Remembering: Maria de Villota

January 13, 1980 – October 11, 2013

Formula One Test Driver

Ambassador of FIA Women in Motorsport

Awarded Gold Medal by the Royal Order of Sporting Merit

First Spanish Woman Test Driver in Formula One

Born in Madrid, Spain and daughter of former Formula One driver Emilio de Villota, the naturally talented Maria de Villota raised the bar for women in motorsports. After starting off in Karts during her youth, de Villota jumped into the Spanish Formula Toyota Series in 2000. The following year she moved to the newly established Spanish Formula 3 with Racing Engineering, a team that is in the modern day recognized as one of the premier teams in Formula junior divisions. By 2002, de Villota was racing full-time in the series and brought home a career best 11th place result in the championship standings. She continued to race in the series until 2004.

The native of Madrid began to move from open-wheel machines to sports cars for the next few years. At the beginning of 2005, Maria teamed with Luis Monzon, Gabrio Rosa, and Luca Drudi to drive in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Known as one of the most prestigious sports car races in the world, maybe second only to Le Mans, the group qualified 57th overall in a Ferrari 360 Modena. After completing an impressive 627 laps, the squad of Italian and Spanish drivers finished 24th overall, and 9th in the GT class.

For the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Maria competed in the World Touring Car Championship. In 2007 she also competed in the German ADAC Procar series. While driving a Chevrolet Lacetti for Maurer Motorsport de Villota saw incredible success. Finishing third in the final championship standings and collecting a win at one of the most challenging circuits in the world, Nurburgring.

When 2008 rolled around Maria rededicated herself to open-wheel. Making a one-time appearance in Euro 3000, finishing seventh at Spa-Francorchamps. Then she moved to the United Kingdom based Formula Palmer Audi championship, finding success again at Nurburgring, this time with a fourth place effort. These efforts drew interest from some in the Formula One ranks, and Madrid native saw her longtime dream begin to take shape.

In August of 2011, Maria de Villota made her Formula One testing debut with the Lotus Renault team at Paul Ricard Circuit in France. At the age of 32, she became the first woman from Spain to ever drive a Formula One machine. It had been six years since a woman drove an F1 chassis. The last to do it was Katherine Legge in 2005 when she tested for Minardi. Maria completed 180 miles in the Renault R29, a chassis that was developed in 2009.  

“Maria did exactly what was expected of her, she took things one step at a time and achieved some very reasonable laptimes, not putting a foot wrong all day.”

– Eric Boullier, former Lotus team principal

The test went so well for Maria that talks began between with Lotus on becoming a possible third driver for the team. Being a third driver in Formula One would solidify her as in a reserve role were she can drive in select practice sessions, or fill in as a relief driver in either of the two primary drivers cannot compete for various reasons. Unfortunately talks fell apart as did Maria’s chance in F1. When the door at Lotus closed, another door opened for the Spanish trailblazer. On March 7, 2012, Maria joined the Marussia F1 team as an official test driver. The dream had been realized, like her father, she had finally made it on a Formula One team.

 Maria made her debut test with her new team on July 3, 2012. The Marussia team was at Duxford airfield in Cambridge conducting straight-line tests with the new MR-01 chassis. Upon returning to the pit area after her installation run, Maria’s car struck a support truck. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and suffered life-threatening injuries. Maria underwent several operations, ultimately surviving, but at the cost of losing her right eye.

Many may have sulked at losing their dream only after just briefly getting to realize it, but just a few months after the accident Maria was prepared to blaze a new trail, road safety. Upon recovering from her injuries she became an advocate of road safety and began working with several charities. She even became an Ambassador for the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission (WMC). Maria also found love, marrying Rodrigo Garcia Millan on July 28, 2013.

On Oct. 11, 2013, the world lost Maria. It is believed that her death was a result of injuries sustained in her horrific accident just 15 months prior. Upon her death she was posthumously awarded a gold medal by the Royal Order of Sporting Merit. Rodrigo collected the medal on stage of the ceremony, which was also attended by King Juan Carlos.

“Today is a tragic day for motorsport. My deepest condolences go to the de Villota family. Maria was a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motorsport and a tireless campaigner for road safety. 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. Maria was a beloved member of the FIA family. Our thoughts go to her family today.”

– Jean Todt, FIA President

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