"Before I worked with her," says her driver coach, Bob Perona, "I thought she was just another girl race car driver. After I started working with her, I knew she was going to be very good. But she's turned out to be great. She's the whole package. She's got the talent. She's got it mentally. She's got it emotionally. I don't think there's anything she can't do in a race car."
De Silvestro is one of those preternaturally gifted athletes who excel at every sport they pick up. She won her first ski race when she was three, was a top regional fencer at age four, and played championship tennis not long after that. Considering that motorsports were banned in Switzerland in 1955, racing wouldn't have seemed to be in her future. But her father, Pierluigi, was a car dealer who also did driving instruction at tracks in Italy, France, and Germany, and his daughter was born with racing in her DNA.
"When I was a baby, my dad says I was quiet only when I watched Formula 1 on TV," she says. "When I was four, he did a go-kart demonstration, but I couldn't reach the pedals, so I cried the whole day. By the time I was nine or ten, I knew that racing was what I wanted to do, and my whole life has been about it. Driving open-wheel race cars has always been my goal. I really never had anything else in my head."
When she was seven, De Silvestro won the first kart race she entered-in the rain. When she was eleven, her father let her drive his Porsche 911 GT3 at Hockenheim, sitting on a pillow, and she got it up to 135 mph before he ordered her to slow down. At sixteen, she graduated from karts to Italian Formula Renault. The De Silvestros didn't have enough money to pay for a second season in Europe, but with the help of friends, family, and an American sponsor, they put together a Formula BMW program in the United States.
At seventeen, halfway through the Swiss equivalent of high school, De Silvestro moved to Indianapolis. She didn't know anybody and barely spoke English. But she was already fluent in the language of speed. She won once, made the podium repeatedly, and went into the last race of the season with a shot at the championship. The title eluded her, but her pace earned her a propitious meeting with an entrepreneur by the name of Imran Safiulla.