Former F1 test pilot De Villota found dead

Fri Oct 11, 2013 4:43pm EDT
 
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By Rodrigo De Miguel

MADRID (Reuters) - Former Spanish Formula One test driver Maria de Villota, one of the few women to come close to the top of the sport but whose career was cut short by an horrific accident last year, has been found dead in a hotel in Seville.

De Villota, who lost her right eye and fractured her skull at a test in England in July 2012, had apparently died of 'natural' causes, a Spanish police spokeswoman said.

"We are assuming it was a natural death, but we cannot confirm anything," the spokeswoman said, adding that forensic scientists and a homicide unit would examine the scene.

Although the 33-year-old recovered from the life-threatening injuries sustained in the crash, she no longer competed and had instead become an inspirational figure for aspiring female drivers and was due to present a book detailing her experiences on Monday.

The daughter of former F1 racer Emilio De Villota, she was appointed test driver for Anglo-Russian team Marussia a few months before her crash.

She never took part in a general test with other drivers but was one of only a handful of women to have driven Formula One cars in the last decade. None, though, have come near to racing one in competition.

The news of her sudden passing stunned Spain and the motor racing world.

"I feel I owe it to her (to say something) because, out of the paddock and out of the motorsport bubble, she was an incredible character, she was a fighter," Susie Wolff, a Williams development driver who had a test for the team last July and knew De Villota well, told Reuters.   Continued...

 
Marussia Formula One test driver Maria de Villota of Spain smiles during her news conference in Madrid October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Perez