The family of the Spanish F1 driver Maria de Villota, who was found dead in a hotel room yesterday morning, believe that her death is directly linked to the accident at a British racetrack in which she lost her eye last year.
De Villota was testing a car at Duxford Aerodrome in Cambridgeshire in July 2012 when she hit another vehicle at 40 mph. She suffered serious head injuries and lost her right eye, but had made a dramatic recovery. The 33-year-old was given the all-clear to resume driving again in February 2013 and had written a book about the accident, which she was promoting in Seville when she died.
The De Villota family have released a statement saying: “Maria left us while she was sleeping, approximately at 6am (on Friday), as a consequence of the neurological injuries she suffered in July of 2012, according to what the forensic doctor has told us.”
According to media sources in Spain, the autopsy, carried out in Seville’s Forensic Institute, confirmed her death as “due to completely natural causes”.
Stuart Ross, the neurosurgeon who treated Top Gear’s Richard Hammond for head injuries, believes that her death may have been caused by epilepsy.
He said: “The only obvious connection I can see between the injury and her death is that she could have developed seizures after her head injury and she happened to have a big seizure in the hotel room,” he said. “After a knock on the head or any brain injury, there's a possibility of developing epilepsy. That could happen 14 months down the line, even if she had not had a seizure in the interim.”
Charity Epilepsy Research UK believe that sudden unexpected death due to epilepsy kills over 500 people every year in the UK.
A Health and Safety Executive spokeswoman said that an investigation launched immediately after the accident was still ongoing, and that any post-mortem findings would be taken into account. She added: “We don't know if there is a link between her injuries and her subsequent death but we would expect to be kept informed of any new evidence.”
Marussia, the makers of the car De Villotta was driving in the accident, were cleared last year of any potential fault.