TRIBUTES were today paid to Formula One test driver Maria de Villota who was found dead in a hotel room in Seville. De Villota (33), who lost her right eye in a horror crash last year, was on a tour promoting her autobiography – Life Is A Gift – at the time of her death.
She was the daughter of former F1 driver Emilio and competed in F3, GTs, touring cars and the Superleague Formula before signing for Marussia in March 2012.
On July 3 last year, De Villota was involved in a freak accident that resulted in her losing her right eye. After a month in hospital, De Villota rebuilt her life and became part of the FIA's Women and Motorsport Commission.
A statement on De Villota's Facebook page, signed by her family, read: "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."
De Villota proved an inspiration for many women drivers including Williams development driver Susie Wolff, who emotionally recalled being motivated by messages of support from the Spaniard ahead of her first significant test with Williams at Silverstone in July.
"We both agreed her accident should never have happened," Wolff said. "It had no relation to which gender of driver was in the car that day and 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'.
"I can remember her sending me the 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'.
"Out of the paddock and out of the motorsport bubble, she was an incredible character, she was a fighter. 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," said Wolff.