The grid at Suzuka always amplifies the drama of the Japanese Grand Prix, with its wide pit road, the long main straight, the Ferris wheel that forms the backdrop and the huge main grandstand that is always full of cheering spectators.
But hours before that became the focus at the start of yesterday’s race, the drivers fell silent as behind closed doors they paid tribute to Maria de Villota with a minute’s silence to commemorate the former Marussia test driver who died on Friday morning in Seville.
The 33-year-old Spaniard sustained serious head injuries and lost her right eye in an accident at only 30 mph at Duxford on 2 July last year when she was conducting her first series of straight-line tests for the Banbury-based team. Her family suggested on Saturday that the long-term effect of the injuries, which included severe cranial displacement, may have led to her death.
In a statement, De Villota’s sister Isabel said: “Maria left us while she was sleeping, approximately at 6 am, as a consequence of the neurological injuries that she suffered in July of 2012, according to what the forensic doctor has told us. Maria is gone, but she has left us a very clear message of joy and hope, which is helping the family move on in these moments.”
The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, to which the majority of drivers belong including De Villota, decided to pay their tribute and to remember her just before they embarked on their pre-race parade at 12.30pm local time in front of the 86,000 fans who flocked to the track. They also dedicated the podium ceremony to her memory.
“All F1 drivers of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association are very saddened to hear of the tragic death of our former member Maria de Villota,” they said in a statement.
“She has been an active member and contributed to driver safety in a very enthusiastic and most professional manner.
“Her positive attitude, maturity and extreme commitment will never be forgotten and are something we have learned from.
“Maria will be missed and always remembered by all of us. In this incredibly difficult time the F1 drivers would like to extend to her family and friends their most sincere condolences.”