In October, motor sport, the FIA and the Women in Motorsport Commission lost one its brightest and most dedicated talents with the passing of María de Villota.
The Spanish former Formula One driver died in Seville as a result of injuries sustained in an accident during testing for the Marussia Formula One team in July 2012.
Despite sustaining life-threatening head injuries, María made a heroic recovery and in the year following the crash devoted herself to promoting women’s involvement in motor sport and also to tackling road and track safety issues. Her tireless efforts in these regards were acknowledged by FIA President Jean Todt, who led tributes to her.
“María was a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motor sport and a tireless campaigner for road safety,” he said. “Above all, she was a friend I deeply admired. Through her courage, strength and determination she transformed her personal misfortune on the track into a powerful message for road safety that was heard at race tracks and beyond around the world. María was a beloved member of the FIA family.”
The FIA President’s thoughts were echoed by Michèle Mouton, President of the FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, to which de Villota had been appointed an Ambassador in June 2012.
“María was such a great person,” she said. “When you are able to go through such a terrible tragedy and transform the negatives into such positives, it is truly remarkable. María was able to do this and was more radiant than ever; that requires an amazing spirit and deserves respect and admiration. I was close to María and it is a real privilege to have known her.
“We worked together in the Women in Motorsport Commission and María was an inspiration not only to our members, but also the wider motor sport community. As one of our Ambassadors she strived to get more young women into our sport, to help them achieve their goals and have belief in themselves. She was a dedicated supporter for road and motor sport safety and was very involved with our Action for Road Safety campaign; this is something María was incredibly passionate about.”
Born into a racing family, María’s father Emilio took part in 14 grands prix weekends between 1976 and 1982, starting twice. It was no surprise, therefore, that the young María pursued a racing career.
After initially competing in karting, she moved up to single-seater racing in 2000 in the Spanish Formula Toyota series. She raced full-time in Spanish F3 from 2002-2004 and then moved to saloon and sports car racing, competing in the World Touring Car Championship, Superstars, Spanish GT and Germany’s ADAC Procar series, in which she won at the Nurburgring in 2007 and finished third in the standings.
Following a stint in the Superleague Formula in 2009, her break into Formula One came in 2011, when she tested a Renault R29. In 2012, she secured a full-time role as Marussia’s test driver.
Later the same year, she was named as one of the first five Ambassadors by the Women in Motosport Commission and embraced the role with gusto. Following her accident she broadened the scope of her involvement with the FIA, becoming a leading advocate of road and track safety.
In May of this year she played an integral part in the FIA’s contribution to the second UN Road Safety Week’s Long Short Walk campaign, leading calls for pedestrian road safety during a march of F1 stars at the Spanish Grand Prix.
María’s legacy can perhaps best be summed up in the words she spoke following her appointment as an Ambassador for Women in Motorsport.
It is very important to let other women know that with enough belief and application, you can overcome any hurdle,” she said. “If I can be an F1 test driver, I am sure a lot of women can do it too. It is purely a question of talent, hard work and commitment. I gave my life to motor sport and just kept the faith that my optimism would be rewarded.”
It is that unshakeable optimism, as well as her generosity of spirit, dedication and incredible courage, that will be remembered most.