LONDON (Reuters) - Susie Wolff made her full test debut with former champions Williams on Friday, the biggest step by a woman driver in Formula One for more than 20 years, with race regulars paying her compliments.
“I think she was pretty good, she was pretty quick and that’s really fantastic to see a lady driving Formula One,” Ferrari’s Felipe Massa told reporters after the final day of a young driver test at Silverstone.
“I was really happy when I saw the lap times and pretty happy for her.”
Wolff, now 30, may not be a young driver but she was as thrilled as any of those making their test debuts after completing 89 laps and setting the ninth fastest time of the 16 drivers on track during the day.
Her best lap of one minute 35.093 seconds compared to the day’s fastest of 1:32.894 set by triple champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull.
“It was important for me to show I had the performance,” the Scot, wife of Mercedes motorsport head and Williams shareholder Toto Wolff, told reporters.
“It was fantastic today. The team did a great job getting me through the day, talking me through everything step by step.
“Physically it wasn’t easy but it was what I was expecting. I was well prepared so it was completely manageable,” added the development driver who spent seven seasons racing in the DTM (German Touring Car) series but scored only four points.
Formula One has not had a female driver in decades, with Italian Giovanna Amati the last to try to get on the grid when she failed to qualify in 1992. Compatriot Lella Lombardi was the last to start a race, in 1976.
Wolff has taken part in straight-line aerodynamic tests, without other racing drivers present, and as development driver was the first to drive this year’s car.
“After such a tough end to my DTM career, many people presumed that I was just always at the back and wasn’t quick enough but I think today can show that that was possibly an unfair judgment,” said the Briton.
Spaniard Maria De Villota was appointed test driver for Marussia last year, before she lost an eye in an accident during an aerodynamic test in England. However she never took part in a general test with other drivers.
Britain’s Katherine Legge also tested a Minardi in Italy in 2005.
Race drivers such as Vettel and Massa were limited on Friday to testing the new type of Pirelli tire to be introduced at next week’s Hungarian Grand Prix after a spate of blowouts at last month’s British round at Silverstone.
Massa, who suffered a near-fatal head injury when struck by a bouncing spring that came off compatriot Rubens Barichello’s car in Hungary in 2009, said they seemed more consistent.
“For construction and safety it is better - and nothing has happened here,” the Ferrari driver, who suffered one of the race failures, told reporters. “There were no blowouts or punctures like we saw in this race. That is the most important thing.”
Pirelli motorsport head Paul Hembery said the test had been useful.
“The established performance of the 2012 structure, consolidated with the speed of the current compounds, is set to provide an interesting mix of strategies for the races ahead,” he added.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Clare Fallon