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GP Week : Issue 192
F1 >>> nEWs Former Marussia test driver Maria de Villota was found dead in her hotel room in Seville, Spain, on Friday morning, the sad news plunging the motorsport world into grief and casting a pall over proceedings at the Japanese Grand Prix. De Villota’s family said they were informed that the 33-year-old – in Seville to launch her autobiography, entitled Life is a Gift – died as a result of head injuries incurred in the testing accident she was involved in eighteen months ago. “Maria left us while she was sleeping, approximately at 6am, as a consequence of the neurological injuries she suffered in July of 2012, according to what the forensic doctor has told us,” the de Villota family said in a statement. “Maria is gone, but she has left a very clear message of joy and hope which is helping the family move on in these moments.” De Villota, daughter of former Formula One driver Emilio de Villota, was signed as a test driver with backmarker team Marussia last year. A few months later, while conducting straightline tests for the team at England’s Duxford Airfield, she suffered horrific injuries when she collided with a lowered tailgate on one of the team’s trucks, fracturing her skull and losing her right eye in the accident. Despite the injuries, which ended her racing career, de Villota’s passion for motorsport endured and the Spaniard actively championed the cause of improving safety in motorsport through her roles with the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission, the FIA Drivers’ Commission and as an ambassador for the governing body’s Action for Road Safety initiative. The motorsport world was stunned by the tragic news, and messages paying tribute to the former Touring Car driver started pouring in. “I had only just taken my helmet off when I was told about her death and at the moment, I still can't believe it and need a while to stop and think about it,” compatriot Fernando Alonso said after practice in Japan. “It's very sad news for the world of motorsport as Maria was loved by everyone. Now, all we can do is pray for her and for her family.” Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn, who worked with de Villota on the Women in Motorsport Commission, also paid a touching tribute to the strength the Spanish racer showed in bouncing back from the accident. “From her, you can only learn to have that much strength in life,” Kaltenborn said. “There is no moment I don’t remember of her when she didn't have a smile on her face. No matter what happened she always had this smile. What has happened is terrible.” The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, a drivers’ union primarily concerned with promoting and improving driver safety, held a minute’s silence ahead of Sunday’s race, while FIA president Jean Todt also expressed his sadness at the news. “Today is a tragic day for motorsport,” Todt said. “My deepest condolences go to the de Villota family. María was a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motor sport and a tireless campaigner for road safety. Above all, she was a friend I deeply admired. “Through her courage, strength, and determination she transformed her personal misfortune on the track into a powerful message for road safety that was heard at race tracks and beyond around the world. María was a beloved member of the FIA family. Our thoughts go to her family today.” VAlE: MARIA DE VIllOTA