Susie Wolff now lives in Switzerland
Susie Wolff now lives in Switzerland

Scots F1 driver Susie Wolff immortalised in glass

Scotland’s F1 driver Susie Wolff has been honoured with a stunning new portrait at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Susie, originally from Oban, has been captured in a striking new portrait, which goes on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this week.

Wolff, who retired from F1 driving in 2015 and is currently Team Principal of Venturi Formula E racing team in Monaco, is also the founder of Dare to be Different, a high-profile initiative that helps to inspire and develop women who work in, or want to work in, the motor sport arena.

This highly unusual portrait sculpture, which has been created by Scottish artist Angela Palmer, recreates in crystal glass one of the personalised racing helmets worn by Susie Wolff during her career in F1.

Formula 1 race helmets are tailor-made to exacting design specifications to provide the maximum physical protection for individual drivers.

To create the portrait, Angela Palmer worked with a team of master glass blowers in Stourbridge near Birmingham (a world-famous centre for glass manufacturing), who made a mould of Wolff’s helmet in brass.

Molten lead crystal glass, at a temperature of 1400°c, was then mouth-blown into the mould, forcing the crystal into every detailed crevice.

The final stage in the process revealed a beautiful and delicate object whose fragility reminds us of the vulnerability (and bravery) of drivers like Susie, as they take extraordinary risks in pursuit of ever-faster speeds.

Susie’s achievements in motor racing together, with her significant initiative to drive female talent in sport and beyond are an inspiration for today’s generation of girls and young women.

Christopher Baker, director of European and Scottish Art and Portraiture, said: ‘Susie Wolff has excelled in the world of motor racing and as an advocate for female talent in sport, and we are delighted that she is now represented in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland in such a fascinating, thought-provoking and unconventional way.

‘This crystal glass racing helmet, based on one of Wolff’s own, and so carefully crafted through the expertise of Angela Palmer and her collaborators, represents a fascinating form of suggestive representation. It is intimate, elegant and intriguing – a sculpture which both refers to the subject’s outstanding success, and moves beyond the boundaries of conventional portraiture’.

Susie Wolff now lives in Switzerland

Susie said: ‘I have the deepest admiration for Angela Palmer and her work so having my helmet as her subject has been a true honour for me. I think the sculpture is stunning and very striking, it’s the most incredible combination of strength with fragility.

‘Seeing the completed piece makes me feel enormously proud and I’m very grateful to Angela for her time and her talent. Just as sport can, art has the capacity to cross so many boundaries like education, race and religion. I’m delighted to see both sport and art combined in such a brilliant and personal piece of work.’

Angela Palmer said: ‘I met my fellow Scot Susie Wolff, and was immediately struck by the strength of her character and her routine acceptance of the risks as a Formula 1 test driver. She was as gifted and fearless as her male counterparts; her goal was not to be the best female driver in the world, but to be the best driver in the world. This was a difficult proposition for many observers who struggled to overcome their prejudice in this male dominated environment.

‘Interestingly, Susie’s helmet played a significant role in bestowing her equal status as a driver: once her helmet was on, no-one knew if she was male or female. The helmet gave her anonymity, and rendered the gender issue irrelevant.

‘I became equally fascinated by that most potent ingredient which attracts so much of the sport’s following – the acute and heightened sense of risk as drivers slice between each other at over 350km/h with only millimeters to spare. I chose crystal for its fragility, to echo the vulnerable membrane of the skull.’

Susie Wolff: Portrait of a Racing Driver by Angela Palmer is numbered one in an edition of four and is on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery now.