They don’t call Simona de Silvestro the “Iron Maiden” for nothing. The Swiss race car driver is the first woman to join the American Formula E racing team, making her the first woman to also score points in the series. As an Andretti Autosport IndyCar series racer, Simona launched her career as the winner of the Atlantic race at the 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach, making her the second woman to win in that series and putting her on the map as a star in the making.
MiLLENNiAL met up with Simona at the 2016 Formula E Long Beach Grand Prix where we learned how she got into racing and what her plans are for Formula E.
When did you realize you were good at driving and that you could make a career out of it?
It started with my Dad. He has a dealership in Switzerland and I was always around cars. He did a go-kart demonstration when I was about 4-years-old and I fell in love with it and wanted a go-kart. He gave me one when I was six and that’s how it started.
I played different sports but racing was always what I wanted to do.
How did you turn pro?
When I was racing in Europe and I made the decision to come to the US in 2006. We didn’t quite have the money to stay in Europe and I found a sponsor here in the US to come race. It was planned for one year and that ended up being eight years. My entire career has pretty much been shaped here in the US.
What challenges have you had to overcome being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated sport?
It’s hard to say because racing is difficult in any case whether you are male or female. But the biggest thing as a woman is maybe that you have to prove yourself more. Every time you are in the car, everyone is going to watch more carefully what you are doing. Those are maybe the factors that are a little bit trickier in getting the right opportunity. Racing is very dependent on the team you have around you and the car you have and to be able to get that chance, you have to fight a little harder.
You are the first female electric car racing driver to drive for the American team, what did that do for your career and how does that affect you moving forward?
Well, it was interesting because a year and a half ago I was trying to get into Formula One and it didn’t quite happen the way I wanted it to so I ended up coming back to the States to race in Indy cars. I did the first two races last year with Andretti and then one of the sponsors decided to come into the new Formula E and that’s how I ended up doing it. It’s quite different but a lot of fun.
Is Formula E going to be a stepping-stone to getting into Formula One?
No Formula E is quite it’s own little niche and it’s going to grow as it’s own sport, so hopefully I get to stay in Formula E and really get established here.
What are your interests outside of racing?
I like doing different sports, but I like going to the movies or chilling with friends and trying different restaurants. Normal stuff. I try to relax. We are quite busy with racing, so usually when you go home you try not to think too much about racing and try to be as normal as you can.
Give me one thing most fans would not suspect about you?
I am scared of heights. I don’t really like flying even though I spend most of my time in airplanes.