Why Porsche Formula E test driver Simona de Silvestro is known as Iron Maiden
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 29 May 2011. Some 40 of the best single-seat racers in the world are getting ready to tackle the 95th running of the Indy 500. This prestigious race is one of the world’s greatest motor racing challenges, on a par with the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Among them is one driver no-one expected to see take the start: Simona de Silvestro.
Ten days earlier, during a practise session around the four kilometre Brickyard, Silvestro’s Dallara had suffered catastrophic suspension failure, sending her spinning into the catch fence before bursting into flames. Despite the huge impact and second degree burns to her right hand, Silvestro would go on to qualify for the 500 just one day later, clocking an average of 224 mph (360 km/h). “That’s the day the Americans gave me the wonderful nickname,” de Silvestro laughs. “Despite suffering burns on both hands, I got straight back into the car the next day and managed to qualify. Since then, they call me Iron Maiden and dropped the Swiss Miss moniker. I like that.”
De Silvestro is a racer who has truly earned her stripes. For more than 15 years now the versatile Swiss 31-year-old has stood her ground in the male-dominated arena of motorsport. In paddocks around the world, her openness and humour have made her extremely popular, while her talent on track has earned her comparable levels of respect. Delighted as she was with her new nickname, initially de Silvestro was blissfully unaware of the heavy metal band it referenced.
And Simona has always loved speed. After successful outings in single-seaters throughout Europe, she moved to the United States at the age of 18. Just two years later she made her breakthrough, scoring victories in the top-class Atlantic Championship and the junior championship of the American IndyCar and Champ-car series. “I’ve never capitalised on the fact that as a woman I’m a rarity in motor racing,” she says. “I let the lap times speak for themselves – that’s all.”
IndyCar brought her even more recognition and respect, and in 2014, the Sauber Formula 1 team signed de Silvestro as a test driver, one of the highest rungs in single seater racing. Later she would go on to contest both Formula E and the Australian Supercars Championship.
A challenge for all our Porsche’s factory drivers during lockdown has been keeping fit, but de Silvestro is in her element at home. “I’m a child of the mountains,” she says. “I climb the slopes in summer and I love skiing downhill fast in winter. Fortunately, there are a lot of opportunities for sporty people like me close to where I live on Lake Zurich.”
In addition to her daily exercise regime, a new activity was recently added to her lockdown roster. “I’ve been discovering the joy of cooking. I always used to rotate four or five of my favourite dishes, but now there are many more on the menu. Seven years ago I bought my father a pasta-making machine. Now we’ve finally christened it together.”
The Porsche works driver, who will soon be at the helm of a 911 GT3 R in the ADAC GT Masters, combines absolute focus with unwavering ambition, even in the kitchen: “I’m constantly coming up with new dishes, so if the virus keeps us in lockdown for a few more months, maybe I’ll be able to publish my own cookbook. But, I’d much rather be racing!”