The Olympic downhill skiing champion reveals how she wanted to become an F1 driver, why she wanted to race against men, and how she is different to Mikaela Shiffrin
Lindsey Vonn almost became a Formula 1 racing driver.
On In Depth with Graham Bensinger the retired alpine skier who won Olympic gold and is considered one of the best-ever females in the sport, told a fascinating story (while driving at high speed!) about how she almost switched one speed-based sport for another.
The American also revealed that her success on the snow came at a mental cost, and you can read more about that here.
As an alpine skier, Vonn made a living out of speed.
With over half of every season spent in Europe, opportunities arose for her to test her speed in away from the snow too.
In Germany for example, many main roads or ‘autobahns’ have no speed limit for certain vehicles. It was a perfect match for Vonn.
“I drove in Spielberg in Austria on a Formula 1 track,” the 35-year-old said.
“Another time, on the autobahn we went 130 (mph). I was with (Germany’s three-time alpine skiing Olympic champion) Maria Hofl-Reisch driving her (Audi) R8.
“There’s a good stretch south of Munich where there’s no speed limit and she was like, ‘Come on Lindsey you’re not going very fast’. Of course I then had to show her what was up!
“But on the racing track we went much faster. I had a tendency to go a little too fast on the corners and I would spin out.
“I was thinking about switching to Formula One and trying to be a driver, but I couldn’t because they wanted me to fully commit to three years and they were like, ‘You can’t get pregnant and you can’t do anything’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I really want to do that’.
“That would have been something that was very exciting for me and the person I am. I would love to do that.
Vonn’s exploration into Formula 1 came through conversations with her sponsor, and owner or two F1 teams, Red Bull who also advised her that if it didn’t work out, then she could also try NASCAR stock car racing in America.
As well as the lure of some fast-paced action, Vonn also found the financial rewards on offer in F1 alluring.
“The salary of one racer is probably (equal to) the total amount of money ski racing has for their annual budget as a sport. I bet Lewis (Hamilton, a six-time F1 champion) makes way more money than all of ski racing combined.
During Vonn’s ski career, in a bid to improve her speed she once petitioned to be allowed to compete against men on the World Cup circuit.
She had been training regularly with men for years and realised that the gap between the sexes was not as large as it was perceived.
“A couple of times we did video analysis and I was right there (time-wise) with Aksel (Svindal, Norway’s two-time alpine skiing Olympic champion), arguably one of the greatest downhill skiers of all time. I was like 200ths or 300ths of a second behind him. Could I be competitive with the men?
“I trained as they’re better than I am and I wanted to push myself and this would be the ultimate… like what Billy Jean (King the tennis player) did or (golfer) Annika Sorensen did. It’s not so much that you want to beat the guys but you want to be a better athlete.
Ultimately Vonn’s petition never became a reality, with many of the sport’s traditionalists refusing the idea that women should be allowed to compete with men due to biological differences in strength.
“I think some guys were worried that I’d beat them. I got a lot of support from a lot of people like Aksel and the Norwegian team who wanted me to try it,” Vonn continued.
“I’d train with the Canadian guys and they always had a bet that whoever got beat by me would have to do the dishes that day. There were people doing the dishes, trust me!
“Knowing myself I’d probably kill myself trying too hard and doing something stupid.” - Linsey Vonn during In Depth with Graham Bensinger
The interview then moved onto the topic of compatriot Mikaela Shiffrin.
With both women boasting superlative World Cup records and Olympic gold medals, comparisons between the two are constant.
While the pair worked together where they could, their difference in approach to skiing meant that they were never close friends.
“The first day she came to train with us… I told her I know it can be challenging when you don’t know anybody and my door is always open, and I’m here to help,” Vonn said.
“We always helped each other with our course reports.
“We didn’t have a challenging relationship but she did her own thing, didn’t want to be involved or have my help or anyone’s help for that matter.
“I always think, as a pro athlete and the greatest of all time, that it’s important to help others. You’re in a role that can positively impact so many people and I don’t feel like that’s being utilised in a way that it could be.
“Everyone has their own path and I don’t hate on that."