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EXCLUSIVE: Abbie Eaton on COTA crash and more: “I don’t think there’s any way to make sausage curbs safe.”

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FormulaNerds had the possibility to speak to W Series driver Abbie Eaton following her first season in the Championship. Unfortunately, Abbie’s rookie year finished with an incident in Austin, which caused two fractures in T4 and T5. As well as her recovery, we discussed with the Brit about the incident’s causes and consequences, her first season in W Series, Racing Pride, and more. 

Hi Abbie! It’s good to see you, how are you feeling?

“Each week it gets better and I move forward, that’s a good thing. Now I’m just trying to keep my mind from going crazy because I can’t do anything really, hopefully, then I’ll get better. “

Did you start physical rehabilitation? How’s that going?

“I haven’t had my first kind of session yet. So, we’ve basically just been putting it all together and stuff. My first session will be tomorrow or Friday. There’s certain stuff I can do at home but it’s really basic stuff like bodyweight things, more like being able to switch the muscles on, so just contract said muscles in my upper back and stuff like that. It’s the case of also trying to manage stuff around it so once I’m able to work out again a little more substantially, then the rest of my body hasn’t deteriorated because by doing nothing, I’ve basically lost like 5 kilos of muscles so it’s going to be a long road ahead but at least in my mind I can start doing things that get me towards that goal, which is a nice feeling.”

Obviously, it’s a bit boring as an athlete to have to stop. What are you doing to spend the time?

“I guess one good thing is that this is my flimsier brace but in the other one the head is really high and it’s really really uncomfortable but with it being so rigid I can stay upright a little bit longer so I have got my accounts to do: boring! I’m back in Milton Keynes, Jess’s [Hawkins] in my house. At the start of the winter, I was stuck at my parents’ for the winter because I was quite in a bad way, I couldn’t really do anything for myself and obviously, Jess is busy so I was staying at my parents’ and then now I’m able to make myself food again and stuff like that. I can stand long enough to do that so I came back to my house.”

You wrote on Instagram Jess [Hawkins] needs to be your chauffeur at the moment because you can’t drive, how’s that for a driver?

“Hahaha to be honest, if we go somewhere, Jess drives most of the time because she likes to get to places quickly so I’d rather just let her drive so she can drive as fast as she wants and get to the destination when she wants to. Meanwhile, I like just cruising about like I’m not in a rush on the road unless it’s cold, although we are very lucky to have heated seats. But no, she’s a good chauffeur and I’m very lucky. “

What do you remember about what happened and do you think it could’ve been prevented?

“It’s just one of those things where there was one thing that led to another that all kind of happened in a specific sequence to get to this point. But the reason why it happened is purely and simply because of the sausage curbs that were at the exit of the corner. Obviously, many laps before that I didn’t have an issue. I think it was just a combination of changes to the car and it was the first time I was actually following the cars quite closely and you get something called aero wash and it was my mistake that caused the reason for me to run slightly wider than I usually would. How it happened is that obviously at the exit of the corner, there’s three sausage curbs and I ran just slightly wide and just clipped the first sausage curb, which shouldn’t be an issue but that basically dragged me over to the right which meant I was kinda centrally to the other two. I kinda launched on one slightly but it basically landed me on the other, which is if you imagine kinda like landing into a void rather than being head-on. Because I was landing down my spine compressed and I was doing 100km to 40km in like 5 fractions of a second. Obviously, I’m strapped in a really tight like my engineers and mechanics are laughing like “I’ve never seen someone that likes to be strapped as tight as you”. The aggression of hitting and having that compression and stop did the damage. The sausage curbs out in the States are a lot higher and a lot more aggressive than any I’ve ever seen and all the circus I’ve ever been to. You’ve probably seen in the press that as a result of this, there was my incident on Saturday and then on Sunday another driver on another sausage curb had the same incident and the same injuries so F1 drivers are talking about it. It’s a conversation we are having because of it and the hope is that they will get rid of those sausage curbs because it’s not just mine and Christian’s accident but there have been many crashes in the years that have been a result of sausage curbs. Unfortunately, in the world we live in, sometimes it takes someone to die or to be paralyzed before change happens and I would love that it doesn’t need to get to that point so that we can prevent that from happening so that this situation is worth it for me.“

For the future, is the only solution to get rid of the sausage curbs, or do you believe there are other measures?

“I know they’re trying to adjust the sausage curbs to make them a little bit easier, like in the last chicane at Spa. Sausage curbs in the inside of really slow corners tend to be not too bad unless something goes wrong in the run-up to the corner. Sometimes ago there was an incident where someone hit the driver or he lost control and the sausage curb on the inside of the corner basically ended up hitting it sideways and launching the car sideways. What they ended up doing was creating a bit more of a slur on the run-up side to it but on the other side, it was a normal sausage curb so you can’t cut the corner but even then it’s still gonna lunch people. I don’t think there’s any way to make sausage curbs safe. The whole theory behind it is that sausage curbs are to try and break so traction on the wheels so that as you run over the bump it just lifts the rear slightly so that you don’t have the traction to gain an advantage but if it launches you or the car… I mean look at Sophia’s [Floersch] crash: she ended up in a building where luckily there wasn’t anyone but if there were spectators there, it could’ve potentially killed 15 people or so. I just think we need to look at alternative ways to try and manage track limits and I get it’s hard and that’s why there are so many things that have been tried but sausage curbs ain’t the one. “

What did you think about COTA’s surface and the problems with the bumps?

“Yeah, it was bumpy. They definitely made an effort to try and get rid of some of the bumps so they basically skimmed off the top layer of the track to try and get rid of them. It was bumpy but you just have to learn those bumps out and drive accordingly. For example, through sector 1 through the fast two or three corners that are together, there’s a bump and if you don’t get the car lined correctly, brake, and turn in the correct point, you risk losing the rear of the car and there was one time when I just braked slightly on the bump and turned in slightly on the bump and I was just sideways waiting. It added another element to it but that’s a part of the track that comes with racing there. It’s a shame it’s not silky-smooth but at the end of the day, it’s just a challenge you adapt to. “

Moving on, you were a critic of W-Series in the past but what are your thought now after your first season?

“There have been all-female championships in the past that have just been a bit of a gimmick and haven’t been well supported and they were just seen as a bit of a joke. W-Series when it got first launched it seemed too good to be true: fully funded, the logistics, the coordination, a big project. Too good to be true. To me, I’ve never wanted to race just against women. It’s great when I race against women in big mixed championships but I’ve never wanted to race solely against women, I want to race against the best drivers. That’s why I was initially skeptical about it but I did watch for the year and I was pleased and felt comforted with the support that was given to the girls and the investment that was being made into the Championship was real and decent. That changed my mind really and they were nice enough to have me back and I’m not too proud to admit that I was wrong and it’s been a learning year for me. I always knew it was gonna be difficult and it’s been a lighting year. Because of this behind the scene, I wasn’t with W-Series for the last race when it ended, which was really frustrating. For next year it’s going to be a case of how well I can really have myself and if I hopefully get to where I was in terms of strength and fitness last year because there are still questions of whether I will be able or not. They’ve got to offer me a drive yet because I’m still waiting to hear what the situation will be so my goal at the moment is just to get as fit as I can and see what level that is in terms of fitness and go from there really. “

As a driver what do you think was the biggest improvement during the season, as your last race before the accident was equalling your best result?

“Probably from Spa onwards was very good, ignoring COTA. Obviously, I love Spa but there was the big pile-up on the qualifying, which was really annoying. Then, we had the wet race and I’ve always been good in the wet, I love driving in the wet and I think I finished seventh or eight from like 14th but I just ran out of time because, at some point, I was like fourth fastest on track. I was really loving it; I was having so much fun and that was the best race all year I had driving in the wet. Moving on to Zandvoort, I went there thinking Zandvoort is a very technical circuit, there are up and downs, banked corners, camber turns as well. I knew it was going to be physically quite demanding and it’s one of the circuits where you need to be one with the car to be really able to extract the most out of the circuit, so I thought it was probably not gonna be one of my best circuits. Then, when I went out, I just kinda clicked to it and I was third in practice and in quali our pace was all day about the third or fourth but then it was really frustrating because we had a couple of red flags and they were all on my best laps and then the last two laps because I was eager to get the lap in, I didn’t quite get it myself. So, we started sixth when we should’ve started fourth, really annoying. But I really enjoyed Zandvoort, it’s such a fantastic circuit and with the crowd as well, it was really good. “

Talking about the crowd, how was it to drive during an F1 weekend in Silverstone in your home Grand Prix?

“Silverstone was probably the biggest disappointment of the year. I really didn’t perform there which was again really frustrating but to have the support of the crowd regardless is fun. You always have some English fans wherever you go, even COTA when I was taken off the track there were people with Union Jacks shouting. British fans are really awesome.”

At the beginning of the year, you admitted your favorite circuit might have changed during the season, so which is your favorite track, and potentially where would you like to race?

“Zandvoort was probably my favorite. If I give you my least favorite through the year, I didn’t like Hungary, COTA was disappointing because we had a really good pace but I didn’t put it together so I enjoyed it but I’m going to say I didn’t because of what it did to me. I enjoyed Austria as well, I think it was a really good track to start the season because it’s straightforward but also quite technical with some nice flat corners but also some really slow stuff. So I would love to do Austria and Zandvoort again.”

Finally, you are an ambassador for Racing Pride. At the moment we are seeing the last races in the F1 calendar, what do you think about the stances of drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel before and during the season?

“I think it’s really important to show that these massive sportspeople show allyship to that community. I think it’s really great. Both Vettel and Hamilton push to highlight problems not just in that area but also the environment and diversity, inclusivity. I think it’s great they’re using their profile to help and raise awareness, especially in maybe certain countries where those issues are not at the forefront of change which is something I think is really brave for them to do. We’re thankful that they do that and I think there was an interview where Racing Pride’s profile got retweeted and it’s getting support and it’s helping Racing Pride get more support because it’s a charity so at the end of the day we can get more support and help people so it’s a positive thing.“

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