As drivers prepare to be back on-track for the start of the 2022 W Series season in Miami, for one driver the journey to today was a mark of determination and patience.
Relief was the word Abbie Eaton used to explain how she felt when she received a phone call from W Series Racing Director, Dave Ryan, saying she would be racing in the series in 2022. It had been six months since an accident in the first W Series race in Austin. After breaking her back when her car went over one of the circuit’s notorious sausage kerbs, for Abbie it has been a long and hard road back to full race fitness. “I had put in so much hard work since then and all I could think about was how I could get fit enough to race next season. There have been a lot of tough times, digging deep and putting myself through pain to get to the other side and having that reward just makes it all worth it. Yes, I felt relief and happiness,” she explained.
It had already been a tough weekend for Abbie. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong up to that point. A bad qualifying, stalling on the grid and then being behind slower cars. “It was a combination of being up behind the other cars and a snap oversteer on the way up to that last corner, and just turning in slightly off line. I was at a different angle to how I would usually be, it was probably a foot wider and that is all it took to drag me onto the kerbs.”
The danger in this corner was not lost on the F1 drivers and the following week she received an email from Sebastian Vettel saying he was sorry about what had happened. He didn’t want her to think the F1 drivers had ignored it as they were rallying to try and get them removed. At the next race, Fernando Alonso also spoke out about the dangers of the kerbs so she felt she was being supported.
Once she returned to the UK, she had to face up to what she could and couldn’t do, and for the first four to six weeks it was nothing. She admitted how tough this was: “This was probably the most difficult part. Your mind thinks I want to do something to move forward, but strict rest was exactly what had to do to let the bones do their thing.” She went to stay with her parents, who waited on her hand and foot, and even found it too painful to sit up long enough to eat a meal. She was hoping she would only have to wear a back brace and not a neck one as well, but the consultant said she had to wear both. This was another low point and she admitted she burst into tears when she was told this.
However, Abbie was determined and she did everything she was told to do and was relentless once she was allowed to start the slow road to recovery. She had bodyweight exercises with the brace on and could use a maximum of just a kilo, which she found difficult to get her head around as it was such a small size. The next big hurdle was physio and she gradually built this up. For her the first time doing physio out of the brace was both awesome and nerve wracking. She had to build up confidence in her body and hope the pain she was feeling was good and not doing more damage, especially when adding twists in her thoracic where the break was. In the end, she was doing general training along with physio sessions three times a week. She was eating and drinking well and all these were 24/7 tasks.
Ahead of Miami she admits she has a mixed bag of emotions. “I am super excited to get back in a car, and feel the same about Miami as it is a street circuit. However, I am not looking forward to how hot it is going to be as that is going to be a shock to the system. There will obviously be nerves. I just want to get through the weekend in one piece, hope the body holds up and does what I expect it to. I think I would be super human if I was not going into the weekend with some nerves,” said Abbie who will have a big smile on her face when she gets into her Scuderia W Team car for the first time on Friday in Miami.