Maria de Villota I was 32 years old when the team Marussia chose her as his test driver for the 2012 Formula 1 season, which broke with 25 years without female representation at the wheel. However, in his first exam, on July 3 in the preview of the British GP, a serious accident caused the loss of his right eye, and consequences that led to his death on October 11, 2013. Throughout In those 15 months, the first Spanish woman to arrive in F1 changed the focus of her great passion and focused on road safety, helped children with neuromuscular and mitochondrial diseases, created a residence for women in situations of violence and wrote a book. In short, he left a legacy what, on the day I would turn 41, still alive.
Despite being the daughter of a driver who at age 30 raced her first Formula 1 Grand Prix -Emilio de Villota in Spain 1977- and growing up among karts, oil and tires, motorsport was not an option in his childhood. Her parents wanted her and her siblings, Isabel and Emilio Jr., to try other sports and they did. Until at 16, at the initiative of his brother, he entered a karting competition and won among about 2,000 boys. It was the confirmation that his dream of being an F1 driver was not impossible. And he fed him by going to study for a year in the United States to improve his level of English and graduate in Sciences of Physical Activity and Sports, so that strength would not be a barrier on his path as a pilot.
It was demonstrated one morning in August 2011. Maria donned the black jumpsuit with gold details, tied her blonde hair, donned her helmet and made the sign of the cross before getting into the Lotus Renault R29. He waited a few minutes in the Paul Ricard French circuit box and, when he received the order from the engineers, he accelerated fully for 300 meters to become in the first Spanish in history and in the first woman after 6 years to drive a Formula 1.
Despite what I could hear in the paddock, it was clear to me that this condition could not be a barrier: “The good thing is that you measure yourself by the stopwatch. It does not matter if you are a man or a woman. We can drive an F1 perfectly and that does not mean that many hours of training are needed, a lot of sacrifice, effort and being a woman with a strong constitution, “he told The confidential.
“As a female driver, I was very happy to have the opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car, because it is the pinnacle of motorsport and it has always been a dream for me. This has been a very important step to get to F1 and now , more than ever, it is possible, “he declared about a test that the team only confirmed on August 18 and that fueled the expectation that the Spanish would join the team as the third driver in 2012.
Official photo of Marussia after announcing María de Villota as her test pilot. Photo REUTERS / Daniel Munoz
But it was not Lotus but Marussia -ex Virgin- that in March 2012 he confirmed María de Villota as his test pilot, on a team that had Timo Glock and Charles Pic as starters. “Nobody thought that he could reach Formula 1 -confessed Emilio de Villota-. Well, since it was his dream, it was also mine “.
A few days later, her young daughter’s adventure began in Melbourne, where she watched the Australian Grand Prix, the first date of the season. Although his greatest challenge would be the test day for young drivers in Abu Dhabi at the end of that year, in the run-up to the British GP. the team required her to do aerodynamic tests at the English airfield at Duxford on July 3.
She was accompanied there by her sister, Isabel, who was also her press officer. It would be a simple, straight-line test. But in Madrid, her mother was very nervous. “If there is a day that you don’t have to worry about, it is today”Emilio told him before going to work. It was her cell phone that rang twenty minutes after the scheduled time for the rehearsal, and it was her daughter who told her that Maria had had “a very bad accident” and asked her to travel immediately to England.
At the start of the test that marked the beginning of the future of the Madrid, The Marussia MR01 hit the ramp of one of the team’s trucks head-on, which was “unusual” and “longer” than usual at the Grand Prix. “She’s dead?”Isabel asked between shouts from the box, where there was no answer that could calm her. “We do not know”they told him, as orders for an ambulance multiplied.
“I threw myself on the ground to pray, when they told me that María had moved. It was then that I thought that if there was a second to call home it was this and if there was a person who could call it was my father”, recalled Isabel de Villota in the program Robinson report.
On the way to the hospital in Cambridge, the ambulance carrying Maria stopped three times but doctors managed to make her arrive conscious. “I have a headache”, was the last thing he said when his sister asked him how he was in the emergency room, where they had covered half of his head. Then, he entered the operating room, where he spent 17 hours. It was just the first in a series of operations to reconstruct her face.
Only on the fourth day did the pilot receive the news that she had lost her right eye. “He had 104 points on his face, black, which seemed to be sewn with nautical rope, and he had lost his right eye. I was terrified“, he confessed in his first interview, published in the magazine Hello October 10th. Gone were his hospitalization in England, which lasted until the end of July, and a new facial reconstruction intervention at the La Paz Hospital in Madrid. But the moment of the accident was still fresh.
“I thought I was in an FIA stress test,” he acknowledged. I thought I was in a kind of simulation and that I had to endure from a mental point of view. That it was an endurance test. I was at the limit of my strength, but I felt that I had to show that I could pass that test. I was exhausted, exhausted. I also remember the voice of the nurse, who said: ‘Come on Maria, hold on!’. When I woke up I started speaking in English, until my father told me: ‘Please, Maria, speak in Spanish that mom is missing half’. Then I began to realize what had happened. “
Although his future as a pilot was long gone, he soon found a new purpose. He transformed his passion for motorsport into that of transmitting the importance of, for example, wearing a helmet, the element that -in short- had saved his life. And his energy was devoted to Ana Carolina Díez Mahou Foundation to improve the quality of life of children with genetic neuromuscular diseases. Personally, she married her boyfriend, Rodrigo Garcia Millan, on July 28, 2013.
He also managed to put his experience, and create a permanent memory of what had happened to him, in the book “Life is a Gift”. Although she could not present it publicly because she died three days before, she did manage to see it edited and was able to give it to her parents the night before traveling to Seville, where she died in a hotel room on the morning of October 10, 2013, the day they were expecting her. for one of his usual motivational talks. It was in the wake of a clot caused by the consequences of the accident 15 months ago.
“It is not tremendous or morbid: it is like life; incredible, surprising, hard and beautiful. Tonight I got out of bed to tell you this. I got out of bed because, like many other nights, I feel a pain in the chest that my medicines do not calm So not only living is deciding. I would say, from my experience, that dying to a certain point is also deciding“he wrote in the introduction to his book. Words that still make sense eight years later.
“I felt rejection for being a woman”
In her book, María de Villota also revealed the machismo that she must have lived through wanting to be a pilot. “I felt the rejection for being a woman. The year I definitely felt the rejection the most was when I raced the German Touring Car Championship. I remember when I walked into the first driver safety meeting, everyone was very happy to have a woman, and a Spanish, on the grid. But when I started to visit the podium, the Spaniard no longer liked them so much, “he said. In addition, he revealed that it was difficult for the mechanics to hear his returns just because he was a woman.
As ambassador against Gender Violence of the Community of Madrid, when the accident forced her to get out of the race car, the Spanish woman then dedicated herself to fighting against gender violence and for the promotion of women. For this reason, her family, who decided not to create an NGO with her name but to carry out “The María de Villota Legacy” to continue the altruistic work of the pilot, inaugurated the María de Villota Residence, managed by Cáritas, to house women who need help.
Maria’s smile, in October 2012, after her first public appearance after the accident. Photo REUTERS / Sergio Perez
Resolution of the accident: “No fault of Maria”
María de Villota died before the accident investigation showed that it wasn’t his fault the frontal collision against the ramp of the Marussia team truck. Only in October 2017, four years after her death, her family managed to establish that what happened on July 3, 2012 had not been the responsibility of the pilot.
“María de Villota’s family is pleased to announce that it has reached an agreement that puts an end to the dispute that it was maintaining against Manor F1 Team, previously known as Marussia F1 Team, as a result of the accident suffered by María on July 3, 2012 . The accident was caused by a series of reasons, including the one produced by the truck parked in the pit area with its ramp deployed, no fault of Mary“They remarked in a statement with which they closed a long and painful process.
According to the report prepared by the Health and Safety Executive, and published by the BBC two years earlier, the ramp of the truck into which the car ran was “unusually longer than normal” and “located at the height of the person affected.” In addition, the team had not explained to the pilot how to stop the car, which had the anti-stall system activated, which raised the engine to 4,100 revolutions per minute to prevent it from stopping.
“María did a lap around the circuit, but they didn’t explain the procedures she had to follow to stop. De Villota received instructions from her race engineer, but they didn’t tell her anything about stopping the car or which gears she should use when she got to the pit. -lane “, explained the British media, where it was reviewed that the Spanish had pressed a button to try to unlock the clutch and that she had tried to go down from second to first gear, unsuccessful attempts to avoid the accident.