Porsche has announced Simona de Silvestro as its first female works driver. Announced alongside Thomas Preining as test and development driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team, de Silvestro and Preining will carry out simulator work in Weissach as well as attending select Formula E races. The two drivers will also be available to the team for in-season testing.
Born on September 1st, 1988 in Thun, Switzerland, the 31 year-old de Silvestro brings useful single seater experience to the team. Her career began with a drive for Cram in Italian Formula Renault before she moved to Formula BMW USA, scoring five podiums on her debut season. Several seasons in Toyota Formula Atlantic followed, with a 2008 win at Long Beach followed by an excellent run in 2009, where she took three wins and led the championship for much of the season, eventually finishing third overall.
Simona made her IndyCar debut in 2010 and was crowned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, starting P22 but eventually finishing 14th overall. 2011 saw a fastest lap at Sao Paolo in a crazy race where she was criticised for racing the leaders as they made their way through the pack. De Silvestro was nine laps down after an early accident with another driver – perhaps if the leaders were quick enough, they should have just breezed past.
The uncompetitive 2012 HVM Lotus left her with little pace to challenge for wins. A switch to Team KV IndyCar in 2013 brought a podium in Houston: Simona becoming only third-ever woman to stand on the IndyCar podium. In 2014, she came to Formula 1 as a member of the Sauber team under the guidance of Monisha Kaltenborn, but the agreement ended early as financial issues led to the team terminating the relationship. In truth, Sauber had royally screwed up their driver arrangements for the year, ending up with five drivers under contract and one driver taking them through the courts. The team was eventually sold.
In 2015m, Simona raced for Andretti in IndyCar, finishing P4 in New Orleans and inside the top twenty at the 99th Indy 500. Later that year, she made her Formula E debut in London. She stayed with Andretti for the 2016 Formula E season, becoming the first (and so far only) woman to score points in the series. She has spent the last three years racing Nissans in Australian Supercars but is excited to return to single seaters with Porsche.
“It is a great honour to work for this prestigious brand,” said whoever wrote the PR for Simona. “I am really looking forward to my new role as test and development driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team. Over the last few years, I have gained a lot of experience from my previous involvements in Formula E. I will do my best to help Porsche on the road to success.”
After several disappointing seasons apparently through no real fault of her own, joining the Porsche team is a good opportunity. Simulator work is key – hopefully she can outpace young Preining in the virtual car and earn a run in competition. However, as a former Carrera Cup Deutschland champion and a contracted Porsche Young Professional with three top four GTE-AM finishes to his name as part of Gulf Racing, the 21 year-old Preining is already well established with Porsche as a hot shot on his way to the top.
It’s going to be tough for Simona to chip away at that level of embeddedness, but I hope she gets more than token attention at Weissach. As the dad of three daughters and having worked with several capable female competitors over the years, the gender imbalance in motorsport is shameful. It’s about time Porsche had a woman in their driver lineup: there’s room for more women in the supervisory boards also.