Overcoming Pressure: Susie Talks Mental Strength in Motorsport

Susie talks about coping with pressure in competitive environments… 

In motorsport, the margins are fine, there’s no room for error. The expectations are high and the competition is fierce. Intense physical and mental pressure goes hand-in-hand with motorsport.

To cope with and overcome the demand to deliver, every driver and team member needs to foster a certain attitude and this mental strength and resilience is key to every performance.

Although everyone reacts differently to pressure, over time, it can become an asset, with adequate preparation and mental training transforming it into performance and inspiration. 

ROKiT Venturi Racing’s Team Principal Susie Wolff explains how fortitude and tenacity in sport are vital and how, with the right outlook, nerves can be channelled into ambition.

“I think mental resilience is incredibly important, not just in motorsport but at the top level of every sport,” she said. “It’s a key attribute if you want to be successful.

“A lot of different pressures come in competitive environments and if you want to deal with them effectively, it’s imperative that you find a coping mechanism that works for you.

“I have always been someone who thrives on pressure – I love that feeling of butterflies in my stomach, it reminds me that what I’m doing really means something to me.

“Pressure gives me adrenaline and in that respect, I welcome it but it wasn’t always like this for me. At the start of my career I was very nervous and in the beginning I didn’t know how to get the best out of my nerves.

“For me, the key component to getting over my nerves was preparation. If I felt ready for every possible scenario, I felt that I was able to cope better with the pressure I was facing.

“Even now as Team Principal, I still prepare very carefully for the situations that I’m going to face, I consider every eventuality. Sport is a brutal business because there is only ever one winner and you need to be ready for that.

“We all want to win, but when you don’t win, you need to learn from your mistakes so that you can come back stronger than before. To do that, mental resilience is paramount.”

Since commencing her career at the age of eight, Susie has encountered many highs and lows during her 30 years on the motor racing scene.

By facing every struggle with sheer determination and focus, however, she has emerged through every challenge, mostly by following her gut instinct.

“I’ve had a lot of difficult moments in my career but by far the toughest was when I broke my ankle just as I was starting out in British Formula 3.

“I was very young, I lost my sponsor, I lost my seat in the team I was with and I had no idea as to how I was going to get myself back in a racing car.

“I was told I would be hobbling around on crutches for at least three months before I could drive again. Trying to regain the momentum, stay positive and even make ends meet was tough because I wasn’t even able to work.

“At that time, I remember having discussions with my family about calling it a day. Even when things were going better, there were always tough and isolating moments.

“I had to fight very hard, be resilient and very thick skinned. But in the end, I have always had a passion for racing and I’m extremely resourceful. I have always loved what I did and I was very determined and focussed and this definitely helped.

“I’m someone who relies on their gut instinct and that instinct has always told me to keep going. I’ve always followed it and I’ve never allowed myself to lose sight of the end goal.

“Your gut instinct doesn’t always send you on the easiest path, but if you believe or trust in it, I think it sends you on the path to contentment. It sends you on the journey you’re supposed to be on.”

Her experiences as a racing driver put Susie in a strong position as Team Principal with her ability to apply her knowledge from behind the wheel to management. 

“I think my personal journey as a racing driver places me in a unique position as Team Principal because I know what it’s like to be sat in the car on race day, I still have that mindset.

“I know the pressures that a driver faces, I understand how important communication is but also how critical trust is throughout the team.

“A large portion of racing is about trust. There has to be complete trust between a driver and their engineer and that trust has to flow through the entire team to get a good result.

“With my past experiences, I’m able to understand and see the bigger picture. There’s an emotional side to motorsport on the good days and the bad days, but if we didn’t show that emotion, it would mean that we aren’t passionate about what we do.

“Having been involved in motorsport for so long, I know the exactly the kind of energy I want in the team and I know the kind of people that I want to work with. This definitely gives us an advantage moving forward.”