Marussia today announced that Maria de Villota has been hired as their test driver for the coming year and will perform testing duties at the young driver test in Abu Dhabi.
When making the announcement team principal John Booth said:
“We are pleased to welcome Maria to our test driver programme, which will enable her to be integrated into a Formula 1 team environment and gain a vast amount of experience that will be useful to her career progression. “We will also provide Maria with the opportunity to sample F1 machinery later in the year, further adding to her racing credentials.”
For a team that has spent most of the winter being criticised for their failure to take part in winter testing with their 2012 car, due to their inability to pass the stringent FIA crash tests, this is finally a positive news story emanating from the team.
Any news of a woman getting a chance to drive a Formula 1 car will generate positive column inches but quite what Booth thinks can be achieved to “further her racing credentials” remains to be seen.
Presumably those credentials include last year disappointing test for Renault at Paul Ricard. In addition to this at 32 years of age there is little to suggest that she has suddenly found form and is now capable of competing with the best in the world.
She is at an age when most drivers are progressing towards the end of their car and there is little to suggest that she has been unfairly overlooked by F1 talent spotters. In her career the Spaniard has never finished on the podium in her racing career ranging from Formula 3, Superleague, Formula Palmer Audi and touring car racing.
In many ways it is laughable that a 32 year old who struggled in the much maligned Superleague series can even make claims of hoping that her testing for the squad can “only help my future ambition to step up to Formula 1 racing” but such is the desire to see a woman on the grid in the future.
Quite how beneficial it would be have a driver of de Villota’s talent on the grid would be very debatable. If Formula 1 is to have its first female racer since 1992 it needs to be someone that can add credibility to her place on the grid, rather than cash to a teams budget.
In America IndyCar racing needed Danica Patrick to prove herself before the idea of having women such as Milka Duno on the grid was even to be contemplated. When Patrick qualified and finished fourth at the 2005 Indy 500 her credentials spoke for themselves and she quickly became arguably the most popular driver in the series to sponsors.
At this year’s Daytona 500 Patrick made her Sprint Cup debut and the fabled speedway was awash with merchandise for her with seemingly ever other fan wearing a hat, t-shirt or jacket with her name or sponsorship on it.
If Formula 1 is to accept a lady driver on the grid, and view her as just another driver, it needs to be someone like Patrick who can prove that she belongs. A driver like de Villota would add nothing to the sport except bad publicity for a driver out of her depth.
For Marussia this news will serve the purpose of highlighting a positive news story for the struggling team but it does little other than paper over the cracks of a terrible off season for the squad.