Sauber signing raises hopes of ending F1's wait for female driver
Sauber have taken a giant stride towards ending Formula One's long delay without a female driver.
The Swiss-based marque have appointed home-grown Simona De Silvestro as an affiliated driver, which will see the 25-year-old initially be involved in a preparation programme with the team.
That will include on-track testing, simulator training, as well as mental and physical preparation in order for De Silvestro to gain the necessary super licence that will allow her to compete in F1.
After leaving Switzerland for the United States in 2006, the 25-year-old competed in Formula BMW USA and then the Atlantic Championship.
Since 2010 De Silvestro has taken part in the IndyCar Series, winning the Indy 500 'Rookie of the Year' award in her debut campaign.
Last year, in the first of two races at the Grand Prix of Houston, De Silvestro became the first woman in IndyCar history to claim a podium finish at a street circuit when she was runner-up behind last year's champion Scott Dixon.
Believing De Silvestro can make the grade, Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said: "After four years in IndyCar, Simona's ambition is to enter Formula One in 2015.
"We regard her as a very talented race driver, and we therefore have decided to take her on board as an 'affiliated driver' and support her on her way to the pinnacle of motorsport."
Recognising the opportunity afforded to her, De Silvestro said: "This is a major step towards me achieving a life-long dream.
"I'm so happy to have the opportunity to take this step with such a great team.
"Sauber is a team with a legacy, and the only Swiss team in Formula One, which I think makes this even more exciting.
"I can't thank Monisha and (team owner) Peter Sauber enough for their support and belief in my abilities and for giving me this chance.
"I'm thrilled to have this extremely unique platform on which to prepare myself to take on the challenge."
Only two women have previously started a grand prix, Italians Maria Teresa de Filipis and Lella Lombardi, the latter back in 1976.
Lombardi remains the only woman in F1 history to finish in the points, claiming half a point for sixth place in the tragic 1975 Spanish GP.
Just 29 of the scheduled 75 laps were completed following the death of five spectators after a crash involving Ralf Stommelen.
Britain's Divina Galica, Desire Wilson from South Africa and Italian Giovanna Amati subsequently entered grands prix events but failed to start.
Susie Wolff is currently employed by Williams as test and development driver, whilst Maria de Villota, who passed away last year, was a test driver for Marussia prior to a serious accident in 2012.