.

The first to be announced was Vicky Piria, at Trident Racing. 18-year-old Italian Piria steps up from Formula Abarth, where she has raced for the past two seasons. After only managing a best result of 14th during her rookie season in 2010, she scored four top ten results during the ten meetings across the Italian and European classifications, where she finished up 15th and 18th respectively. Arguably yet to prove that she is deserving of making the step up, her testing pace indicates she will be amongst the backmarkers.

Next up was Carmen Jorda, signed by Ocean Racing Technology. The 23-year-old Spaniard raced in Spanish F3 (later European F3 Open) for four years between 2006 and 2009, all in the Copa class for older cars. In 2007 she finished fourth in the class with three podiums, but the following year she failed to maintain that progress and could only muster eighth in the class, before coming sixth in 2009. In 2010 she contested five road/street course races on the Indy Lights calendar, scoring a best result of tenth (of 11 finishers). She didn’t race anywhere in 2011, and has often been at the very bottom of the timesheets during GP3 testing.

The third and final lady recruited into GP3 was Alice Powell, to Status Grand Prix. The 19-year-old British driver has driven in Formula Renault 2.0 for the past three years. In 2009 she came 18th in Formula Renault UK with a couple of top ten finishes, finishing ahead of fellow rookies Nick Yelloly and Marlon Stockinger. In 2010 she took a step back into the club-level BARC championship where she won the title with two race wins. 2011 saw her move back up to the main UK championship, finishing ninth overall with a best result of fourth. With just a couple of days of GP3 testing under her belt, she was able to run within the midfield.

Piria and Jorda’s records are clearly pretty questionable, and both look set to struggle this year to differing degrees. Powell meanwhile is the only one with race wins and a championship title under her belt, and is good enough to race in GP3. Her results last year were disappointing for a third year in Formula Renault though, up against several rookies in a small grid.

While all eyes will be on the trio this weekend when their seasons get underway even though none look set to race at the sharp end of the field, another girl won a race last weekend.

Her name is Beitske Visser, a 17-year-old from the Netherlands. Visser has a successful karting career behind her, winning the WSK Master Series in KZ2 and finishing second in the WSK Euro Series in 2010, and a member of the kart manufacturer Intrepid’s driver program.

This year she has made the move into single-seaters, racing in ADAC Formel Masters in Germany. She is driving for the Lotus team, run by Motopark Academy. At the opening round of the season at Oschersleben she claimed a best result of fifth.

At round two last weekend at Zandvoort in her home nation she suffered a heavy accident (video here) in qualifying when the cable to her rear brakes broke. The incident left her in hosptial and forced her to miss the day’s race. She returned to action the following day, finishing race two in eighth place which put her on pole for the reverse grid third race. Although she lost the lead to being with she battled back in front to record a maiden win in just her fifth single-seater race.

While some will point to ADAC Formel Masters not being as strong as Formula Renault UK was, it’s certainly a respectable series with the last three champions being Daniel Abt, Richie Stanaway and last year Pascal Wehrlein. While there are other rookies such as Marvin Korchhofer acheiving better results, Visser is still performing superbly and could well be destined for great things.