Some unfinished business
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De Villota loses right eye and remains ‘critical but stable’
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Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Jul 2012   |  4:40 pm GMT  |  160 comments

The Marussia team has confirmed that Maria de Villota has lost her right eye and remains in a “critical but stable condition” following her accident at Duxford Airfield on Tuesday.

The Spanish test driver, carrying out her first day of straightline aerodynamic testing for the team, made contact with a support truck at the end of her first installation run in the MR-01 and following treatment by paramedics was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. The 32-year-old regained consciousness at the hospital but was confirmed as having sustained serious head and facial injuries.

On Wednesday afternoon Marussia provided an update on her condition, the team confirming that surgeons at the hospital “embarked on a lengthy procedure to address the serious head and facial injuries sustained by Maria in the accident. The operation began yesterday afternoon and she was in theatre until this morning. Maria remains in a critical but stable condition.”

Team principal John Booth thanked the medical team for their ongoing work but confirmed that they had been unable to save de Villota’s right eye.

“We are grateful for the medical attention that Maria has been receiving and her family would like to thank the Neurological and Plastics surgical teams. However it is with great sadness that I must report that, due to the injuries she sustained, Maria has lost her right eye,” he said in the statement. “Maria’s care and the wellbeing of her family remain our priority at this time. Her family are at the hospital and we are doing everything possible to support them.

“We ask for everyone’s patience and understanding with regard to updates on Maria’s condition. We will provide further information when it is appropriate to do so and with consideration for her family.”

Booth also paid tribute to the local emergency services while confirming that an investigation was underway at the team to determine the cause of the accident.

“In the meantime, we would all like to take this opportunity to praise the emergency services at Duxford Airfield, who were on stand-by yesterday, as is usual procedure for a Formula One test,” he said. “With regard to the accident, we have embarked on a very comprehensive analysis of what happened and this work continues for the moment.

“Finally, we have been overwhelmed by messages of support for Maria, her family and the team and we would like to express our sincere gratitude for those.”

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160 Comments
  1. Steve Arnott says:

    Very sad news.

    1. ALEX says:

      lewis hamilton is with a wrong team. with poor pit strategy. he should leave the team if he wants to lift the thropy.

  2. Steve says:

    Wow, this is truly tragic! Wishing her a fast recovery and best wishes to her family and the team.

    I wonder if this will cause people will further push the issue of closed cockpit F1 cars in the future?

    1. Stone the crows says:

      I doubt it, more likely FiA and the teams will re-evaluate in season testing and change it to a regular track.

      1. Sebee says:

        If it’s anything that I have learned over my short life, it is that each and every accident has so many variables that must go just right to happen – it’s almost beyond belief. Look at Senna. Look at that wheel accident with Villeneuve that killed a marshal. Look at Massa. Look at this one. In each case a most unlikely chain of events unforseen and unpredictable – happens.

        This whole thing is just a sad example of such a chain of events, from the location, to the truck, to the tailgate position, to the stories of possible anti stall and perhaps lack of ever more complex onboard systems familiarity by the driver.

        FIA has done a good job, but clearly they must look at this one and see if regulations must be put into place as such tests. Also, I often wonder about those F1 demos in public places. I am glad that they are done by exprienced F1 drivers to ensure public safety, but often with just a low cement barier which would offer little protection to the crowd from debris in case of impact.

  3. Steve W says:

    What desperately sad news. I wonder if the f1 drivers & teams can help her out in some way to help her come to terms with what sound like life changing injuries.

    1. JoeP says:

      BBC report includes full audio of the incident, which you all should hear in order to appreciate the magnitude of the impact:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTw9TRahF3g

  4. blaize says:

    Devastated by this news. Such a shame in this day and age for someone to suffer injuries of this extent. I feel very sorry for her as it ends her career. Not something that should happen in this way. Thankfully she is alive but her life has changed forever.

    Hopefully we will see her in and around the paddock before the seasons out. Although that might be wishful thinking

    1. JoeP says:

      Indeed, her life has changed forever, in such a cruel, cruel way. Hopefully she has a strong character, necessary as it is to gain entry to the world of F1 in the first place, even as a test or reserve driver. And hopefully that character will help her survive the emotional hell = ending one’s career precipitously, in such devastating circumstances.

  5. Martin says:

    Terrible accident, thoughts are with Maria.

  6. I’m really sad for her. Terrible news. :-(

  7. Chris Horton says:

    Been checking regularly for updates just in the hope of good news. So sad, life is cruel sometimes.

    I just hope she can make as full a recovery as possible, as swiftly as possible.

  8. Wayne says:

    Easily said from my armchair, but, stay strong, be brave and God Bless.

    1. Chrisg says:

      Extremely well said, and agree with all my heart

  9. Charlie says:

    What an absolute tragedy for Maria, all our thoughts must be with her and her family.

    An utterly unacceptable cost for the sport, if ever there were to be an incident, no matter how freak, to ensure the logical safety step to driver canopies being introduced this has to be it.

    1. sarcosuchus says:

      I’m not sure a polycarb canopy can protect the face and head in the event of the high speed crash. I don’t know of any other materials out there that are transparent (driver needs to look thru them to see the road) and at the same time strong enough to provide meaningful protection against even moderate-impact collisions.

      1. Ron W says:

        First off wishing Maria a speedy and best possible recovery.

        They use polycarbonate on mach 2 fighter jets, so 200mph is nothing!

        Please have a look at the testing of firing an F1 wheel at 130mph into a polycarb canopy – it deflects it!

        I have not seen the impact but I would happily bet my house that if she was behind a canopy, she’d have had minor injuries, if any.

        This is a freak accident and I’m not one to overreact, but I think the time has come for closed canopy.

      2. Daniel Abbitt says:

        But what about in the event of a fire? The drivers are supposed to be able to get out of the cars in 5 seconds or under and a canopy wouldn’t allow that.

        Very sad news and I hope Maria recovers ok.

      3. Tim S says:

        I’m sure a canopy would not have helped. The canopy can slightly change the path on an incoming ~25 kg tire. I don’t see how that would have protected a 750kg car crashing into a truck. Most likely the canopy would have failed immediately at impact, and the sharp shards would have been everywhere, possibly making this incident worse. Can you imagine the fallout from such unintended consequences?

        For comparison, think of a plastic cup (the canopy) and throwing a coin at the side of it (the tire). It deflects the coin pretty well. Now put the cup sideways on the floor and step on it. That’s about how it act trying to protect an F1 car travelling at moderate speed from the impact of a stationary truck. The canopy is designed to redirect relatively small objects, that’s all.

        The answer here is along the same lines as this year’s new lower nose regulation. Make sure no object (including on track equipment) is high enough to strike the driver’s head. The crash structure of a car’s nose can absorb impact low impacts.

      4. Allan says:

        Fighter jet canopy

      5. Sarcosuchus says:

        Aircraft polycarb canopies are not colliding with anything at Mach 2. So that example doesn’t translate to the case where an F1 car is colliding with a 3 ton truck.

        Notice that in the case of an impending large collision – e.g with the ground or another plane – fighter pilots “leave” the plane hurriedly. They don’t stick around to take the hit, believing their polycarb bubble will save them.

        Polycarb is all well and good deflecting small objects like birds, steering wheels, hail at mach 2 etc. But it ain’t gonna “deflect” a 3 ton truck. This was a freak accident and its remediation lies – as another poster explained – in having strictly enforced policies regarding all vehicles and objects that are brought on/near the track.

        As mentioned below by another poster, a frame would be a better idea, though I suspect it would look hideous.

      6. Nathan Jones says:

        It won’t look pretty but, after this incident, it’s absolutely necessary to have some kind of driver head protection. They wouldn’t have to use a full polycarbonate enclosed canopy. They can simply use a frame which sits in front of the driver seat, over the rearwards section of the nose cone.

        A full enclosed canopy presents other problems such as visibility in the rain. A frame makes much more sense.

    2. Grayzee (Australia) says:

      F1, by nature, is an open wheel/cockpit formula. If you put a lid on the driver, then you get a GT Sportscar.
      Let’s not overact to what is plainly a freak accident.

  10. Tank says:

    I sincerely hope that her loss is not in vain and that safety in the visor area improves.

    Heartfelt wishes to her, and I hope there is no further permanent damage.

  11. More Harm says:

    Really sad. My thoughts and prayers out to her.

  12. Cooper says:

    Extremely sad news. I wish her all the best in her recovery.

  13. Kieran says:

    Terrible news. It’s very surprising to hear of such a terrible injury with safety in F1 so good these days. It seems like this could have been prevented by having the truck kept away from the track. Hopefully lessons are learnt from this and there will be stricter safety restrictions in place at tests.

    My thoughts are with Maria and her family. Hopefully she is back in good health soon.

    1. oak says:

      hi,

      my understanding was that the truck was away from the track. she was just very unlucky that whatever happeneded, be it mechanical or otherwise happened were it did.

    2. Vishal Vikram says:

      Im thinkin the same!!! wonder why the truck was theer in the first place!!! the road should have been empty.. and they should have foreseen incidents like this to occur!! hope Marusia takes blames for this!!!

    3. JoeP says:

      Calling it a “track” is giving much more credit than is due. The incident happened on a runway with no safety barriers or run-off or the kinds of purpose-built mechanisms designed to keep race car separate from people and immovable objects with sharp corners. Marca.com provides the only graphic I’ve thus far seen that contextualizes this terrible accident:

      http://www.marca.com/2012/07/04/multimedia/graficos/1341398535.html

  14. Stephen says:

    Poor Maria! :(

    Absolutely baffled as to how the helmet didn’t give sufficient protection given these things have been claimed to withstand vehicles treading over them.

    I thought after Massa’s accident in Hungary and the damage around the eye area that occurred to him that these type of accidents wouldn’t be possible.

    1. Gareth says:

      I think the damage was going to be more severe because a small (comparatively) object hit Felipe and bounced away, whereas Maria hit a large stationary object at speed.

      There was nowhere for the forces to rebound to and therefore the impact would have been much greater.

      Apologies, not the best way to explain it but hopefully it makes sense. Am sure that we are all just glad that Maria is still with us.

    2. Carlos says:

      The visor is the weak point and that’s hard to do much about with current technology.

      I’d like to see easier control of the cars in neutral. Those anti-stall systems often seem to fail (lots of DNFs during F1 races when the car stalls and can’t start again), so there’s got to be a better way of doing it.

    3. Jenks says:

      The most vulnerable part of the helmet is the visor area.

    4. Optimaximal says:

      Rumours suggests she had opened her visor as she was intending to stop.

  15. Jorge Lardone says:

    What a sad notice. We wish the best for her.

  16. Lawrence says:

    Really bad news. So sorry to hear about that. Is it wrong of me to say that I feel it is worse for a woman to suffer the kind of injury i.e. a facial one (the one we know about so far)? Hopefully, she will be alright and she gets there soon and is back doing some kind of racing. Can a person race in any series with one eye? I’m doubting she could get a racing licence.

    1. Alex W says:

      You lose alot of depth perception so she won’t race again.

      1. Optimaximal says:

        The human body is immensely good at coping with disabilities in ways that fully-able people cannot comprehend – the brain *can* adapt to having only one functional eye.

        The FIA will grant GT & LMS licenses for drivers with impaired vision providing they can prove a fitness to drive.

  17. Chris Normal says:

    This is one of the saddest things I have ever heard. I can’t believe something like this could happen and feel so badly for Maria and all her friends and family.I drive a formula car and I understand the dangers involved but never have I imagined an accident like this could happen.

  18. Brendan says:

    Terrible, terrible news.

    The very best wishes to Maria and her family and all those at Marussia.

  19. Kedar says:

    This is really sad news. Thoughts and prayers are with Maria and her Family. I have heard a lot occasions in the past (when in season testing was allowed) people like David Coulthard and others emphasizing on the Safety standards at F1 test venues.
    James, your thoughts? Was this accident preventable? I find it rather Bizarre that an F1 car hit a truck

    1. Brian Morrison says:

      There is a graphic of the layout at Duxford here:

      http://www.marca.com/2012/07/04/multimedia/graficos/1341398535.html

      As you can see, a sharp edged object was left directly in the path of the car at a height which made it essentially invisible to the driver.

      The Health & Safety Executive are involved.

      Draw your own conclusions…

      1. Nicky Santoro says:

        That a truck could be approached by a moving and running F1 car is simply wrong. That it had its back facing in any way the path of the car, and had its platform down is unbelievably stupid and irresponsible…. It beggars belief….

        May she recover as much as is possible and hopefully race again.

        Get well soon Maria… Our thoughts are with you.

  20. goferet says:

    For some reason some people are just born with the worst luck imaginable.

    I mean, how could this happen to the first woman in F1 in ages, on her first outing in the car —> Incredible!!!!!!!!!

    But thanks be to God and the doctors (who worked for 19 hours non stop), for granting Maria with a second chance at life despite what this horrid accident has done to her.

    It’s incidents like this that make one appreciate what F1 drivers do though to be fair, lots of people do lots of dangerous stuff for a fraction of what they earn so I guess, it’s a calculated risk on their part.

    God bless Maria and very sorry for you!!!!!!!!!

    Very sad indeed.

  21. Lee says:

    Terrible for her; sad times.

  22. Shakers97 says:

    Poor woman

  23. Richard Trinder says:

    My lord, utterly tragic on a number of levels. thoughts are with her.

  24. Jude says:

    Very very sad indeed. Hope worst is over.

  25. Bhaskarrac says:

    Its certainly sad and terrible to hear something like this, specially losing any critical body organ, changes the life altogether.
    I wish her all the best for her life and hope, if any magic happens, we may get to see her being the part of the sport she loves most, in the future.

  26. Chris Severin says:

    What the hell happened there? What exactly does “made contact with a support truck” mean? She made contact with it or it made contact with her? DId she lose control or was there a fault with the car and I presume she was wearing the proper helmet etc??

    What a terrible thing to happen.

    1. Davexxx says:

      It seems the car was coming off the track ‘back to the pits’ (well, their support vehicles and tent on an airfield), slowing down, and – so far unexplained – suddenly accelerated again, and drove at the back of a truck – which had its tail-lift open, sticking out horizontal and, sadly, just at her eye height. It seems an accident even more one-in-a-million than Massa’s.

      1. Bluefroggle says:

        If the car had accelerated say, just another 50m away, she might have had a chance to react and steer away from it. It must have happened at less than 10m with no chance to react.

  27. Philippe Lasry says:

    This is just terrible and quite saddening. My heart goes out to her and her family.

    James, does the FIA regulate the safety standards during the aero test such as the one Marussia was performing? With all of the energy and resources dedicated to safety, how could the danger of running into a transporter (or something else) be ignored?

    High cockpit sides and low noses won’t do anything for a driver in this case… Closed cockpits on the horizon?

    1. KGBVD says:

      I would say closed cockpits will be a reality soon.

      They were mooted after Massa’s accident, and Lotus even went so far as to test one with the FIA (with a tire fired at speed at the structure).

      Judging from the pics of the accident I’ve seen, a close cockpit would have prevented injury.

    2. Carlos says:

      We don’t know exactly what caused it yet, but it sounds like she had left the track and was heading back to the garage. From a very low speed, the car lurched into a truck’s ramp that happened to be at visor level next to her intended path. Some say it may have been the anti-stall system, or driver error (sudden throttle application). That part will probably take a while to sort out, so best not to speculate.

      1. Stone the crows says:

        I’ve heard comments that it might have been that the anti stall system engaged at the end of the run. The possibility is that as you slow to stop the car or make a low speed turn and lift off the throttle to let the revs drop the ECU senses this and sets throttle to around 50% with the car still in first gear resulting in a sudden acceleration. However, I think that antistall is designed to disengage the drive on the car and so 1/2 throttle in 1st gear is unlikely.

        At this point its all speculation doubtful anyone really knows. de Villota certainly had enough experience for this limited test, so to say she made a mistake is premature, so too is to say that Marussia made a mistake. The most respectful and decent thing to do is to wait and see what is the cause.

      2. James Allen says:

        If the anti-stall kicked in but the clutch failed to disengage,then that could be the problem.

      3. Brian Morrison says:

        F1 clutches have quite a bit of drag even when disengaged, on the BBC audio you can hear a modulated sound to the engine revs just before the sound of the impact.

      4. Stone the crows says:

        James, thank you for your response.

  28. Kieran Turner says:

    I think it’d be nice if as many of us as possible left a comment here to show our sympathy & support for Maria de Villota and her family. Fingers crossed for a speedy recovery and no other injuries.

    1. Edward Hunter says:

      Good idea. My condolences to the de Villota family and the truama they have been through. It is a shame that a lifelong dream should have to come to such a gruesome end, but Maria de Villota at least escapes with her life, unlike other racing drivers such as the similarly unproven Riccardo Paletti who had a mere two starts (Both retirements, the latter fatal) in Formula one.

      I was also surprised that this story got so much coverage: I remember it being headline sports news on the radio. Initially I was sceptical and thought that the interest was merely because of her gender, and that these shallow minded people didn’t really care, but now that I think about it if this happened to any other driver whilst testing in the UK the interest and sympathy would be equal. It’s good to see that in the wake of this disaster that not everyone is making sick and cruel jokes about women drivers.

      1. Davexxx says:

        Regarding your last line – I had the same idea. I wonder if JA’s moderator has had to cut out some ill-advised ‘comments’.
        Everyone’s wishing her well, and I do too, but sadly I really don’t see her able to return to any meaningful F1 position. She wanted to be a racer and that’s hard without stereoscopic vision. It’s really cruel, and also might make other would-be female F1 racers think twice about trying to get into F1.

  29. TheGreatTeflonso says:

    A sad day for all involved since it seems like it was an entirely avoidable accident. Buck up guys….

    1. Phil R says:

      Thats the point though, it was an accident… You can guarantee this is not the first running of an F1 car when the tail lift of a truck has been in that position.

      1. Nicky Santoro says:

        Which doesn’t make it by any means right. Not by a long long stretch of any kind of imagination.

      2. Phil R says:

        I never said it was right, I said it was an accident and some people don’t seem to realise that you are never going to eliminate them entirely, no matter how big your imagination.

        Its a terrible situation, incredibly sad, but fundamentally motorsport is dangerous, if you can’t cope with that, to quote Ken Tyrrell “Go and do something else”.

  30. Rob Newman says:

    Very sad. This incident highlights that there is still room for improvement on the health and safety aspect in motor racing.

  31. Benjamin Richardson says:

    Desperately sad, i think all our thoughts are with her and her family. Perhaps a reminder that formula one can always be made safer. Nobody wins from a something like this.

  32. Steven says:

    Tragic news….My thoughts and prayers go out to her and her family.

  33. Gareth says:

    Whilst this news is terribly sad, I think we should just be glad that Maria is still with us.

    Nothing else to add other than like many others, I wish her a speedy recovery.

  34. Rich C says:

    Well, *that sucks majorly. Jeez!

  35. Mike Lea says:

    Deeply sad news.

  36. Nigel says:

    Horrible injury for anyone; heartbreaking for a driver.

  37. Paul H says:

    Truly awful news and thoughts are with her and her family. It’s been noticeable in these modern times of 24hr news coverage just how little information has been made available and the increase in trepidation that results.

  38. Dmitry says:

    I will stand a bit apart from the others and will say, that considering the circumstances she’s a lucky girl, because judging by several photos on the net it easily could have been way more serious (as I understand she nearly drove under the truck… there’s nothing, even closed cockpit, that could have saved her from injuries).
    Please don’t get me wrong, it is still a very bad accident, but she’s alive and hopefully will fully recover.

    Maria, get well!

  39. David Ryan says:

    Very sad news, and a cruel twist of fate to happen on her first run in the car. I can only hope she makes a full recovery from her other injuries, and my thoughts and prayers remain with her and her family at this time.

  40. Ian C. says:

    Sadly her first Marussia test will be her last.

    1. Optimaximal says:

      Not necessarily. If the rest of her faculties are still firing on all cylinders, why can she still not offer development input? Straight line tests are fairly simple from a drivers point of view and assuming the only thing that is affected is her vision, she could quite feasibly do more.

      She’ll just unfortunately never be granted a racing license for any further competitive open-wheel events.

      1. Ian C. says:

        While I certainly hope she recovers the fact of the matter is she’s driven an F1 car twice. Once last year for Lotus and this week. She’s not an engineer nor does she have a super licence. Marussia would be far better off with a young driver who can test and act as a reserve driver and be developed.

  41. Kevin McCaughey says:

    Dear God. That is terrible, I am sure the whole team are feeling terrible right now. I feel great sympathy for her and her friends/family. It seems like such a freak accident too.

  42. Canada Craig says:

    With all of the improvements to safety in F1, has anything changed with regards to the visor? I know there is a second lens to reduce fogging in wet weather, but is it still just a piece of polycarbonate?

    1. Optimaximal says:

      Polycarbonate is strong for it’s size/weight and following Massa’s incident every helmet has a extra portion covering the gap at the top of the visor.

    2. Optimaximal says:

      Also, as mentioned, one of the unconfirmed rumours is that Maria had raised her visor, thus took most of the force of the accident to her face, inside the helmet.

  43. Matt W says:

    Sad news although thankfully she has pulled through by the sound of it. My thoughts are with her to make the best recovery possible.

  44. puffing says:

    My thoughts and best wishes go to María and her family. ¡Ánimo María!

  45. Barry says:

    Terrible news, I hope she still has a racing career after she recovers.

  46. moxlox says:

    Terrible. I wish her to make the best recovery she can. All the world’s Formula 1 fans are thinking of you.

  47. Martin Fry says:

    As per evetone else- truely sad news-right at the point where her dreams were coming true.

    Mt thoughts and prayers are for you and your family.

    Such a waste.

  48. Cookoomashu says:

    Such sad news.

    I wonder if this will have some safety reprocussions and perhaps some backlash for Marussia.

    I do wonder whether this would have happened if it was McLaren or Ferrari…

    Best wishes Maria.

  49. Victor says:

    Very sad news indeed. It was supposed to be her Big Day of F1 testing. I trust safety will improve as a result. My thoughts and prayers are with her.

  50. Matthew says:

    Terrible, life-changing news, and just after her first run in an F1 car in a long while. My thoughts and prayers go out to her, and her family and friends.

    This freak accident is one sad example of how safety in motorsport can never be treated lightly. If this accident had happened a few years ago, without the strengthened helmets and high-side cockpit protection, Maria may well have died as a result; and it is a testament to the safety of current F1 cars and the quick action of the medical services.

    However, it will never be completely safe, and this may well be the spark that forces the community to bring stricter regulations for safety.

  51. Thompson says:

    Sky as some details on the accident in their text service – really bizarre, after slowing down she apparently then accelerated into this truck.

    tragic.

  52. Truth or Lies says:

    I’ve been checking new sites all day and I am so terribly sorry to hear this awful news. My sincerest thoughts are with Maria and her family at this time. It’s doubly cruel for a racing driver and such a young woman to loose an eye.

    However I felt from the moment I heard this yesterday that the circumstances of this accident were an absolute disgrace and directly related to the in-season testing ban in Formula One.

    Either an F1 cars runs in the correct environment on a racing circuit or they don’t run at all. Testing on an airfield without all of the proper facilities was an accident waiting to happen. Not to mention the shocking carelessness of team personnel, to permitt an unprotected open tail lift to be in the same area as a formula racing car.

    Massa’s Hungary 2009 accident though similar, was entirely a racing incident and a little freakish, this incident however was entirely avoidable. Unfortunately now, Maria De Villota is paying a very high price.

    I hope the in season F1 testing ban is lifted and instead all running on non FIA F1 approved circuits is prohibited.

    1. IP says:

      please please please bring back in season testing and let only the development drivers run and things like this need never happen again.

      i am so sad because i was looking forward to the possibility of Maria doing a full race weekend one day soon.

      my thoughts to her and her family

    2. Chris Chong says:

      Reading the news, it looks like this was a freak accident that really could’ve happened anywhere.

      It’s terrible that it did happen but, really, I doubt in-season testing would’ve prevented this.

      1. James Allen says:

        Of course it wouldn’t.

        Straight line aero testing has always happened on places like Duxford with long runways.

        It is quiet different from circuit testing. That said, safety standards should be high whenever an F1 car is running.

      2. Panayiotis says:

        But it’s not like they had the truck on the runway. She was returning back at very low speed. Nobody could have expected such a thing to happen or even imagined something like this. Doing a risk assessment I would guess that the probability of something like this would be minimal.

        I just hope that this incident will be investigated correctly and with clarity as usually after similar cases we end up with panic reactions that in reality are not so helpful.

        Closing I would like to say that this is a very sad situation. Very unfortunate…. Hope that Maria will find the strength inside her to overcome this.

      3. Truth or Lies says:

        James,

        Just because straight line aero testing has always taken place in places like Duxford, doesn’t make it right.

        I’ve been attending motor racing at all levels for over 30 years and the level of safety improvement throughout at all levels, has been significant. I am passionate about motor racing and feel strongly about unnecessary incidents like this, as such events damage the sport and belittle the efforts made since the early 1970′s to make racing safer.

        For this reason, running at non circuit locations should be prohibited. F1 is learning and improving all the time and accidents of the past such as Elio De Anglesis’s death at Paul Ricard would probably not happen today, as a medical helicopter must be in place at all F1 testing events. Prior to that medical air support at testing was viewed as expensive and unnecessary.

        I enjoy your commentary and appreciate this great web site and also know you too are sincerely passionate about motor racing. However I am disappointed that regarding this topic at least, your thinking is so 20th century.

      4. James Allen says:

        But the straights aren’t long enough!!! That’s why they go to airfields!

      5. Stone the crows says:

        I agree James, the standards for straight line testing are surely going to be re-evaluated. And those standards should be high.

    3. Doobs says:

      Agreed entirely. No way should a running F1 car ever get near a truck tail lift, so pretty woeful safety standards,[mod]
      Viewed edge-on from the cockpit, a tail lift would be virtually impossible to see. A little lower and further over, and this girl would have been decaptiated. What a headline that would’ve been. Serious review needed.

  53. Randy Torres says:

    Tristeza total. Fuerza Maria mejorate pronto.
    Total sadness. Courage Maria recover quickly.

  54. Jenks says:

    Horrible news. I just don’t know what to say? My thoughts are with her and her family. I hope for her recovery.

    This might mean another look at enclosed cockpits, but then you increase the time it would take for a driver to get out of a car in the event of an accident. This was such a strange accident, and one that’s unlikely to ever happen again.

    Plus the main problem was not with the car, it was with the loading ramp being left at head height.

    Very sad news.

  55. simon says:

    Terribly sad news. I wish her a speedy recovery. My thoughts go out to her family and loved ones.

  56. zx6dude says:

    very, very sad. I wish Maria a speedy recovery. terrible news

  57. Andy B says:

    Am so sad that this happened :(
    Thoughts are with her, wish her the very best care & Recovery

  58. monktonnik says:

    Horrible news.

    Obviously I feel deep sympathy for De Villota and her family, but the team also must be taking this pretty hard.

  59. Julian says:

    Such terrible news. We are so used to seeing drivers walk away from major accidents that when something like this happens it serves as a stark reminder of the danger that motorsport presents and the sad losses we have had over the years.

  60. Lisa Thomas says:

    How awful.
    The FIA must announce an immediate top level urgent investigation. How can these injuries be sustained in this age of near zero damage to driver?

    1. Davexxx says:

      We have got used to much-improved safety in recent years, but there will always be accidents.
      This really was a freak accident. Normally in F1 you wouldn’t expect a strong sharp edge to meet you, horizontally, just at eye level, the one weak point in the helmet, and something you can’t prevent in an open cockpit (otherwise the driver couldn’t see his way!). I wonder if even a closed canopy in the form of an all-in-one bubble like in fighter aircraft, that many are now advocating, would have prevented such an accident, but it might have reduced some of the force and damage extent.

    2. Stone the crows says:

      Straight line testing is a different sort of venue. If she had been on a track used by Formula One for racing or for testing this could not have happened the way it did, for there would be no trucks parked anywhere near a car that has lost control. Formula One cars are reletively fragile when it comes to hitting immobile objects.

  61. HFEVO2 says:

    One can only have the greatest sympathy and concern for the unfortunate Miss de Villota.

    This has to be one of the most bizaare accidents to have occurred in f1 and has been made far worse because it, should have been entirely preventable.

    It seems likely that there might be only two reasons that the car surged forward :

    Either a hardware or software failure occurred on the car or the driver made an error in operating the controls.

    In either case the responsibility must surely rest 100% with the team :

    Hardware and software systems in a F1 car should always be designed to be 100% fail safe.

    The controls should be ergonomically designed in such a way that it should be almost impossible for a properly trained and qualified driver to mistakenly accelerate the car.

    No team should allow anyone to drive a F1 car unlil they have completed sufficient hours in a simulator to be fully familiar with the controls and have demonstrated an ability to drive the car without making any mistakes.

    Whatever the answer to these questions, the FIA must investigate, Lessons must be learned and wherever necessary, firm action will have to be taken.

    1. Patrick says:

      Good point, but I’m not sure the smaller teams all have simulators

  62. Matthew says:

    Horrendous news. All our thoughts are with Maria.

    At least she is alive. It sounds like she could’ve lost everything.

  63. Alex W says:

    This is terrible news, but I am glad she is alive, the good news is she may still have a future in F1 but as a team member, much like Helmut Marco has gone on to greater things than he acheived as an F1 driver.

    1. Satish says:

      Let’s certainly hope so.

      And above all, thankful that she is alive!

  64. hrt,marusia, whatever you wanted to be, I suggest you give up wasting your time and money and turn yourselves into a charity.

    you have failed in your ambitions. Take the sword and carry it forever. You have failed.
    Bless you Maria., you tried , but those around you failed..

  65. Vishal Vikram says:

    Hi James,

    I just saw her interview on sky the other day. Very sad indeed.

    Want to ask you a question..

    what do you think is the possible reasons behind this incident? do u think it was really the anti stall device???

    there is this rumour that.. the car might have got into anti stall.. Can you tell me more abt it please/? jus breaking my head!!!

    my understanding is …when the anti stall kicks in… the car stops and then starts again with acceleration…

    thank you much james..you are so wonderful!!!

    cheers,

    Vishal

    1. James Allen says:

      A malfunction of clutch as it relates to anti-stall electronics is the suspicion.

  66. Luke Clements says:

    James, how was Marussia doing an aero test anyway? I thought all testing in season was banned apart from official testing?
    Can other teams do unofficial aero work? I would have thought with aero being so important, no one would be allowed to test unofficially.
    And just linking to your previous story about the physical requirements of driving an F1 car (and from previous stories from journalists who have had a go in the 2 seat car) and in light of this accident, is F1 really suitable for a female driver?
    I know I’ll probably cop torrents of abuse for even mentioning it, but I guarantee I’m not the only person thinking it.
    All the best for her recovery and like Robert Kubica, I wish her well in her post F1 life.

    1. James Allen says:

      No, teams are allowed to do a small number of aero tests (I think it’s 6) every year, to verify wind tunnel figures, usually for major updates.

      It happens all the time

    2. Truth or Lies says:

      Absolutely right, females should know their place – making sandwiches in the motor home and looking pretty on the grid.

      I mean women drivers…. Oh by the way you might want to tweet Alice Powell before she races in GP3 this weekend and or Danica Patrick. I mean the nerve of her racing a good old boys NASCAR and she a mere female.

      Breaking news, Stone Age man, discovers motor racing.

    3. kne says:

      what does female have to do with anything?

      ram your head against what is effectively a big razor and see who wins.

      1. zombie says:

        He was being sarcastic and did not mean it. That said, i still wonder why Marussia couldn’t have hired a much experienced or a lot more talented drivers sitting on the fence waiting for a drive ? How about Nick Heidfeld ? Alguersuari ? Luis Razia ? Or even De Grassi ?

  67. Bayan says:

    Very sad to hear this. Our warmest thought go out to her and her family.

  68. Liam in Sydney says:

    Glad that she survived, but a terrible tragedy all round given the extent of her injuries. Simply terrible. I pray she can draw on all her inner strength for her recovery.

    Marussia should name their next chassis after her as a thank you.

  69. Robert says:

    What a disaster. Poor Maria.

    Clearly a very severe accident given the need to involve neuro and plastic surgeons for so long.

    For the safety of all in the pit lane and drivers, the FIA should demand a provisional report on Thursday evening prior to Friday’s FP 1. Luckily no crew members were struck by the sudden accelerating car.

    With 20:20 hindsight, the height of the tailgate was the issue. The lorry has to be parked somewhere. Without the tailgate, the lorry is no worse than other hard objects and buildings found in a normal pit lane.

  70. Yafet says:

    This is sad news, but let’s look at the positives. She’s alive and in stable condition. Yes, she lost her eye and this will most definitely put an end to her short career. But her life trumps her career any day. Judging from the photos of the damaged vehicle, she is extremely lucky to have survived without any permanent head trauma or brain damage. I wish her a speedy recovery and a long, happy life afterwards.

  71. Kay says:

    This is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO terrible!

    But just curious… why did she drive into a truck anyway??! o_O How can that happen..?!

    1. Optimaximal says:

      She was stopping the car after the run but a freak accident, potentially to do with the cars anti-stall device, sent the car out of control towards a carelessly positioned tail lift.

      1. Kay says:

        Thanks for your reply! Hope she gets well really soon.

        Though FIA MUST look into this and understand why it could happen! This kind of accident is just outrages if you ask me.

      2. zombie says:

        @ Optimaximal : The truck was not on the track, it was parked aside. The tail lift fell down when she hit the stationary truck. Either a system malfunction made the car lurch forward, or she hit the gas pedal by mistake.

      3. Optimaximal says:

        This is the first I’ve heard of the tail lift falling on her. All evidence I’ve seen, including eye witness statements, say she drive into the lift edge. The truck was by the side of the pit tent, which she was approaching to stop.

        As James has said, it seems a systems malfunction whereby the clutch didn’t disengage when anti-stall did may be the culprit.

    2. marlow4 says:

      Either she made a mistake, or the car malfunctioned. In either case one should think that the engineers failed to make the car fail-safe enough: Such a dangerous mistake shouldn’t be so easy for an experienced racing car driver to make (even if the driver is not experienced in F1), or if it was a car defect, systems need to be designed to fail safely (and cut off the drive rather than engage it).

      The tragic part is having an obstacle at eye-level. If she’d run into a wall, the car would have absorbed the impact, it is designed to do that and protect the driver, and she’d probably have been fine. Running into an obstacle helmet-first, though, is a horrible worst case scenario :(

      1. Kay says:

        Thanks for your reply! Hope she gets well really soon.

  72. Stone the crows says:

    Prayer for de Villota, her family and those who are caring for her. This is a tragic and terrible thing to happen.

  73. Luke Potter says:

    There’s a question regarding this crash that I think needs answering. Maria has received very serious injuries from a 40mph impact with her helmet. They are much worse than the injuries Felipe Massa received when a similarly solid object hit his helmet with a closing speed of four or even five times that. Was her helmet of the same quality as Felipe’s? If not, why not?

    1. Stone the crows says:

      All helmets in Formula One have to pass the same requirements. The incident with Felipe doesn’t compare with that which happened to Maria. Being struck by a spring at high speed, and striking an immovable object at low speed are different in the amount of kinetic energy focused on a reletively fragile area which is the polycarbonate visor of the helmet. Though the velocity of the spring that hit Felipe was higher, the energy that Maria’s helmet had to absorb was much higher because she has the mass of her car as a part of the equation, as well as the fact that the truck would not have yielded to the impact of Maria’s car.

  74. Bluefroggle says:

    This kind of accident could quite easily happen in the pits. Car has been round track at high speed during the race and then slows down coming into the pits for new tyres etc. The anti stall kicks in and it shoots off again with all the mechanics and tv crews in its path.

    1. Stone the crows says:

      Yes, but the difference is that there would probably not have been anything like the truck for her to hit. It wouldn’t have been pretty but it wouldn’t have been as tragice either.

  75. Norman Cn says:

    Very sad news. May she find strength to pull herself together in racing world she loves.

    Maybe bringing back some proper testing may promote safety better than the “filming” days and aero testing ony.

    Prayers for Maria.

  76. part time viewer says:

    this is a very sad day and my thoughts are with her, her family and lets not forget the team.
    i do hope that this freak accident doesnt cause a knee jerk reaction. Motor sport is safer than it has ever been, but lets not pretend that things like this cant be always prevented, driving cars fast is always going to be dangerous.
    And to those that say this would not have happened at a race track are wrong, in a small pit lane there are more things to hit than at an airfield

  77. the pimp's main prophet says:

    All my thoughts and prayers are with Maria and her family.
    While doing so, F1 community owes an urgent reflection: F1′s last casualty was Ayrton due to a head injury 18 years ago. While a lot has been rightly done on circuit and car safety (as Kubica’s dreadful accident in Canada proved), since then all accidents with severe consequences that spontaneously come to my mind were related to driver head injuries (Massa, now Maria).
    A fighter jet canopy could have prevented Massa’s injuries but how would it have behaved on an impact with a solid and stationary element like in Maria’s crash? I don’t know, but this clearly is an area where immediate action is required!!!

    1. jeff says:

      The catch with a canopy is that it must be impossible for it to jam in place. If the canopy won’t release with a burning car, then the driver could burn to death instead, so you may only be substituting one freak accident risk for another more likely one. Possibly a partial canopy far enough forward of the driver not to impede egress may be an answer.

      The real problem here was the placement of the truck tailgate, which points to lax safety procedures at Marussia, possibly due to their relative inexperience in this formula.

      Very sad to hear that she’s lost her eye, but relieved to hear that she’s alive. I hope she makes an otherwise full recovery.

  78. Andrew Carter says:

    Terrible news and I hope she recovers.

    I’d like to point out that this does not automatically mean the end of her driving career should she chose to continue. Lord Paul Drayson has raced a prototype at Le Mans in recent years and he has only one eye as well, though the ACO do stringently test to make sure you wont be a danger to those around you.

    And to all those demanding closed cockpits, I’ll remind them that there’s still a lot of safety concerns around them at the moment, not least drivers getting trapped in an upside down car.

  79. Chris says:

    Such horrible news. My thoughts and prayer are with Maria and her family at this sad time.

  80. Luciano says:

    If indeed it was a malfunction of the clutch in relation to the anti-stall, and given she was effectively paying for this test, surely Marussia would be liable for a pretty large sum of money. Millions perhaps.

  81. Silas Denyer says:

    First, my sympathies to Maria; a terrible accident.

    Second, however, I’m rather saddened by the tabloid-like knee-jerk reactions here. This wasn’t a motorsport accident, it was a car accident. Your road car would in all likelihood not have protected you here, with it’s steel screen pillars and glass windscreen (even a Saab with it’s reinforced screen pillars and header rail designed to deflect errant Moose would lose a fight with a tail lift). A fighter canopy would not have helped; those work well with aero loads and ‘soft body’ impacts (birds, F1 tyres, etc), and might shatter (and dissipate energy in so doing) when hit by a heave spring, but do nothing to prevent a penetrating impact by a tail lift. Seriously, where do those commenting imagine the forces will go?

    To be blunt, nothing on the car could have prevented injury or death in such a circumstance; well, certainly nothing on the car allowing the driver still to see forward.

    This was a workplace accident featuring, it seems, a wrongly-positioned tail lift. As such, it is something which can be addressed in the future by different procedures and regulations. Team members may be prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive; in fact, I’d be surprised if there is not already adequate legislation (albeit not followed) to cover this.

    As for motorsport, it is dangerous; get over it. Motorcycles kill regularly. Indy cars and NASCAR kill regularly. Rallying kills surprisingly often. F1 has been statistically much safer than most; emasculating it now with ill-conceived safety features will not improve that, frankly, and might even make some types of accident harder to survive.

    Laws and regulations, like love, should be made slowly and with care. When the dust settles, I doubt there will be a compelling case for new cockpit safety features as a result of this tragic occurrence.

    1. David Ryan says:

      Absolutely right in terms of motorsport being dangerous, and that the HSE will probably have something to say on this anyway given the tail-lift probably shouldn’t have been out in the first place. However, the fact that motorsport is (and always will be) inherently dangerous does not mean we should be blasé when injuries and fatalities occur – and I suspect some of the reaction is down to this being the 4th accident in as many years to bring the capabilities of crash helmets into question. There is no doubting that today’s helmets are stronger than ever before and can deflect an exceptional amount of energy; however, as Felipe Massa’s life-threatening injury and the deaths of Henry Surtees and Dan Wheldon due to head trauma sadly demonstrated, they have their limits. It’s not the fault of the manufacturers by any means, more a reflection of the inherent limitations of such devices and the limitations of the human body to take such damage. Consider that Allan McNish and Mike Rockenfeller walked away from very violent collisions at last year’s Le Mans – especially Rocky’s which was like a plane crash – and in both cases the car’s cockpits were undamaged, and you can perhaps understand why some feel closed cockpits are the answer. The reality is it’s probably not that simple. Nonetheless, it is a better reflection on the sport if some action is taken rather than chalking it up to “one of those things” or a matter for health and safety only.

      1. Stone the crows says:

        I think you’re right in bringing up Dan Wheldon’s accident. There is a similarity in that the problem wasn’t the safety of his car or his helmet but the venue itself.

      2. Silas Denyer says:

        “it is a better reflection on the sport if some action is taken”

        Yes, but the action IMHO needs to be a thorough investigation, followed by an analysis of what – if anything – could be improved.

        It is quite right and proper that such an investigation and analysis, if carried out correctly and without political interference, might conclude that “nothing” – at least as far as car design is concerned – is the correct thing to do.

        What we emphatically do not need is the FIA following the lead of, say, the UK government in rushing-through knee-jerk rules on the grounds that “something must be seen to be done.”

        If nothing is the right thing to do, then the FIA must be prepared to stand up and explain to all concerned precisely WHY “nothing” is the correct answer. Use this accident to explain some science, perhaps.

        As regards the venue itself, as I’ve said, that is a matter for the HSE. The FIA might like to get involved, but how is that going to happen? How can the FIA seek to “licence”, say, venues such as Duxford? Would the venues accept the FIA’s interference?

        Dan Wheldon is a great case. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that 200mph cars whizzing around next to concrete walls with post-and-mesh fences above and no run-off areas is likely to lead to death. It happens often. Where is the clamour for oval racing to be banned? Where is the outcry that the cars’ cockpits are not enclosed? Nowhere is the answer; it is not what the drivers have signed-up for, it is not what the fans have paid to see. Nobody is forcing the drivers to drive in these cars on these circuits; they could all go and get more conventional jobs. We owe it to outselves to try to make the sport, as it is, as safe as it can be, but not to change the sport completely.

        Otherwise, where next? Ban horse riding? Motorcycle racing? Skiing? Parachuting? Hang-gliding? Luge? All kill far more frequently than open wheel motorcar racing, even in the USA. The restriction of individual freedoms on such a wide scale is a matter for the people, or perhaps for their elected representatives, but certainly not for a body such as the FIA.

      3. David Ryan says:

        Agree with you that a thorough investigation is essential – as you say, it is too easy to do a knee-jerk reaction and make things worse as a result. My point was more that this is an issue which has been gaining momentum for some time – Alex Wurz, among others, has spoken of the need for changes to be made – and this incident seems to reinforce those calls rather than detract from them. The FIA has already been researching possible options, including canopies and front roll-over hoops, both with their pros and cons. I imagine that if a change is to come it will probably entail a more radical redesign than that. However, that is by the by. What is more important is that the sport does not simply shrug its shoulders and say “oh well, one of those things” as it did so often in the 1960s and 1970s.

        Re. Duxford, venues for straightline aerodynamic testing are already subject to FIA approval so it would merely be an extension of existing practice – and in all honesty, if Duxford are being paid for it they’re not going to argue much. As for Dan Wheldon, IndyCar was already in the process of commissioning a new car less likely to go airborne, but also took more immediate action in removing Las Vegas from the calendar and conducting aero analysis to prevent pack racing such as that which triggered the fatal accident. It is also pressing for evaluation of catch-fencing design so as to rectify the flaws in the Las Vegas design (such as the posts being on the inside of the fence rather than outside), and in future may well go for a closed-cockpit design if the benefits outweigh the downsides. They wouldn’t have been able to bring a redesign in for this season anyway as the cars were nearly finished, so instead they’ve made changes elsewhere – and that is despite the fact that, contrary to your suggestion, it was a freak accident. Both NASCAR and IndyCar had avoided fatalities for a number of years prior to Wheldon’s death. I also question whether it would “change the sport completely” were closed cockpits introduced – no one is complaining in Le Mans or Grand-Am as far as I am aware.

        Finally, the sports you bring up for comparison have a higher level of inherent risk of injury anyway – I know from my own experience with horse riding that it is dangerous and there is little to be done about it – but for the most part those disciplines (where done professionally) have taken action to limit the risk as much as possible. This accident and others like it have identified a hitherto unknown risk, and as the regulatory body of the sport the FIA has a duty to investigate properly and take appropriate action. That is all I was calling for, although I admit it is probably tinged by my belief that doing nothing is not the answer. Nonetheless, I leave that to those far more qualified than myself.

  82. Patrick says:

    From the sound recording it seems that the car didn’t accelerate but carried on at tick-over rpm, presumably in 1st gear, which I guess would be about 30mph. As it was Maria’s first run, entering the pit area would be the first time she would have had to disengage the clutch (not needed for gearshifts up or down). The Marussia hand clutch might be in a different position to the Renault F1 car she tested last year and if she didn’t find it immediately she might have panicked as I expect most of us would in that situation.

  83. terry says:

    Hopefully Marussia will pickup the bill for the medical treatment and after care of this Maria. She will need extended vision therapy because she will lose her depth perception because she is monocular now. Some people adapted to loss of depth perception some don’t.

    I think the helmet face shields just need to be made out of thicker stronger poly carbonated to take the blows of flying object.
    If formula one goes towards a canopy the car will change radically because of the tight quarters in cockpit. All the cars will have to have standard air conditioning installed to keep the cockpit cool. May be even a blow way ejection system of the canopy after a accident so the driver can get out fast.
    Terry

    1. Silas Denyer says:

      But this wasn’t a ‘flying object’! You’re asking the helmet / visor to withstand a 750kg mass (the car) when hitting a sharp object (a tail lift) at, say, 30mph.

      There is a name for the material which can so this: unobtanium…

      The energy in, say, Massa’s impact (off the top of mŷ head, 1 kg spring at 180kph) would be at least 50 TIMES LESS than the energy in Maria’s crash (say 750kg car at 50kph.

      That implies a visor around 6 inches thick… That Maria was not killed outright speaks volumes, I believe, for the strides already taken in helmet development, but the laws of physics cannot just be wished away.

      1. Stone the crows says:

        +1

  84. Luke Potter says:

    Looks like a similar accident has just occurred in IndyCar, thankfully with less serious injuries. Justin Wilson was “unable to select neutral” and hit Bourdais.

  85. Dave Aston says:

    Maybe I’ve missed something, but has there been any official word from Jean Todt/FIA, or FOM regarding this incident, or a statement of intent to investigate safety standards at straight-line tests? I’ve looked, but couldn’t find anything yet. If there has been no word from both, I think that it is pathetic.

    1. James Allen says:

      Not yet. It was a private test, not FIA regulated

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