- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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.

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