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Woman Spotlight Wednesday: María de Villota

Written by Alejandra Guajardo Lozano, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Maria de Villota; Image credit - Eurosport

Women have played an influential role throughout the history of motor racing. Many have taken to the wheels of motorsport machines, while numerous figures have worked tirelessly on the sidelines in various roles, shaping the motor racing world to the present day. Woman Spotlight Wednesday aims to take a look at the tales of these superwomen, who have surpassed various hurdles to reach where they are today.

Today’s episode narrates the story of a young Spanish talent, truly quick behind the wheel, and was even the Formula One fold for a few years, before being taken away too young.

María de Villota Comba was a Spanish racing driver and a talented woman, and was a great inspiration for the movement of women entering the world of motorsport. She was born on January 13th, 1979. Daughter of former Formula One driver Emilio de Villota, racing was already in her veins. She competed in many racing events, such as the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race, World Touring Car Championship, ADAC Pro car Series, and many others.

In 2011, María got her first taste of Formula One machinery, shining a light upon women dreaming of reaching the pinnacle of Motorsport. She made her Formula One test debut with the Lotus Renault GP in a Renault R29 at the Paul Ricard Circuit. Her management went into talks with the team for a test driver seat in the future, before withdrawing from it later, as María was in advanced talks over a third driver role. On March 7th, 2012, María de Villota joined the Marussia F1 Team as a test driver.

A few months later, on July 3rd 2012, María de Villota was involved in a horrific accident at Duxford Aerodrome in England, while carrying out straight-line testing for her team. It took one hour to get her out of the car, to be transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridgeshire. She suffered from severe head and facial injuries, losing her right eye. After 17 days in the hospital, María was able to return to Spain, having escaped severe neurological damage.

Maria worked closely with the First Star Foundation after her accident. This foundation seeks to help people, especially children, with neuromuscular and mitochondrial diseases. She made her first public appearance after her accident in October 2012, giving an exclusive interview to ¡Hola! magazine, later hosting a press conference for the general media.

“What I would like now is for women to have their place, and talented women, working women, to be on the starting grid of F1. It is vital that young women in karting today can have something to aspire to. I don’t want them to think they can’t make it because right now they can’t see a woman there. We cannot let that happen”, she stated in her first press conference after her accident.

Sadly, in October of 2013, the Spanish media reported that María de Villota had been found dead in her Seville hotel room, at a young age of 33. According to the statement released by her family, her death was a consequence of neurological injuries suffered during her F1 testing crash. A minute of silence was held for de Villota before the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. In 2017, the final turn on the Circuito del Jarama was named Curva María de Villota, in honor of the young Spaniard.

After her death, the Legado María De Villota foundation was created in her memory. In 2016, current Formula One driver Carlos Sainz was named ambassador of the foundation by the Sports Superior Council (CSD, Madrid). María de Villota was Carlos’ mentee in the early days of his career. Sainz carries a red star design on his helmet in honor of his mentee. In an emotional speech, Sainz remembered his first laps in a single-seater, alongside María.

“I think I did 10-20 laps behind Maria, I keep them like gold in my mind. I have had a tremendous relationship with her ever since. I made the personal decision to wear Maria’s star on my helmet since 2014. It’s not carrying the legacy but I do carry my personal Maria De Villota inside the helmet.”

A young Carlos Sainz spoke of Maria's mentorship in his early days; Credit - El Confidencial

María de Villota was a strong, talented, and charitable woman, someone who inspired many women dreaming of participating in Motorsport. Her legacy will be carried on with her foundation, along with the memory of an inspiring woman who fought against adversity to achieve her dream, and inspires many others to do the same.


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