Former racing driver María de Villota dies of natural causes in Seville hotel

The Spaniard's career was ended in 2012 when she suffered a horrific accident

Villota during a press conference after her operation.
Villota during a press conference after her operation.SAMUEL SÁNCHEZ

The former racing driver María de Villota was found dead on Friday morning in a hotel in Seville. The 33-year-old Spaniard, who was born in Madrid, suffered a horrific crash in July 2012 when she was testing for the Marussia Formula 1 team. The freak accident, which occurred at the Duxford airfield in the United Kingdom, nearly cost the driver her life, as well as her right eye.

The emergency services were contacted by a member of staff at the hotel at 7.23am on Friday. Despite their attempts to resuscitate De Villota, they could do nothing to save her. Judicial investigators, police officers and forensic teams were all sent to the scene on Friday.

On Monday, De Villota was due to present her book La vida es un regalo (or, Life is a Gift) in the Andalusian city. She was also due to speak on Friday at a conference entitled Lo que de verdad importa (or, What really matters), an initiative aimed at young university students or school-leavers during which the speakers talk about their life-changing experiences. The event has been canceled.

Spanish Formula 1 star Fernando Alonso was told the news in Suzuka, where he is currently preparing for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. “I took off my helmet and was told by Luis [García Abad, his agent],” he told the press. “All I can do is pray for her and for all of her family.”

María de Villota, pictured in 2011.
María de Villota, pictured in 2011.LUIS SEVILLANO

María de Villota was born on January 13, 1980 in Madrid. She was the daughter of Emilio de Villota, a Spanish racing driver who tested Formula 1 cars during the 1980s. She had a degree in sports sciences, but her interest in motorsport began when she was still a youngster. In 1996 she took part in her first karting race, and that was the start of her career as a racing driver.

From that moment on she raced in a number of different categories, including Spanish Formula 3, the Daytona 24 Hours, the Euroseries 3000 and the Superleague Formula.

Among her achievements, De Villota became the only female driver from Spain to finish second in a championship (Formula Toyota, 2001), and the first woman to get a pole position in the Ferrari championship, at the Mugello circuit in 2005.

In August 2011, María de Villota tested for the Lotus Renault team at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, and just a few months later was signed as a test driver for the Marussia Formula 1 team.

“I am going to demonstrate that they made the right choice choosing me as a driver, and as a woman,” she said at her presentation at Marussia. “I am going to continue to fight because my ambition is to race.” Her debut as a test driver took place on March 18, 2012 at the Australian Grand Prix, in Melbourne.

On July 2 of the same year she suffered an accident during testing at the Duxford airfield, which saw her lose an eye and left her with serious health problems. The incident occurred during a straightline test at the aerodrome, as she returned to the pit area. Her car crashed into an articulated trailer, leaving her with skull damage and a serious injury to her right eye. She spent a month in hospital recovering.

“I remember the first time I saw myself in the mirror,” she later said of her injuries. “My mother came up to me while I was in my wheelchair, and at that moment my eye was not covered up. I was terrified, but it was even more of a shock to see her.

“I said, ‘Get out of here, you,’ as if it were a joke, but I was actually thinking, ‘Who is going to want me when I’m like this?’ Now, however, when I look in the mirror, the way I look now tells me a lot more about who María de Villota is.”

De Villota was also the head of the Emilio de Villota Driving School, a representative and ambassador for women for the Madrid regional government, and an ambassador in the fight against gender violence. De Villota was married at the end of July in Santander.

Martin Whitmarsh, president of the Formula 1 Teams' Association, said there would be some form of tribute paid to De Villota during the Japanese Grand Prix. 

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