‘Car not a factor’ in de Villota crash

2012 F1 season

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Marussia say they have concluded their investigation into Maria de Villota’s crash at Duxford Aerodrome earlier this month.

In a statement released today the team said: “The accident occurred on July 3rd during a straight-line test, at which Maria was making her testing debut for the team and driving an F1 car for the fourth time in her career.

“The Marussia F1 Team conducted an initial analysis immediately after the crash. This aimed to identify the causes and contributory factors behind the accident and also served to determine if there were any car-related implications for the impending British Grand Prix.

“Having carefully examined all the data and supplementary information available at that time, the team were satisfied that there were no such car-related issues and cleared its chassis for race weekend participation.

“Following its initial investigation, the team proceeded to carry out further detailed analysis of the accident. An external forensic investigation was commissioned and carried out at Duxford Airfield (a FIA-approved and much used testing venue, compliant with the recommendations for a test of this nature) and with the team at the Marussia Technical Centre in Banbury. This external analysis has been carried out autonomously of the team’s own internal investigation.”

Team principal John Booth said: “We are satisfied that the findings of our internal investigation exclude the car as a factor in the accident. We have shared and discussed our findings with the [Health and Safety Executive] for their consideration as part of their ongoing investigation.

“This has been a necessarily thorough process in order to understand the cause of the accident. We have now concluded our investigatory work and can again focus on the priority, which continues to be Maria’s wellbeing. In that regard, we continue to support Maria and the De Villota family in any way we can.”

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Image © Marussia

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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76 comments on “‘Car not a factor’ in de Villota crash”

  1. So if the car was “not a factor” are they therefore saying it was driver error??

    1. or unsafe environment…

      1. ……but then how did it pass FIA tests?

      2. Clearly the environment was unsafe, and that contributed to the seriousness of the accident. But if there was no fault with the car then it must have been driver error which caused the crash.

        1. Marussia could also be responsible for driver error, though, surely. It’s their responsibility too ensure employees are properly trained and instructed in the use of equipment. And they’re definitely responsible for ensuring a safe working environment, which it clearly wasn’t. Shouldn’t FIA be investigating this too? Are they?

          1. ensuring a safe working environment,

            I think this line of thought is a bit obtuse, likewise you could argue that F1 pit lanes are unsafe.

          2. True but given the inherent danger, the point is eliminating unnecessary risk as far as possible.

      3. an ‘unsafe environment’ does not cause a car to suddenly accelerate as has been reported by eyewitnesses.
        it can be argued that any environment is unsafe when presented with unusual circumstances.

        1. Seems to be that any environment where a car can accelerate into a parked trucked must be unsafe in some way…. when I first heard about this incident it seemed odd to me that trucks were parked in an area where the car was manouvering, regardless of speed…

          You wouldn’t find trucks parked in an F1 pitlane would you ?

          1. No but you would find trucks and race cars mixed together in the paddock of almost all club racing and a lot of national and international series.

            I work for a team which race in a support series for the British F3 and British GT series, and its common place to see race cars driving around the paddock maneuvering around trucks with the tail lifts at all manner of angles and heights. On many occasions I’ve had to thread one of our cars between trucks and team vehicles, with people also walking with little care for the vehicles trying to get through.

            Unfortunately motor racing by its nature is unsafe, whether that be at top speed on the track or much slower through the paddock.

          2. Well if that is the case then that sounds like a recipe for disaster… I’ve worked in a “safe working environment” (nothing to do with motor racing) and anticipating potential hazards and arranging the environment to avoid them is a normal part of planning the work.

            I would have expected there to at least be some form of barrier separating hazards.

            Cars driving around a paddock area with trucks with tail lifts of all manner of angles and heights

            just makes me think we’ve been lucky that there haven’t been more accidents like this.

    2. To me it seems Marussia are very carefull in their press release to limit it strictly to what they know is NOT the cause, wisely refraining from speculating about other factors that did cause the accident @the_pope, although it does seem that its likely the driver did have a key role in what happened.

    3. no. they’re simply saying that the car behaved as expected. if they were saying driver error, then it would be reported as driver error. it has been left out, so it is still conjecture as to what *actually* caused the car to suddenly accelerate.

      i have no doubt that marussia have an opinion based on the telemetry, however reactionary finger pointing will do no good to the health of maria, and given that no-one else was injured, is it *really* necessary? just wait for the full inquest report to be released.

    4. I can only imagine 2 situations taking in account the pictures, first is that she mistakenly stepped on the throttle, F1 cars have the clutch on the wheel so it lefts one less pedal down there, its something that can easily happen to someone driving an automatic car, my other guess is that she was trying to spin on purpose but thats just very unlikely. After what Marussia have said im pretty sure she’ll reply back.

    5. I would love to see their risk assesment for the pit area & surroundings. I cannot believe that they dont have any kind of procedure that would prevent using truck tailgates while test is in progress. Yes you cant prevent all accidents but you have to minimize risks where a serious injury can happen (like tailgate on a height of a drivers helmet!).

  2. It’s very hard to interpret this statement. Ovviously, in a sense, the car was a factor – if she hadn’t been driving a car, she wouldn’t have had the accident. That’s meaningless. So, what are they saying exactly? if they’re saying that the car didn’t do anything outside of its normal operating parameters, i.e. all of the systems of the car functioned in the correct way and there were no faults with any systems on the car, it still doesn’t mean that the car, or at least an unfamiliarity with the car, wasn’t the cause of the accident.

    The theory about the anti-stall, for instance, could still very well be true, and there wouldn’t be an mechanical or electrical fault to blame, as such, although it was something that the car ‘did’ which was a factor.

    I don’t like the way that people talk about driver error in this case. I think it’s important to remember that De Villotta was an experienced racing driver who had driven an F1 car before, and was familiar with single seaters. I find it very unlikely that she forgot which pedal did what. it seems to me that there may have been some operational issue which may have been the cause. I’m sure that the telemetry from the car will have told them by now exactly why the car accelerated, but clearly they don’t want to prejudge the outcome of the formal investigation.

    What this statement effectively means is simply that nothing went significantly wrong with the car which would mean it poses a danger to its race drivers.

    1. In fact, there’s nothing new in their statement as they did race at Silverstone. So we all knew the car was not a ‘factor’. It would be something if they now said: “After investigating, we realise that our cars are unsafe. Both drivers escaped luckily from the British Grand Prix”

      Still, with @mazdachris I wait for the real outcome of the investigation. Was there any driver error? If so, was it a common mistake – which getting the anti-stall is? Or was the system (very) different from other systems? etc etc.

    2. Exactly that is what they are saying @mazdachris , no malfunction in the car is to blame.

      From the way this statement is carefully worded not to imply anything towards the driver, it seems Marussia will certainly be not putting any blame there, at least not publicly. I think its good that instead they focus on supporting their driver in her recovery, after all, it still is a team effort, isn’t it?

    3. I just want to apologise for talking about her in the past tense there. Clearly, she IS an experienced racing driver, not was..

      I’d edit if I could.

      1. Well, you were right the first time to be honest. Nobody could race safely without the depth perception that having two eyes gives you. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but her racing days are over.

        1. As was mentioned in comments at the time of the crash, there are several professional drivers racing with only one functioning eye.

  3. To clarify; an F1 car is a machine designed primarily to operate at racing speeds, not pootle around a car park. This means that when going at the kind of speeds she was going when the accident occurred, the car can behave very strangely and do things which the driver may not be expecting, even though the car is operating exactly as it should. it’s likely that something about the character of the car while slowly going into the service area, caught her out. Maybe anti-stall, maybe something else. Maybe an unfamiliarity with the steering wheel controls caused something to change (or not change) in an unexpected way. This is what you’d technically call ‘driver error’ but not in the sense that she was unable to drive the car, or that she had no business being behind the wheel. Simply that it was an unfortunate accident which could have befallen anyone. it was just made all the more unfortunate by the proximity of the transport truck which turned what might have been just a red face, into a severe head wound.

    1. While what you say is true about an F1 car not being meant to “pootle around a car park,” I would note that drivers regularly driver at slow speeds in the pit lane with relatively few incidents.

      1. *regularly drive

        Curse my poor proof reading skills.

      2. Relatively few. But there are some incidents. The difference being that the pitlane is a carefully controlled environment where every element of potential risk is minimised as much as possible. So when mistakes do happen, the consequences are usually not much more dramatic than a bruised ego (or in some cases bruised mechanics!). The pitlane is also a straight line effectively, with no sharp turns, whereas the service area at a straightline test may require the driver to perform all sorts of maneuvers they wouldn’t usually do at a circuit. These are all factors. Yes, driver error may well be the thing which set the chain of events in motion, however they were probably working in an environment where a mistake was made considerably more likely, than the consequences much more severe.

        Just remember that driver error can be many many things, and doesn’t necessarily imply a stupid mistake which they should have avoided.

        1. I agree that it doesn’t imply a stupid mistake. But in the case of this instance, I see two possible outcomes left:

          1) This sort of error is uncommon for inexperienced test drivers at straight line tests and it’s unlikely anyone would have known she’d hit the truck in that fashion. It was simply a one-in-a-million unfortunate accident. Still probably not a “stupid” mistake, but one to warn new drivers about (and maybe move that truck farther away).

          2) This sort of error IS common for inexperienced test drivers at straight line tests and the truck being in the potential line of fire was unsafe and will be kept far, far away from the car while it’s at slow speeds in the future. In this case, Marussia is much more to blame and had the testing equivalent of a Tamburello corner on their hands.

  4. I think it’s unfortunate that Marussia has released a press statement as such. It’s an inclusive statement that removes the blame from the team from a technical point while not confirming anything else. There is many possible conclusions as to why this accident happened and until all those are factored in and report produced, nothing should be said at all. Maria and her health should be the only public concern at the moment, not who’s at fault. Sad state of affairs IMO, best wishes going to Maria and the family.

    1. In a perfect world yes, but Marussia is a small team that needs sponsorship money. While it is sad what happened to Maria, they have to save face.

  5. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    16th July 2012, 14:47

    I think that Marussia have discovered the driver error in the telemetry, but Maria is recovering and it would be seen so cruel or evil to say: “The driver is the one to blame”. It’s the most polite way to give some relief to both parts (Marussia and Maria’s). Then some other official investigation will say the things straight.

  6. Can it be that she simply didn’t see the platform at the back of the lorry ? After all it was horizontal, and thus very thin for her to see.

    1. Nope, the car was almost stopped and then accelerated, hitting the back of the truck

  7. It sounds to me like they are trying to at least insinuate the potentiality of driver-error being the main culprit in this incident without ever actually saying it directly. Slightly annoying though that they would release a statement that just removes a factor from the scenario without actually trying to provide a complete explanation, and if they still can’t provide a complete explanation maybe they should have held off on the comment.

    1. I think @xbx-117 that they have been very carefull to both give accurate information (everyone was going to ask them latest on wednesday/thursday in Germany, so they pre-empt that) about what they know of what led to the accident, while at the same time avoiding anywhere laying the blame somewhere else, after all, the investigation is still ongoing.

      1. I agree, and I do not envy their position at all. While naturally we are all mainly concerned for Maria’s well-being, this is no doubt also very difficult for Marussia, a lower end team who hired Maria arguably for PR reasons, and now has to deal with the fallout of her having a serious accident in one of their cars. Its a very touchy situation and maybe I am just being impatient, but I would have hoped to have heard the full story by now.

      2. @basCB, precisely.

  8. I’m starting to think it could just be something as simple as her foot slipped on the accelerator.

    1. I’ll freely admit to having never driven an F1 car, but as far as I know the space around the driver’s feet is so confined that they are always in contact with the pedals. You can’t right-foot brake, and there’s nothing to put your foot on that it could slip off and hit the throttle. Short of some sort of physical spasm, it seems unlikely that she’d have accidentally hit the throttle. And I can’t believe that she would just randomly press the throttle while pointing at a truck in the service area.

      1. @mazdachris
        Normally the pedals have sidewalls so to speak so the drivers feet can’t slip off to the side, but some drivers right foot brake. Rubens Barrichello used both right foot and left foot braking depending on the conditions and circumstances, so i guess pedals are different depending on how the driver want them.
        But yeah, it seems unlikely that her left foot would slip onto the throttle, but until the final result of the investigation we can only guess what happened.

      2. What I meant by ‘slip’ was accidentally apply too much pressure or what not. It’s easy to do. It could have been caused by something as trivial as a sneeze. Point is we don’t know. But the evidence is leaning more towards driver error. I was simply speculating what type of error it could have been.

      3. It could be something to do with the clutch. they have four paddles behind the steering wheel all controling the clutch bite point (explained very nicely in one BBC build up). If anything happened i doubt it was an error on the pedals. Clutch seems more likely and more tricky.

        1. That’s the way I imagine it happening. There are several paddles, and she didn’t grab the right one fast enough when the anti stall kicked in. That could be to do with her unfamiliarity with the car or the fact that the truck was just too close for her to react in time, or a combination of the two. I think she then hit the breaks, but it was wet so the car skidded. This is of course wild speculation, but it’s what I think probably happened.

      4. Ian (@valkyrassassin)
        16th July 2012, 22:06

        I was thinking maybe a muscle spasm myself, even a slight press after that would cause massive acceleration in an F1 car, and could be caused by the nature of the tight cockpit design of F1 cars.

    2. or her thumb of the “clutch”

  9. You could still blame the team for not instructing her thoroughly.

    1. Only if she wasn’t instructed thoroughly.

    2. What should they say to her? “See that truck? Don’t drive into it…”

      1. YES. That’s what they should have said.

        1. What if they said it?

  10. I Love the Pope
    16th July 2012, 16:36

    Covering their butts.

  11. it might not be the car, but a system that worked at the wrong place and time. I still think it was the anti-stall system that suprised her.

    1. @turbof1
      I would be surprised if they didn’t include electronic systems as a part of the “car”.

    2. Todd (@braketurnaccelerate)
      17th July 2012, 4:52

      Doesn’t anti-stall put the car into Neutral (or the equivalent of)? I seriously doubt it was that.

      1. No the anti stall gives throttle without the driver having to touch the paddle. I think it goes in neutral when something seriously is wrong with the gearbox or engine, so to make sure further damage is avoided.
        I think the anti stall is specifically designed for starts; if there wasn’t an anti stall, the engine would just shut down and with no way to restart the engine from the cockpit, the car is a sitting duck, very dangerous with alot of cars behind you.

        1. I think that nowadays the anti-stall is not allowed to give throttle. If the car is on 2nd or bigger gear, it can put it on 1st or neutral automatically. Otherwise it can only use clutch.

          1. I’ve looked it up and I’ve readed from several sources (you can look it up on google yourself) that when anti stall kicks in, the throttle opens up by 50%. I am carefull though, most of these sources are related to the accident and could be in turn info from one single source, so if that one is wrong, all the others are. However, I also have readed an article from Scarbs, saying the following:
            “Equally the clutch can be actuate by the anti stall software, this is designed to keep the engine running in a spin, by detecting the wheel speed has dropped to a point where the revs will drop to stall the engine, the system needs to be reset by the driver to re-engage the car in gear.”
            So if that is correct, I think we strangely are both correct. However, that article is rather old (it was written at the time when traction control was allowed). I do not know if these rules still apply in modern F1.

          2. forgot to add the link to scarbs his article; always correctly refer to your sources!

          3. That Scarbs page seems to be quite old. 2003? The systems might have changed since then. Tried to find anwers from FIA’s regulations but couldn’t find any. I’ll have to do more digging.

  12. There are merely stating there wasn’t an inherent fault in the car. There could still have been issues unique to that day that caused the accident. Until Maria is asked it’s unlikely to become any clearer.

    1. Exactly. The anti-stall system could worked correctly by stopping the call from stalling. The forward motion into the side of a truck is just unfortunate positioning on the drivers part.

      Of course, this is all conjecture as I assume none of us were there at the time, or have access to the telemetry.

  13. It all amounts to their proceedure while conducting the tests.
    If a new driver is not made aware of the test proceedure especially as it applies to personnel on track and equipment.
    If she didn’t expect a truck to be at that position, or she was not made aware of what to do, you can’t blame her.

  14. I beleive Marussia is left to hang in on a very awkward position when they clearly know that technically, the car is not the factor here. For the sake of the driver – team integrity; team – sponsors relationship and their credibility, whatever that caused the accident will never come out in public. It never came out in 1994

    It is very comforting that Maria is recovering well as we speak.

    1. It doesn’t say that the car is not a factor – simply that everything performed as it should. For example, if it was the anti-stall that caught her off-guard, that is in no way her fault – she couldn’t predict exactly when it would kick in – but it still performed as it should.

  15. So they say it’s not a team/car error. They also say Duford is safe and sancrtioned. So it has to be the drivers fault right? I know poeple say she’s experienced bla bla bla, but mistakes can happen, and maybe that’s what happened here – driver error.

    1. driver error, but that truck should not have been there.

      1. @turbo F1, as Duxford is an airfield, ie. an open space, you would expect that a car could move in any direction through a full 360 degrees, would you remove the truck from the airfield altogether? having then done that where would it be safe for the team-members to be ? would they also leave the airfield ?

        1. IMO there should be nothing in her driving direction. But yeah, I can understand your point of view.

          1. PaulyT1973 (@slimboyfatpauly)
            19th July 2012, 14:45

            Could it simply be that the ‘Tail Lift’ of the Truck should have been closed up and it wasn’t?

            Surely a ramp at an F1 drivers head height is considered a ‘Risk’, especially with all the ‘Head’ related incidents that have already occured in the past, the forever ongoing talks about closed cockpits etc. and all the risk assessments that are carried out?

            This would obviously imply that the team would be at fault if this was the case, so having the ramp in the closed position/removed or whatever musn’t be procedure when a car is being tested nearby.

            It seems to me that the only way forward whoever/whatever was at fault here, is to have the ramps closed/removed when the car is out of the truck and only opened again when the car is to be stored.

            Yes, the truck/s should have been there, but, no, the ramp should not have been left up at F1 car head height? Surely?

  16. From what I interpret, Marussia don’t want to hurt the sentiments by blaming Maria in public. I do believe that Maria had unfortunately a key role to play in this.

  17. I think you kinda have to look at what was left unsaid: The car was operating fine. Then the accident happened with horrible results due to 1. Driver error and 2. The loading ramp being lowered on the truck.

    Marussia aren’t going to publicly blame a driver that just lost an eye and most probably ended her career, nor are they going to publicly admit even a hint of liability about how the accident occured.

  18. All this speculation and debate about what did or didn’t happen is pointless.

    The only people who have all the facts are those doing the investigation. Marussia have reported the elimination of one possible cause and I am sure when they know and are in a position to report the actual cause they will do so.

  19. This is not over. Of course Marussia are going to do everything to cover themselves. But what I wanna know is, what does “Maria de Villota” have to say about it!?
    Until i hear her words and her statement, frankly i dont care what Marussia say. The fact that she has not issued out a statement is a bit worrying. If its not the car, then its the team negligence.

    1. Thats if she even remembers. Its not uncommon for people with such head injuries to have no memory of the incident.

      1. Or scrambled memory, what happened next is placed before, and what happened before is place next in the order of events. In such shock situation the brain does not operate normal, it does not record things at all, or records them in disorder.

  20. I don’t know why so many people are looking into this so negatively. If there was a fault on the car their could be huge legal ramifications for Marussia so they do well to set the score straight, if only for themselves. I don’t mean this to sound cruel, and I do sympathise whole-heartedly with Maria, but motorsport is dangerous. Accidents happen all the time, perhaps not to this extent, but it is inherrent that they do and that all concerned parties, especially the teams follow strict protocol and keep everyone up to date.

    The health and safety assessment will be key, trying to pieve together how this could happen but we can’t rule out that just an awful lot of bad luck went Maria’s way that day. She will be able to tell the authorities the most so we can’t really draw a conclusion until she has made a statement herself.

  21. Here is an ariel image which shows where everything was setup, parked etc…:

    Also worth pointing out that the track she hit wasn’t the team’s transporter, That seems to be behind the tent.

    You can also see a pit box marked where she was supposed to stop & where the trailer ramp she hit was in relation to that.

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