Desire Wilson

Desiré Wilson: Formula 1’s trailblazing driver

04 October 2019

Explore the career of Formula 1’s most successful female driver.

Sophie Meeks, Exhibitions & Living History Officer at The Silverstone Experience, explores the career of Formula 1’s most successful female driver.

Amongst the many interesting exhibits at The Silverstone Experience you’ll find an eye-catching racing helmet and suit, found in the second of our ‘racing eras’ stations. These belonged to Desiré Wilson, one of the trailblazing women in motorsport in the 1970s and 80s. Her helmet is unique because she wanted to create something feminine, and settled on deep blue with a yellow crown. Desiré is still a strong advocate for women within motorsport and recently presented the winner’s trophy at the Brands Hatch round of the all-female racing championship, the W Series.

Born in 1953, Desiré grew up in South Africa and from a young age was drawn to motorsport and encouraged to pursue it. I was lucky enough to sit down with Desiré to discuss her career and also talk about what it was like being a female racing driver striving for a Formula 1 seat. “Being a woman was pretty difficult,” she said. “They hated being beaten by a woman.” But beaten they were. Desiré moved to England to further her career and enjoyed much success in the Formula Ford 2000 races in 1977. Having impressed, she was entered into the 1978 Aurora British F1 championship, which was a big step up. She showed her skill in the rain at Zolder that year, becoming the first woman ever to lead a Formula 1 race.

Desiré went one step further in 1980 and enjoyed her most successful year to date. She became the only woman to win a Formula 1 race when she sailed to victory at Brands Hatch in the Aurora British F1 Championship. Her form continued, partnering with Alain de Cadenet in the World Sports Car Championship, winning the Monza 1000km and then going on to win the 6hrs at Silverstone back- to-back.

Desiré had cemented her position as one of the most successful female racing drivers of all time. Unfortunately, she never managed to fully realise her dream of driving in the Formula 1 World Championship, but believes it will not be long until another woman joins her as a Formula 1 race winner.

Published on 04 October 2019

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