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Formula One remains largely a man's world

Wednesday - 5/8/2013, 5:37pm  ET

In this photo taken on Jan. 29, 2012, and released by the Williams F1 Team on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, Susie Wolff poses for a photo at the Monte Blanco Circuit in Spain. From the moment development driver Susie Wolff first got into her Williams car, she has heard the snickers from those who questioned whether women belong in Formula One. But rather than let the doubters discourage her, she said is focused on achieving her dream of becoming the first women on the grid in more than three decades. (AP Photo/Williams F1 Team, Malcolm Griffiths)

MICHAEL CASEY
AP Sports Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- From the moment Susie Wolff first got into her Williams car, she heard the snickers from those questioning whether women belong in Formula One.

There were more than a few cynical looks from teammates before the development driver completed 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Silverstone's international circuit last year. And more recently, the series' only female driver has been the target of Stirling Moss, who suggested women don't have the mental aptitude to compete at the highest level.

Rather than let the doubters discourage her, the unflappable Scot said she is focused on achieving her dream of becoming the first women on the grid in more than three decades.

"You can let it bother you or you can carry on and don't pay much attention to it," Wolff told The Associated Press.

"I chose the second one," she said. "There will always be the comments. There always will be stereotypes that women can't drive. When I hear the comments, it just makes me more determined to prove them wrong."

Danica Patrick's high-profile role in IndyCar and NASCAR, where she became first woman to win the pole at the Daytona 500, has spurred expectations that Formula One would follow suit.

But it hasn't happened, partly due to what Wolff and others said is a more conservative attitude about women in motor sports in Europe and the big financing needed for a driver to succeed. Wolff also said Americans "love to see the underdog do well, love to cheer someone on."

Still, Wolff is being billed as the best chance for a woman to break a Formula One drought that dates to the 1970s.

Italy's Lella Lombardi was the last woman to race in F1, finishing sixth at the 1975 Spanish GP, which was shortened due to a fatal accident. The first woman to race was another Italian Maria Teresa de Filippis, debuting in 1958 and taking part in five races.

Several others since then have been signed by teams but never made a start.

Maria de Villota, a Spaniard who drove for Marussia, was the sport's last full-time female driver since Italy's Giovanna Amati was with the Brabham team in 1992. But de Villota's career ended prematurely in July when she crashed into a team support vehicle in her first test of the team's MR-01 car. She lost her right eye in the accident and has not returned.

The absence of women in a sport that otherwise has plenty of diversity has been the talk of the paddock in recent weeks after Moss suggested they weren't cut out for F1 racing. The 83-year-old Brit won 16 Grand Prix races and raced against de Filippis.

"We've got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you're trying to win," Moss told the BBC. "'The mental stress, I think, would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don't think they have the aptitude to win a Formula One race."

Three-time Formula One champion Jackie Stewart said Moss was wrong, telling the AP that women have the mental and physical skills to succeed in F1 -- just as they do in tennis or swimming. He said it would be "fantastic" to see a woman on the starting grid, especially in terms of attracting a new audience for the sport and sponsors that cater to women.

But he said there just aren't enough women getting into the sport.

"There are a huge number of boys who are karting week in and week out. The number of young girls doing the same is a fraction of the number of boys doing it," Stewart said. "There is no single driver in F1 today who has not spent the early part of their life in karting. Now, if you very conservatively have a million karting who are male and you have got 10 or 20 or 30 or even 100 women, the batting average would tell you there's not a big chance of them getting through to be the extraordinary talents that take a driver to Formula One."

Wolff, who started racing at the age of 8 after her parents bought her and her brother karts, was often one of the only girls on the track for most of her career.

"I realized at 13 or 14 when I said, OK, I wanted to be professional racing driver, there wasn't anyone to look up to that I could aspire to or get inspiration from," said Wolff, who is now 30. "That somehow didn't stop me. I just figured I would do it because it was my passion. I wasn't on a path to prove a point about women drivers."

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