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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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1

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.

2

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

3

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.

4

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

5

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.

6
Stone the crows

+1

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

10

“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.

11

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.

12
Stone the crows

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.

13

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.

14

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

15

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.

16
the pimp's main prophet

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!!!

17

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.

18
part time viewer

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

19

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.

20

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.

21
Stone the crows

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.

22

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?

23
Stone the crows

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.

24
Stone the crows

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

25

This is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO terrible!

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

26

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 🙁

27

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

28

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.

29

@ 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.

30

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.

31

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.

32

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.

33

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.

34
Liam in Sydney

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.

35

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

36
Luke Clements

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.

37

what does female have to do with anything?

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

38

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 ?

39

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.

40

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

41
Vishal Vikram

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

42

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

43

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..

44

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.

45

Let’s certainly hope so.

And above all, thankful that she is alive!

46

Horrendous news. All our thoughts are with Maria.

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

47

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.

48

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

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