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De Villota on her push to improve safety in Formula 1
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Jul 2013   |  8:21 am GMT  |  59 comments

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. 

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What makes De Villota an expert in safety? She doesn’t even remember the incident that cost her an eye!

She only did an F1 test and now she possess the knowledge needed to change the sport? I’m all for improving safety but I feel she’s the wrong person for the job. She’s no Dr. Watkins.

Scuderia McLaren

What the hell was a truck doing anywhere near an F1 car testing??? Even straight line testing.

Maybe she did lose control, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was too inexperienced, maybe she wasn’t. But what the hell is a Lorre doing near the test area?! Hardly a safe testing environment for anyone let alone a rookie.

Personally I hope she rips out a big part of Marussia’s budget in compensation for an unsafe or negligent working environment or whatever and moves on and has a nice life. The eye she lost is the smallest part of her loss. Her hopes and dreams and efforts for probably her whole life to the point of the accident are dead. That’s her real loss.


I remember reading somewhere at the time of the accident that is was caused by the anti stall system kicking in because of the low speed turn that she had just done. The resulting blip of power that fired her into the lorry..


doubt that, as anti-stall usually puts the car into neutral and then blips the power.

testgate rules

the moderation here is a joke. if you don’t go with their way of thinking, they don’t let you in.


That is not correct. Different points of view have always been encouraged here, including ones critical of the articles, as long as the criticsm is constructive – just look at any story in the archive and you’ll see what I mean

The moderation is aimed at taking out comments which are empty, negative or offensive, which add nothing to discussion

With the huge volume of comments we get at peak times, occasionally a bad comment gets through but on the whole we feel we keep the standard high


Absolutely right, James

You only have to look at the comments on another forum to see how much higher the standard of debate is here.


Will Maria wear an eye patch for the rest of her life?

I don’t know enough about it, perhaps someone out there knows more and has an answer to this question….

Is there reconstructive surgery available today where surgeons can put a false glass eye in place and you would not know the difference?


I am truly sorry for what happened to her, and I’m glad she’s made a good recovery, but it had nothing to do with lack of safety in F1, or motorsport in general, it had only to do with driver error


I beg to differ. Undoubtedly Maria has very little experience of driving an F1 car. However this accident had everything to do with a lack of safety. How could anybody present that day not question the stupidity of a massively powerful car in the hands of an inexperienced driver being let loose near a lorry where some damn fool had left the tail lift in a half way position… that was in line with Maria’s head.

Nobody involved that day should be allowed anywhere near an F1 race or test. They should all be utterly ashamed of themselves. Of course motorsport will have accidents just like any other sport but really! There are accidents and then there are acts of downright stupidity.

I hope Maria’s colourful eye patches will never let them forget just how stupid they were that day.


I respect your view, but disagree, because how can a professional racing driver be an “inexperienced driver”?

If a soldier hurt’s himself with a weapon after being given proper formation on it, would you go out saying the armed forces are dangerous??? That’s kind of redundant, isn’t it?


I say inexperienced just like many others. How often had she driven an F1 car? They are so powerful and rely on aero grip like no other.

Nobody would allow a competent Cessna pilot climb into a fighter jet without some serious extra training. Long gone are the days when you could pass a test on a 50cc step through bike and climb onto a superbike the next day.

No matter how used to handling a powerful car you can be there is still no excuse for the team ignoring such basic safety standards as they did with the lorry.


Maria de Villota is so annoying.

It was clearly her fault. She didn’t know how to handle a F1-car – even at low speed…

She does not want to talk about the accident, that tells you something!

And now she wants to be in the public, making money and give OTHERS advice about safety.

Ambassador for safety, that is absurd.

Her first message as an ambassador should be:

You can’t jump into a vehicle without proper knowledge. Not even for PR!


“Maria de Villota is so annoying”

There are many “celebrities” that I consider annoying and that is why I don’t pay any attention to them. Try it, it works.

“It was clearly her fault”

Was it? The accident may well have been due to an error she made but that has not been established at this time. Remember in F1 terms this was a very low speed accident. The fact that it resulted in serious injury is where the safety element comes in.

“She didn’t know how to handle a F1-car”

Really, you think they just sat her in the car without any training or simulation. Every F1 driver has to get into an F1 car for the first time at some point, that’s how you learn.

“She does not want to talk about the accident, that tells you something”

What does it tell you? There can be any number of reasons for this, not least of which is the ongoing legal case.

“Ambassador for safety, that is absurd”

Why is that absurd? People who have experienced the results that a moment’s lapse in safety can produce tend to be very good safety campaigners. I would think she is quite well qualified for the role.


None of the parties can say much about it until all the investigations, insurance stuff, and litigation are 100% settled. So I wouldn’t read too much into that.

I’d also argue that track safety has to assume that there will be driver errors. All those crash barriers aren’t there just in case a car breaks before the braking zone – they exist because the sport doesn’t want to punish driving errors with death and maiming.

As for putting inexperienced drivers in F1 cars – isn’t that one of the purposes of testing? How else are inexperienced drivers supposed to get experience? At some point there will be an inexperienced driver in an F1 car and the track needs to be ready for them. Some of those drivers will turn out to be good, and some won’t. The latter need to be protected too.

I don’t think there’s any way to justify leaving a truck ramp raised at eye level.


Very very brusque but you have some truth in what you say. I fully expect your comment to be castigated as “sexist” etc.

Maria’s refusal to talk about the accident, and both FIA and Marussia clearing the car proves that it was a driver error. It is not uncommon for inexperienced drivers to lose control of an F1 car in a straight line ( look up Suleman and Renault F1 ). And i blame Marussia who put her in the car for a marketing purpose and not based on merit. I could understand someone giving a chance to Danica Patrick or Simona Silvestra, but not De Villota. Somehow, those who castigate her critics as “sexists” fail to see the real reason why Marussia put her in the car in the first place.

Overall, i wish her all the best, and it must take immense courage to overcome such tragedy. But i’m not sure if she’s the best person to lecture on “safety” or on “life in F1”.

PS : A great inspirational book on overcoming personal tragedies in motorsport would be Mat Oxley’s ‘Thunder from down under’ on Mick Doohan. Doohan nearly lost his leg in a crash, and to this day one of his legs has remained unusable. Yet he got back on his bike and won 5 back to back world titles in Motogp. Real gritty stuff from a tough Aussie.


I agree with this comment. The incident she was involved in had nothing to do with gender but the fact that it was a woman that made such a catastrophic error has obviously provided ammunition to the sexist lobby.

I look forward to the day when a female driver makes it into F1 but it has to be on pure merit. Buying a place for your wife as a test driver in a team by being a shareholder and director does not count.

I was always a great fan of Michele Mouton in top class rallying and more recently enjoyed watched her cutting a corner by hurling an Audi Quatro across the grass at high speed at Goodwood.

To be a top class rally driver requires more skill and guts than any single seater formula and On her day Michele could beat the men in equal machinery.


Michele also won the LMP2 class at LeMans in 1975 and in 1985 she won Pike’s Peak setting a record time !

Surely that makes her the most successful woman in Motorsport as well as more versatile than almost all of the men?


I think i share with Maria that we both are not native english speakers. You can’t allways translate a word into the very same meaning in another language.

Maria’s accident reminded me of the death of Ulrike Maier at skiing.

Skiing with 104km/h you can crash, same as you can loose control on a straight.
In Ulrike’s case there was a wooden timing post which was not fitted with a predetermined breaking point as it should have been. Court later said the snow around the pole was the reason for her death, but experts were not sure if the snow wasn’t enforced by the not breaking pole.
In Maria’s case there was a truck where it should not have been.
In Kubica’s case the steel barrier was not symmetric. It was for street traffic and not for rally with totally different driving and impact angles.
My daughter was in hospital because a driver opened a door without watching in the mirror for a bicycle with a speed of 30km/h.
All stuff that shouldn’t be…


She crashed in a straight line, and not taken part in much f1 activity so how would she know what safety is required, most probably mini roundabouts on the straights or something, don’t understand why anyone would be interested in what she has to say. F1 is being made to sterile with all these safety issues that are being brought up even though drives in a more dangerous period of Motorsport got on with it. I’m not saying safety is not important but to much emphasis on it will dilute the excitement of the sport


It is not necessarily the case that improvements in safety would make the sport any less exciting. There have been massive changes that have not impacted the quality one bit but improved safety enormously. Driver restraint systems, improved helmet design, energy absorbing nose section, fire protective suits etc. You could reasonably argue that as the driver safety has improved they are more likely to push harder, (tyres permitting), as the consequences of having an accident are greatly reduced.


The interesting point for me in this article is Maria’s comments about the car “fitting” well and that in junior formulae the cars just did not accommodate her. This is another reason it will is massively unusual for women to break into f1 and another reason that they are up against doing so in the near future. If there i a desire to get women into f1, then changes need to be made at junior level and then perhaps we will see women f1 drivers becoming the norm in the future.


“Things that you can avoid are not accidents”

What now?


I think María is showing to everyone the courage and bravery of spanish motorsport drivers. We are very proud of knowing she is improving in the life too. I wish she will become a personality in the world of the F1.


Why only spanish? Why do you restrict oneself to some boundaries?


I apology if I upset you whith my comment, I actually don,t believe in any kind of boundaries in the sport in general.


There seems to be a lot of people interested in the reason for her accident. I never saw an official release on the root cause but by omission of one people seem to think it was driver error. If so that’s fine we see a lot of driver errors during an F1 season, this year we have seen a few by 2008 f1 WDC runner up (by a corner) massa. There is no shame in it. But surly one thing to improve safety should be more transperancy and sharing of reasons for accidents so it would be good to hear what happened to her.

In relation to her new role I wish her well however I do question if she had proven herself in junior formula to warrent the the drive, maybe that could improve safety minimum performances in junior formula to obtain a super licience.


I suspect a lot of the quiet around these things is to do with liability insurance and confidentiality clauses. Nobody argues with the lawyers in these circumstances.

But you’re right of course a publicised account of the public health and safety investigation would force people to improve standards more than hushed legal agreements.


I am very happy to see Maria not giving up on motor racing sport after her accident. The accident may have ended her racing career (with medical advances I hope she would still have some taste of it), but her experience from that event may help us all to change the perspective on safety.

It easy from an armchair to criticize “over-regulation” but I challenge everybody to put themselves or those they love in a harm’s way without blinking. What would you do you or somebody you love got hurt or killed because we have not done the best job possible to protect them from danger?

I always remember the day when I got my first child and I realized that I had somebody that depended on me and that I cannot afford certain risks in my life. It changed my perspective on my life. That did not stop me enjoying it. I just continued enjoying it differently.

Maria, you have my full support on what you are doing. As you change the perception of motor racing danger the people would get safer – there is nothing more important for those who call them “the loved ones.”


Did they ever release an official report on what actually caused her accident?


I don’t think so?

And i am wondering why it hasn’t??

It might not have been an accident, controlled mistake??


Marussia and FIA both concluded there were no mechanical issues with the car. Obviously it was a driver error, and maybe the truck shouldn’t have been parked so close to the track. Then again, since it was a straight line “marketing test”, they probably did not imagine much risk.


I doubt there is anyone prepared to admit details about why they had a massively powerful car with an inexperienced driver and relatively inexperienced team let loose near a truck with its tail lift partially up and sitting in line with a driver’s head…


I respect her and i admire her courage . It was Marussia’s fault to put Maria in an F1 car knowing all too well that she had one full season of open-wheel racing and 3 seasons of touring car experience behind her. She lost control of the car on a straight line and hit a truck. She could’ve easily hit barriers or any number of objects in the perimeter. I hope FIA regulates the way these marketing “test drives” are handled. Inexperienced drivers in F1 cars can have unintended results. There was a rather famous “arab rally star” who tried his hands on a Renault F1 car, and pinned it into the wall just as he released the clutch.

On the other hand, it is rather sad that the media has remained indifferent to the sufferings of other drivers. Kubica nearly lost an arm and a limb, but is back in rallying and doing rather well. Zanardi’s heroic comeback are stuff out of a hollywood script, yet there is hardly any coverage on them or the way they overcame their adversities.


I agree with Zombie’s posts. I think that test was a publicity stunt, and it went horrendously wrong, leaving a woman maimed for life. To be fair, Maria would have known the risks, and I don’t blame her for taking up an opportunity to drive an F1 car.

But my point is, she had no business being in the car in the first place. Why? Because she had no chance of ever racing in F1. Same goes for Susie Wolff. How many men (let alone women) over 30 are considered F1 potential? None. It’s youngsters barely out of their teens who are raking in wins in junior formulae who F1 teams are interested in. Not 30-year-olds.

No disrespect to Maria or Susie, as they no doubt drive quicker than me. But they just aren’t F1 potential. It’s not a sex issue. It’s age.

Anyway, kudos to Maria for staying positive after such trauma.


So despite having 4 years experience of racing various types of cars she is not experienced enough to drive an F1 car in a straight line? Look she might not have been the most talented driver in the world, but I think she was more than capable of handling an F1 car. Clearly something went tragically wrong, but I don’t think you can put it down to a lack of driving/racing experience.


Accidents happen, if they did not we would not require any barriers, kitty litter or run off areas on any race track. All drivers accept there is a chance of being involved in an accident, even test drivers. A great deal of work has gone into the car and the track in order to minimise any injury to a driver unfortunate enough to crash. The car has to pass an impact test and energy absorbing measures are used in likely crash zones at race tracks. The difference with this accident is the involvement of a truck that had been parked in the area where the car was running. Trucks and very low cars are a very bad combination, the dangers from a car running under the truck bed is well known. Regardless of the cause of the accident the question is was this test carried out as safely as possible.


Zanardi has effectively retired from motor racing to focus on his handcycle career, but I think it’s fair to say while he was racing he was held in the highest esteem for his determination and courage. Certainly, one of the strongest responses to his Paralympic success was from the motorsport community. Likewise, Kubica has been featured in a number of motorsport outlets (including BBC’s F1 coverage) highlighting the challenges of his comeback and determination to succeed. There is certainly a lack of coverage in the mainstream media, I would agree, but the motorsport-specific media has certainly highlighted their achievements as far as I can see.


Safety is the least of F1’s concern… its the total lack of racing that worries me…

The track action is quite dead under the current regulations.

F1 is now over sanitized…


Maria’s was a terrifying and sickening accident, and one that could have so easily have been avoided. It is so impressive to see her turn such a personal tragedy into such determined and positive work.

And her colour-cordinated eyepatches look great too.

Keep it up Maria – you are an inspiration.


+1 on the eye patches


Completely agree with you. She is in the right place to ‘drive safety’. She speaks well and converts all the negative energy to positive.

Hats Off Maria!


i recommend that she pushes for f1 to achieve excellence in all areas using sensors in all areas to ensure all tasks are completed before the next phase.

she should also push for an evolutionary health and safety training which improves year on year.


was there ever a reason found for her “non” accident ?



I’ve often wondered if it’s insensitive to suggest driver error. No doubt it was a terrible accident and I’m very glad she is alive but I personally don’t think women should be F1 drivers. I’m not saying the accident happened because she is a woman but overall I do think men + women are good at different things.

But then you have people like Sabine Schimdt who always beats Jeremy Clarkson…


Yes because all men are good at some things and all women are good at others… You know there are plenty of women who test pilot jets right? How many men can do that? Try thinking before you make such bizarre stereotyping claims.


@ AuraF1

You do realize that just because someone may not have the same opinion as you, it does not mean they have ‘an error in thinking’.


It wasn’t nasty or intended to be. It was pointing out a ridiculous generalisation. [mod]. Oddly people make these gender based claims without thinking I was merely hoping you’d think again. That’s not an insult, its just pointing out an error in thinking.


A friend of mine is a pilot, it’s not so unusual. I knew full well not everyone will agree when I suggested men and women are good at different things. But there is no need to get carried away and be nasty.


You don’t think women should drive in F1, why stop there. Maybe you should to move to Saudi Arabia where women driving all together is frowned upon. There is NO reason why a woman can’t drive an F1 car, [mod]. I hope in a few years a woman dose make it to F1 but unfortunately teams are trying to rush it by letting unqualified drivers like Vilota and Wolf drive F1 cars when they dont have enough experience in junior formula [mod].


What was offensive about my reply??? I’m just trying to answer your question Scott. Why do you ask a question and then delete my reply, there was nothing offensive in it.


Whoa, whoa calm down there Mr.Whiteknight, he just expressed his opinion, and frankly, he is by far not alone with it.


“Saudi Arabia where women driving all together is frowned upon”

I thought it was against the law, period.


Why shouldn’t his comment have made it through moderation? Because you don’t agree with it? You may not agree with it; I probably don’t agree with it either, but why shouldn’t he question gender-based differences in aptitude for different things? Why not?



Me too still waiting for official cause?


What do you mean non accident, even if it was driver error it wasn’t intentional and hence an accident. Lots of drivers make errors lLwis, Seb and Alonso included and there is no shame in it. Do you think it was supposed to happen? Cop on!!


i was just badly quoting her , as she does not class it as an accident



My bad, I guess it would be good to know what happened. The only problem is that if it was driver error you would get the usual cavemen coming out saying women can’t drive in F1


I suspect a reluctance to admit responsibility on either side is due to an upcoming court claim for compensation.

She’s probably been onto injury lawyers for you.

Where there’s blame etc……

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