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F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 9) - Marussia and María // The story of brave María de Villota, her accident and subsequent recovery

Published by Christine Blachford

F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 9) - Marussia and María audio waveform
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This is the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, hello and welcome. This is the ninth episode of our mini series, picking out important events from the year. We’ve talked a lot about the racing and action on a Sunday, but there were key moments that happened away from the GPs themselves - this is a sad one, Day Nine - Marussia and María.

María de Villota was signed to the Marussia team as a test driver in March this year. At first, her role was simply trackside, getting to know the team and seeing how the F1 operations worked. Team boss John Booth did say that she would have the chance to get behind the wheel of an unspecified F1 car later in the year.

That opportunity came in early July when Marussia took the current MR-01 chassis to Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire in the UK for some straightline testing. María was set to test the car in the morning, but just after nine o’clock it emerged that there had been an accident involving María and a support truck. As is always the case with an accident like this, reports varied wildly about what had happened and who was to blame, but the most important news to filter out was the updates regarding María’s condition.

She was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital by ambulance where her injuries were described as life-threatening. Further reports advised that she had regained consciousness but then there was a worrying silence overnight, when it was finally confirmed that she had lost her right eye in the accident, and had been undergoing lengthy surgery to stabilise her condition.

The following days were quiet, with her condition continuing to be reported as critical but stable. By the Friday, three days after the accident, she had had further surgery and was upgraded to a serious condition. One week later, she was talking to her family, and returned to Spain to continue her recovery in hospital. Towards the end of the month, she left hospital to recuperate at home.

Meanwhile, the Marussia team undertook a serious investigation into what had caused the accident, with an independent health and safety review required as well. There was some concern that if it was a problem with the car, the race drivers were due to get back behind the wheel very shortly at the British Grand Prix. Marussia ruled out the possibility of car failure, though, without pointing the finger anywhere else.

Their statement read: “We are satisfied that the findings of our internal investigation exclude the car as a factor in the accident. We have shared and discussed our findings with the HSE for their consideration as part of their ongoing investigation.”

Three months after the accident, María held a press conference in which she described her memories of the crash, what she recalled from the hospital, and some details on her injuries. Along with losing her right eye, María also described how she had lost her sense of smell and taste, that she had developed headaches and would still require further surgery.

She admitted being overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from fans and from the motorsport community, and said that although she knows driving will be difficult with the loss of depth and perspective from one-sided vision, she would still like to remain in motorsport.

She said: “Before the accident, I only saw Formula One, inside a car, competing, and I didn’t see what was really important in life. So this eye has made me find the way again and I’m seeing it that way. And this new opportunity, I’m going to live it at 100%.”

A week after María’s public appearance, Susie Wolff paid tribute to her fellow female driver, after participating in a test with Williams. She spoke of a conversation she’d had with María as Susie describes it: “She said: “it’s up to you now to show that we can do it, you’re driving for both of us’ and today I had her in my thoughts and had her star on my helmet.”

She added: “It was very important for me to go out for both of us today and show everybody that what happened was a freak accident and that actually women can drive F1 cars successfully. She was without a doubt with me.”

Thanks for listening to this episode of the F1 Advent Calendar 2012. It doesn’t make for easy listening, but F1 is a dangerous sport and we can never take that for granted. I do hope you’ll join me again tomorrow when we’ll move on to Day Ten.

All content in the series F1 Advent Calendar 2012