Former Formula One test driver Maria de Villota was found dead in a hotel room in Seville on Friday. She was 33. Spanish police said Press she died apparently of natural causes.
De Villota’s manager alerted staff at the Hotel Sevilla Congresos. An autopsy will be carried out. De Villota was seriously injured last year in a crash during testing for the Marussia F1 team in England, losing her right eye and sustaining other serious head injuries that kept her hospitalized for a month.
A Madrid native, she was the daughter of Emilio de Villota, who competed in F1 from 1976-82. Her family used De Villota’s Facebook page to say “Dear friends: Maria has left us. She had to go to heaven like all angels. I give thanks to God for the year and a half that he left her with us.”
F1 drivers and officials at the Japanese Grand Prix were stunned by her death. “The whole paddock is very shocked by the news that Maria is no longer with us,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh . “She was an inspiration not just to women in this sport, but also to all those who suffered life-threatening injuries.”
Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenhorn, the first female team principal in F1, said, “If anybody represented strength and optimism, it was Maria. Her sudden death is a big loss to the motorsport world.”
Williams development driver Susie Wolff recalled how De Villota asked her to carry on for her and all women drivers following her accident.
“She very much said to me after it, ‘It’s up to you to go out there and show them that it (a woman driver in F1) is possible,” Wolff said. “She knew that women could compete at that level and that’s why, after her accident and her not being able to do that anymore, she just wanted someone to know it was possible. She had such a spirit for life. What she came through was a testament to her strength of character and her positive outlook on life.”
Marussia expressed its condolences. “It is with great sadness that we learned a short time ago