A Spanish Formula One test driver, Maria de Villota, was left with “life-threatening” head injuries after a freak crash at Duxford airfield near Cambridge yesterday.
A car driven by Villota, 32, who worked for the Marussia F1 team, collided with a lorry during a test run ahead of this weekend's British Grand Prix. She was said to be driving at low speed in the pit area of the track when the collision happened, having just completed a lap during which she reached speeds of about 200mph.
BBC Radio Cambridge's Drivetime presenter Chris Mann witnessed the accident. He said: "She came back into the area we were in with the engineers. She slowed down but then suddenly, inexplicably accelerated through the crowd and smashed into the side of the truck. The top of her car and her helmet seemed to take the brunt of it. She didn't move for about 15 minutes.
"Fire crews were there within seconds and the ambulance within minutes. After a while we thought we saw some movement of her hands but she appeared to be unconscious or unable to move for quite some time."
Villota, who is originally from Madrid, was taking part in the first of two days of testing at the site. She had been validating aerodynamic upgrades recently made to the Marussia team's MR-01 race car.
Yesterday afternoon she was said to be conscious at Addenbrookes Hospital, the region's leading trauma centre, where her condition was being assessed. A spokesman for Duxford airfield, which is owned by the Imperial War Museum, said all testing had been suspended.
Villota, daughter of former F1 racer Emilio de Villota, was a controversial choice as nominated test driver for the Marussia team given a racing record that falls some way short of earning her the Super Licence qualification needed to race in the F1 championship.
Super Licences are awarded by the sport's governing body, the Federation Internationale de L'Automobile, which two weeks ago appointed Villota an ambassador of its Women in Motorsport initiative.
Gary Sanderson, a spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Service, said: "A woman has sustained life-threatening injuries and, following treatment at the scene by paramedics, she has been taken to Addenbrookes Hospital for further care."