12 May 2012
This weekend we’re in Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix, racing at the much-loved Circuit de Catalunya. Spain is a country Formula One knows very well, and the teams have been to this track more times than they care to remember. It used to be a popular testing venue; still is in fact, we just do less testing nowadays.
A couple of things F1 knows less well? Maria De Villota, the Marussia F1 Team’s Spanish test driver, and Madrid, her birthplace and home. Last weekend we took some time out in the capital city with our disarmingly amiable ‘Spanish Senorita’ to find out a little bit more about who she is, what makes her tick and what happens to her rather charming demeanour when she puts on a race helmet.
When we joined Maria she had just spent a couple of days in the UK, working at the team’s Banbury HQ and conducting a simulator programme. This took place while the race drivers and Race Team were in Mugello, Italy, at the only in-season test of the year. That’s how we roll - the Marussia Technical Centre and its 80+ back at base personnel never stop, even when the spotlight is seemingly elsewhere. Since Maria joined the team ahead of the season curtain-raiser in Melbourne, she has become an important cog in that wheel, working hard behind the scenes with both technical and promotional hats on, both of which suit her down to the ground.
The “Spanish Senorita” moniker is an affectionate one within the team, but Maria is so much more than just a pretty face. When it comes to all things motorsport, she more than ‘knows her onions’ and absolutely belongs at the wheel of a racing car. When we went back to Madrid with her to visit the sights, Maria’s local kart track was one of the sights she wanted us to see. And indeed it was in one such kart where her story began.
“It was Christmas when I was four and my brother and I got a go-kart as a present. Well, he did, but I got in it first and just floored the throttle immediately", she tells us. "I had a great time but he was crying and saying “you’re never driving my go-kart again!” I did though and I haven’t stopped since.”
With most children who get a go-kart for Christmas, there’s usually a bigger racing picture and Maria is no exception. Her father is Emilio De Villota, a former racing driver from Spain - Madrid to be precise - who participated in 15 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, making his debut in 1976. He also won the former British Formula One Championship back in 1980. Motor racing is obviously in the genes, as his son, Emilio Jr. - Maria’s brother - is also a racing driver.
Maria has a fascinating story to tell, as CNN International found when they accompanied us on the trip. Their resulting feature was shown on the eve of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. Fascinating and multi-faceted - her background, her passion for racing, how she deals with the question mark that seems to hang over any female trying to show they can cut it in the world of motorsport. Maria’s with us for a while though, so we’ll delve a little deeper in the months leading up to her taking part in the Young Driver Test later in the season.
For now, in Part 1 of The Maria De Villota Story, we take a quick flick through her family album and give you a pictorial peek at the highlights of our recent ‘24 hours of Madrid’ ahead of today's Spanish Grand Prix.