Former Marussia F1 aero test driver Maria de Villota has been speaking about her desire to improve safety in Formula 1, just over a year after her life threatening accident at Duxford.
De Villota was doing straight-line aero tests on the runway at the former WWII airbase when her car struck a truck at the end of a test run. The Spaniard suffered serious head injuries, lost her right eye and required 104 stitches.
She has since become an ambassador for safety and sits on the FIA Women in Motorsport commission. Safety has been a big talking point recently following a series of tyre failures in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Speaking at the FIA Sport Conference, which you can hear more from on the July edition of the JA on F1 podcast, she explained why the experience has made her so passionate about safety.
“I should not be here,” she said. “Last year I had my accident on 3 July. I woke up on 7 July and the doctors said I was a miracle. We cannot forget that motorsport is dangerous. I hear the word accident but for me an accident is something like a tsunami or being struck by lightening. You can not avoid them.
“Things that you can avoid are not accidents, so there is still a lot to do. The first thing is a regulation on aero testing in airfields. It’s not regulated. In Formula 1, we go into detail in the pursuit of excellence.
“When I go into schools and I see all children, they ask me what the best thing about Formula 1 is. I say it’s not about the speed, it s not about the glamour. It’s about doing things in the very best way. We need to do a lot more.”
De Villota also talked about her experiences in motorsport, particularly when she drove an F1 car – the Renault R29 – for the first time in 2011, which highlight the obstacles that women face if they try to pursue a racing career.
She discussed how she didn’t have pedals which she was comfortable with until she finally tried out a Formula 1 car and how other pieces of equipment, such as the seat belts, need to be tailored towards women.
“I’m going to tell you what happened to me when I drove F1 car,” she said. “I thought my goodness, this car is for me – they made the pedals [specifically] for my feet. I have a [size] 36 foot, that means every year in my life before that, I drove with pedals which weren’t right. I had to build up my career much more than any other driver.
“So when that day came at Paul Ricard and I drove the R29, I could not believe this. If I had had these pedals 10 years ago, how different would it have been? Even the belts – I always had big bruises on my neck because the belts were too long for me – they would hit me in the helmet.”
“In go-karting, boys and girls are a bit more similar in size. But when they grow up, they don’t have the same muscles and are not the same size, so that’s a problem for them.”
To listen to more from Maria de Villota, plus interviews with McLaren’s Jenson Button and FIA race director Charlie Whiting make sure you listen to the July edition of the JA on F1 podcast available to download via the iTunes store or directly here.