SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Williams development driver Susie Wolff paid tribute to seriously injured Marussia tester Maria De Villota after having her first drive in a Formula One car at a damp Silverstone circuit on Wednesday.
Spaniard De Villota, the last woman behind the wheel of a Formula One car, lost her right eye and fractured her skull in a horrific accident at a straight-line test at Duxford airfield in eastern England last July.
“She is an incredible lady. Before you even talk about her as a racing driver, she is an incredible person, an inspiration,” Wolff told reporters after her first session in last year’s unsuccessful Williams FW33.
”We were in contact a couple of weeks ago and she told me to drive for the both of us now, that I would be out there representing us both.
“I had Maria’s star on my helmet, it’s with pride I have that, and without a doubt I was driving for the two of us,” added the 29-year-old Scottish-born driver.
Wolff, whose Austrian husband Toto is a Williams shareholder and director, normally races in the German Touring Car (DTM) championship and was thrilled to be achieving a lifetime’s ambition.
Only a handful of women have driven Formula One cars in the last decade and none has come near to racing one.
Before De Villota, who also tested a Renault in 2011, Britain’s Katherine Legge drove a Minardi at Italy’s Vallelunga circuit in 2005 and American Sarah Fisher carried out a demonstration run in a McLaren at Indianapolis at the 2002 U.S. Grand Prix.
The last woman to start a Formula One race was Italian Lella Lombardi in 1976.
“Never at any point was I worried about what was happening out there. Everything was under control and it was really good fun,” said Wolff.
”It was incredible. I’ve waited a long time for this day, I’ve dreamed about this day for a long time, with the first lap something special.
“I’ve done a lot of days in the simulator so I knew what to expect but of course it is tremendously different when you are out there and going at those speeds.”
Williams’s regular race drivers Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Brazilian Bruno Senna, who were at Silverstone to drive two title-winning cars - Keke Rosberg’s 1982 FW08 and Damon Hill’s 1996 FW18 - and meet guests and sponsors, were watching the run.
“She’s doing quite good...so confident with the car. I have been with her in a DTM two-seater and I have to say she has a great control of the car,” said Maldonado, who drove Hill’s car.
“The first time in a Formula One car as everyone knows is a special day. She is good.”
Editing by Clare Fallon