María De Villota (lost footage of fatal Formula One crash; 2012)
This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of a fatal motor racing accident/disturbing visuals.
On 3rd July 2012, Formula One driver María De Villota completed a straightline test in a Marussia MR01 at Duxford Aerodrome. As she was due to return to the makeshift pit area, she suddenly lost control of the car and crashed into a stationary truck. The impact resulted in her losing her right eye, as well as causing neurological damage that contributed towards her death a year later. While audio has been publicly released, footage of the accident has been withheld from public viewing.
After achieving moderate success in feeder series like Superleague Formula, it was reported on 18th August 2011 that María De Villota had conducted a test in a Renault R29. After negotiating with both Lotus Renault and Marussia, it was announced on 7th March 2012 that De Villota would become a test driver for the latter. Her first test in the Marussia MR01 would commence on 3rd July, being situated at Duxford Aerodrome. According to reports, she first drove a saloon car where her race engineer explained the testing programme. Crucially however, key aspects, including the stopping procedure, were not fully discussed with her beforehand. Additionally, she expressed concerns that she was unable to operate the clutch when the steering ended up on full-lock. She was reassured that "it does not matter as there would be no need for full-lock during the straightline test".
The test in question saw De Villota complete a straightline test, driving up to 200 mph from both ends of the runway while maintaining control of the vehicle. With the test complete, De Villota was instructed to drive the car into a makeshift pit area. As she entered the area, she slowed the Marussia down to around 30-40 mph. According to BBC journalist Chris Mann, the car suddenly accelerated, before proceeding to collide with the tail-lift of a stationary truck. De Villota was unconscious following the accident, with the car's top and her helmet taking the brunt of the impact. For about 15 minutes, De Villota failed to move, before she was transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
De Villota suffered severe facial, head and skull injuries, although was reportedly stable in hospital. The crash's biggest consequence however was that doctors were unable to save De Villota's right eye. Nevertheless, she was able to leave hospital after 17 days, making public appearances in October 2012. She revealed the accident had caused her to lose cranial mass and her senses of smell and taste, while she also suffered from constant headaches. She was eager to return to racing if a licence could be granted, while also expressing interest in improving motorsport safety. Ultimately, on 11th October 2013, De Villota was found dead in her Seville hotel room, aged 33. An autopsy revealed she had suffered a cardiac arrest, which was linked to the neurological damage she suffered in the accident. De Villota had become the first woman to drive a Formula One car since Katherine Legge's test at Minardi in 2005, with the Spaniard praised for her courage following the accident. She had also become an ambassador for the FIA's Women in Motorsport Commission. Her death meant she became the first woman to die from a Formula One accident.
An HSE report into the accident concluded that the crash was not the result of a mechanical issue. However, it did bring criticism towards Marussia for not giving specific instructions for how to safely enter the pitlane. HSE therefore believed De Villota was left to rely on her own skill and experience to avoid a collision. Additionally, the truck involved in the accident had a tail-lift which was larger than those typically incorporated onto race trucks, while also being at a similar position and height to the driver's eye-line, increasing the risk of injury. De Villota's relatives would file a lawsuit against Marussia, which was settled in October 2017.
Initial news reports would publicly release audio of the accident. However, it is also known that a spectator recorded footage of the collision, which was viewed by HSE as part of its investigation. Considering the graphic nature of the accident, as well as out of respect to De Villota and her relatives, the footage is unlikely to see a public release.
- Motorsport Memorial page for María De Villota. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- Crash reporting on Marussia signing De Villota as a test driver. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- Autosport reporting on De Villota completing a test in a Renault R29. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- HSE report concerning the accident. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- Autosport summarising HSE's findings. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- BBC News' initial report into the accident. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- Jalopnik documenting the life and career of De Villota and noting she was the first woman to die in a Formula One accident. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- Autosport reporting on De Villota's first public appearances since the crash. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- BBC News reporting on De Villota losing her right eye. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- BBC Sport reporting on the death of De Villota and its link to the neurological damage inflicted in the accident. Retrieved 6th Aug '22
- BBC News reporting on the lawsuit against Marussia being resolved. Retrieved 6th Aug '22