Abbie Eaton was back racing last weekend for the first time since breaking her back during a W Series race only six months ago. She was taking part in the Sports Prototype Cup in Zandvoort, driving alongside Jorge Calado for Revolution Race Cars.
To get back in the car in such a short amount of time Eaton has been sticking to a gruelling rehabilitation routine.
“I was quite kind of, ruthless is probably the wrong word but, ruthless with my rehab regime,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “I was like we’re doing this now; I don’t care if it hurts, it’s happening.”
She had a lot of muscle to rebuild after being unable to move from the waist upwards whilst in a back brace. “My neck is pretty weak so it needs strengthening up again and all of my back, my bum. I mean, I lost six kilos after the crash, which is all muscle. I have not been that light before.”
Eaton’s crash at the Circuit of the Americas during the penultimate race of the 2021 W Series season was caused by sausage kerbs, intended to stop drivers from exceeding the track limits. Eaton has been campaigning for the FIA to change them alongside high-profile drivers including four-time Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel.
“Nothing much is happening,” she says. “I was pushing for it myself and I was trying to keep it relevant and keep it in the forefront and obviously, Vettel and Alonso and a few other people spoke out about it.”
Vettel emailed her after the crash: “He was like “I actually rallied all the drivers to race control and said we are not racing tomorrow unless you remove these kerbs.” So that’s why they were removed at Turn 1 and the last corner.”
Sausage kerbs are still in use at racing tracks on the W Series calendar and Eaton thinks the FIA have not prioritised their removal.
“The FIA obviously had a lot on their plate since that happened so it probably has been put to the bottom of the pile which is disappointing,” Eaton says. “I will still keep pushing and try and change things because how many backs do you need to be broken before things progress forward?”
Eaton was unsure about W Series when it was first announced as she was concerned about separating women and men in motorsport. She questioned if this was the right move in the long term for women and if it was going to work as a feeder series. She chose not to enter the process to earn a W Series seat in 2019 but changed her mind by the time it came to the next season.
“It’s no secret I was a little bit sceptical to start off with,” she says. “But having watched the series develop over the year, it gave me confidence that it was a good thing and that it was good to do, so thankfully they let me in and gave me a go in a single-seater.”
The opportunities W Series provided are unlike those she’s experienced in other race series.
“Having your engineer, having everyone else’s data to look at, you pick apart yourself and you pick apart other people’s driving and techniques, so you learn a lot with that,” Eaton says.
Eaton is also an ambassador for Racing Pride, an organisation that advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the motorsport industry.
“It’s meant to be educational and to give people confidence and comfort in what they are doing and making sure they feel they are doing the right thing and not saying the wrong thing,” she says.
“The support especially with F1 and all the kind of hard work that Richard [Morris] is putting behind the scenes to get these kinds of partnerships, it’s only going to get bigger and better. I’m pleased it’s been well-received as well”
Lewis Hamilton and Vettel are two drivers who have publicly shown their support for the LGBTQ+ community, with Hamilton wearing a rainbow helmet when racing in Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2021.
“I am proud of them that they are using their platform and doing positive things with it,” Eaton says. “They don’t have to do those things but they are taking it on their own back to do it and sometimes put themselves in ways that they could be criticised.”
While Eaton was at W Series testing in Barcelona in March, she wasn’t driving.
“Obviously, this is absolutely horrible being here and not being in a car,” she says. “But it’s good to see everyone again and you know at least look at the data and stuff. So if I end up doing stuff this year, at least I’ve got a bit of a headstart from absolutely zero.”
However, she hasn’t ruled out driving in W Series this season.
“The place I want to be for one more year is W Series,” Eaton says. “It’s probably going to be down to someone else’s misfortune that I get an opportunity. And, you know, I am not the kind of person to wish ill on other people, but I absolutely am - in a nice way of course!”
Eaton’s plans for the season are yet to be announced but it seems like she is well on the road to recovery.