- The Inside Line
A racer first and foremostKate Walker February 17, 2014
Before I met Simona de Silvestro for the first time, I was warned to expect a bone-crushing handshake. Because I went in prepared, I emerged with all bones intact, but there's no denying that de Silvestro is incredibly strong.
We were both taking part in a Sauber event in Austin last year, and without thinking had both turned up wearing enough grey that we looked like we were in team colours. Talk turned to the prospect of an F1 seat for Simona, and we all agreed that having a - quick - Swiss driver in a Swiss team would be no bad thing when it came to seeking out local sponsorship. None of us thought to mention that she was a girl.
The thing about Simona de Silvestro is that, first and foremost, she is a racer. She's got the sort of balls and determination that saw her climb back into her replacement car and qualify for the 2011 Indy 500 after suffering second degree burns to her hands in a shunt caused by tyre failure. There was no doubt in her mind that she would get back in the car - the only question was whether or not she'd be able to fit her racing gloves over her bandaged hands.
Very early on in her career, de Silvestro took the decision to promote herself as a racer first and foremost and a woman second. You do not - and will not - see her on the cover of lads' mags with her race suit unzipped to the navel. By not engaging publicly with her gender, but solely with her job and her results, Simona has managed to avoid being pigeon-holed into the lucrative but demoralising 'girlracer' market.
It's been heartening to read coverage of de Silvestro's Sauber signing, and to see that the bulk of newsprint has been dedicated to saying how fast, how ballsy, how good she is, without qualifying any of those statements with the damning caveat 'for a girl'.
One of my good friends came up with the excellent saying 'I'm not racist, I'm motor-racist'. In other words, put a driver in a cockpit and I won't form an opinion until I see how fast they are. And from the global media reaction to the news that Simona is on her way to a likely F1 drive it looks as though attitudes are finally switching to a more motor-racist perspective. And that's the only sort of racism we can all support.