Formula One in shock over Maria de Villota death
Maria de Villota will leave a lasting legacy on world motorsport, a Formula One leading female personality has said.
Former test driver De Villota, on a tour promoting her autobiography Life Is A Gift, was found dead in a hotel room in Seville yesterday morning. She was 33.
A spokeswoman for the Seville police has indicated De Villota's death was via natural causes –with the suspicion she suffered a heart attack – although added they could not yet provide confirmation.
The news filtered through just as the second practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix was drawing to a close, and was naturally greeted with deep shock and sadness.
Via a statement on her Facebook page, the family confirmed: "Dear friends: Maria has left us.
"She had to go to heaven like all angels. We are thankful to God for the extra year and a half that he left her with us."
The daughter of two-time grand prix starter Emilio, De Villota chose a difficult career path for a woman, but competed in a variety of open-wheel and hard-top categories over the years.
After a test with Lotus Renault in August 2011, De Villota was given her big break in March last year when she was appointed test driver with Marussia.
An ambassadorial role followed in June with the FIA's newly-founded Women & Motorsport Commission, but then a month later De Villota was involved in a freak testing accident at Duxford Aerodrome.
It resulted in De Villota losing her right eye, and almost her life, but after a month's recuperation in hospital she eventually made a remarkable recovery.
Showing strength of character and a pioneering spirit, De Villota was instrumental in not only the Women & Motorsport Commission, but also the FIA Action for Road Safety campaign and FIA Drivers' Commission.
One of those inspired by De Villota was current Williams development driver Susie Wolff, especially in the build up to her first serious outing with the team.
With understandable emotion in her voice, a tearful Wolff said: "I can remember her sending me a message before the test.
"She said 'I can imagine you are starting to get apprehensive, but don't think twice about it. You can do it. Just do what you do'.
"She knew from the testing she had done, and the time she had had in the car, that it was possible.
"She knew that women could compete at that level and that's why, after her accident and her not being able to do that any more, she just wanted someone to know it was possible."