British racer Susie Wolff has defended Bernie Ecclestone after he doubted whether women would physically be able to drive a Formula One car fast and in any case, would not be taken seriously.
The comments by the sport's 85-year-old commercial supremo caused a storm on social media, with women racers quick to condemn him, but Wolff felt they need to be put into perspective.
"After hearing Bernie's comments in context and speaking to him today, it's clear we both have the goal of getting a female driver to F1," the Scot, wife of Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff, said on Twitter.
"Through my years in motorsport, he was supportive of my mission to make it onto the starting grid in F1," added Wolff, who in 2014 became the first woman driver in 22 years to take part in a Formula One Grand Prix weekend when she drove in Friday practice at Silverstone for Williams.
No woman has raced in Formula One since 1976
Wolff, now retired from racing, said Ecclestone had agreed last week to support her 'Dare to be Different' initiative to encourage more women into motorsport.
"For me, actions always speak louder than words...Bernie is with us," she added.
Ecclestone, who has made derogatory comments in the past about women and is no stranger to controversy, was interviewed by WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell at an Advertising Week Europe conference on Tuesday.
His comment that "I don’t know whether a woman would be able physically to drive a Formula One car quickly, and even if they could they are never going to be taken seriously" was widely reported.
A full recording of the interview posted later on the conference website showed, however, that Ecclestone had also made some more supportive comments that went largely unreported.
"Today I would love and I would help to get a lady in a Formula One car," he said.
Asked what he would say to a sponsor putting up backing for an all-female team, he replied: "Great. I'd put another $20 million in to make sure it happened."