She put the pedal to the metal in a male dominated world but Susie Wolff has now decided to put the brakes on her bid to shatter Formula One’s glass ceiling.
Wolff has come closer than any woman in 20 years, taking part in practice sessions for the Williams team but never reaching the start line. Now she has chosen to quit.
The 32-year-old said the current F1 set up means her dream “isn’t going to happen,” but also believes her gender wasn’t the key thing holding her back.
“I always said it was my goal to get onto that starting grid because I wanted to prove what I was capable of — I managed that every time I got in the car at the test sessions that I competed in,” she told CNN Sport.
“But the pinnacle of the sport is on the grid and every driver is fighting for one of those spaces. I don’t believe I didn’t make it onto the grid just because of my gender.”
Wolff graduated to Formula One from the German Touring Cars series, and became a test and development driver for Williams in 2012.
She took part in four practice sessions across the past two seasons, becoming the first woman for two decades to do so.
But when an injury to Valtteri Bottas raised the possibility that she could get a start in the Malaysian Grand Prix in March, Williams said she was not under consideration.
In a blog explaining her decision she said: “I got oh so close. I fought very hard to make it onto that starting grid but the events at the start of this year and the current environment in F1 the way it is, it isn’t going to happen.
“My progression into Formula One came to represent so much more than a racing driver simply trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
“I rode the wave, was energized by all the support and fought hard. There were those who wanted it to happen. Those who didn’t.”
Wolff didn’t elaborate in her Huffington Post blog on who didn’t want it to happen as she insisted that women will compete on the F1 grid at some point in the future.
“Do I think F1 is ready for a competitive female racing driver that can perform at the highest level? Yes. Do I think it is achievable as a woman? Most definitely. Do I think it will happen soon? Sadly no.”
With her racing career finished, Wolff is planning an initiative with the Motor Sports Association — Great Britain’s governing body — that will celebrate the women that already compete in the sport.
A central pillar of her work will also be to inspire the next generation of female F1 drivers by showing that motorsport “is not just for boys.”
“Historically motorsport is seen as a male dominated world, which I think it was in the past, but it is changing and changing in a very organic way,” she explained.
“There’s more women coming into the sport and they are there because they’re the best people for the job. There’s more women off track than on track sadly.
“There’s no clear role model on that starting grid every F1 race weekend and that’s the main issue.
“We need to get more little girls at a young age so that the best will rise to the top and they need to see it to believe it.”
When asked by CNN anchor Alex Thomas if she was just being diplomatic about the role of women in F1, she said “not at all.”
“F1 is a very performance-based environment, it doesn’t really matter what your gender is,” she added.
“There’s nobody pushing to get equality in the paddock — you are simply in the job you do for your performance and the performance you bring. Gender really is a secondary.”
Wolff went on to insist that the stopwatch is king in F1.
“Don’t forget in my sport, when I’m out on track I’m wearing a helmet — nobody sees what I look like, nobody sees my gender.
“All that really matters is the stopwatch and the performance that I show.”
Michelle Payne struck a blow for equality earlier this week when she became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup — the country’s most prestigious horse race.
After her triumph in the $6.2 million race the 30-year-old said “chauvinists” who doubted the ability of women to compete alongside men could “get stuffed.”
So did Wolff have a wry smile to herself when she saw Payne’s reaction?
“I thought her achievement was just fantastic and the comments — you can say that when you’ve won the race because actions speak louder than words,” Wolff said.
“She went out there and did a fantastic job and I thought her comments were fantastic because horse racing is quite similar to the world of motorsport.”