You’ll recall that the Spanish driver had completed a straight-line test at an English airfield several weeks ago and was returning to a staging area when the car suddenly accelerated and crashed into the back and underside of a team transport truck.
De Villota suffered severe head and facial injuries in the incident and lost her right eye. Although still seriously injured, she is reportedly recovering in hospital.
There were initial suspicions that the car’s anti-stall device had kicked in and caused the acceleration but Marussia’s investigation seems to reject that (although a separate English Health and Safety Executive investigation has yet to report).
If that’s the case, and it turns out to have been driver error, the question has to be asked: why did that team allow someone as inexperienced as Maria de Villota to get into that racing car in the first place?
It’s been my understanding that modern F1 cars are so powerful that if someone who doesn't know what they're doing ever tries to drive one, they're going to immediately spin out.
De Villota, the daughter of an F1 driver from the 1970s named Emilio de Villota (I never heard of the guy; he had two starts), had raced in a number of series – Grand Am and Formula Palmer, etc. – but a close examination of her record indicates that she was very much like her father -- she entered races but actually only got into a couple of them.
And she had never driven anything that even approached the power of a Formula One Grand Prix car.
But she is very attractive. She is one of two good-looking woman who were signed to testing or development driver roles by F1 teams this season; Susie Wolff, under contract to Williams, being the other.
Did somebody get it into their head that a knockout female racing driver would prove to be more intriguing to prospective sponsors and other well-heeled guests than the eye-candy hostesses usually found around F1 paddocks?
If so, that idea backfired -- big time.
The FIA mandates that a driver must have a superlicence before being allowed to race an F1 car. If Maria de Villota had a superelicence, the FIA must investigate how she got one.
If she didn't, then it's time for the FIA to legislate that anybody who gets into an F1 car to race or to conduct any kind of test must have one, or there will be the risk that de Villota's accident won't be the last to happen but potentially the first.