F1 driver Maria de Villota, once the ‘fastest woman in sport’, is found dead in Spanish hotel

Promising driver is found dead in Seville while promoting her autobiography - 15 months after losing an eye in a freak accident

She was Spain’s female pioneer in a sport dominated by men, and she was clearly undaunted by physical injuries such as losing her right eye in an accident or by her job’s inherent dangers. But early this morning, Maria de Villota, Spain’s first female Formula One test driver, was found dead in a hotel room in Seville. She was 33.

De Villota had travelled there to attend a conference today. And on Monday she would have launched her autobiography, Life Is A Gift, which included an account of how she overcame a serious accident in July 2012 while testing a Formula One car for the Marussia team.

The crash left her in hospital for a month and surgeons were unable to save her right eye. But De Villota was cleared to drive again, if not to race. And at the time of her death she was working as a supervisor at an advanced driving school owned by her father, Emilio de Villota – who competed in Formula One between 1976 and 1982.

Her body was discovered around 7.20 am yesterday morning by her personal assistant. According to media sources in Spain, the autopsy, carried out in Seville’s Forensic Institute, has confirmed her death as “due to completely natural causes”.

De Villota, who was born in Madrid in 1980 and had a degree in sports science, had driven in the World Touring Car Championships in 2006 and 2007. She had also competed in the Superleague open-wheel series, Spain’s Formula 3 series and the Daytona 24 Hours. Her first spell behind the wheel of a Formula One car came in 2011, when she test drove a Renault.

Her definitive step up into motor racing’s top league came in 2012, when she signed to become Marussia’s test pilot. It was a controversial move given that her previous efforts in racing had not earned her the superlicence she would have needed to race.

When asked if she could ever race again, she replied: “There are drivers in the United States who have lost an eye and still have a licence. What’s true is that you lose the sense of depth, because it’s both eyes that give you the perspective. What I’m wondering now is if my future is being a racing driver or if there’s something else I have to do with my life.”

But she was adamant that she wanted to continue to be involved with motor racing, because as she put it: “I have motorsport in my DNA and there’s no way I can stay away from that world.”

De Villota posted this picture on her Twitter account yesterday with the caption: De Villota posted this picture on her Twitter account yesterday with the caption: "With my friend Manuel, and I speak of him in @ yo_dona Nice to see him again and talk" Formula One pilots and other members of the international motor sport community at the Japanese Grand Prix, due to be held this Sunday, spoke of their shock. Spain’s Fernando Alonso said: “It’s hard to talk about María de Villota right now, as I had only just taken my helmet off when I was told about her death. I still can’t believe it and need a while to stop and think about it. But it is very sad news, she was loved by everyone. Now all we can do is pray for her and her family.”

De Villota was also clearly aware she could be a role model, and not just for women in Formula One, which has had only five women enter its races in its entire history – the last being the Italian Giovanna Amati in 1992. Her fight back to fitness captured hearts and made her the most famous female in motor racing. With her eye patch and distinctively cropped blond hair, she came to represent all that is inspiring about the sport.

Apart from working with her father and also as a campaigner against domestic abuse, De Villota collaborated with the FIA (the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, F1’s governing body) on their road safety campaigns. She was on the grid at the Spanish GP in Barcelona this year, surrounded by schoolchildren.

Susie Wolff, a development driver for the Williams team, told the AP news agency that after her accident De Villota had asked her to carry on for her and all women drivers. “She said to me: ‘It’s up to you to go out there and show them that [a woman driver in F1] is possible,’” Ms Wolff said.

“She knew that women could compete at that level and that’s why, after her accident and her not being able to do that any more, she just wanted someone to know it was possible.”

De Villota was bidding to achieve her dream of reaching Formula One when she suffered the testing accident last year De Villota was bidding to achieve her dream of reaching Formula One when she suffered the testing accident last year  

Maria de Villota obituary: One of a handful of women to test-drive in Formula 1

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor