Photo: Maria de Villota
Spanish ex-racing driver Maria de Villota died Friday of natural causes at a hotel in this southern city. She was 33.
De Villota, who worked as a test driver for Anglo-Russian Formula One team Marussia, sustained serious head injuries and lost her right eye in a July 2012 crash during a straight-line exercise in England.
Afterward, she was always seen in public wearing an eye patch.
“As a result of the impact, I lost all the nerves in the right front (of my face) and also lost the muscles of my temple. So I had two choices, either wear the patch or wear sunglasses at all times,” she told Efe in an interview after the accident.
Her father, Emilio de Villota, a Formula One driver in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and the rest of her family went to the coroner’s office in Seville, where the autopsy was conducted.
The autopsy revealed De Villota died of cardiac arrest and all signs indicate the underlying cause was a detachment of brain mass stemming from the accident, Spanish newspaper ABC reported.
De Villota competed in the World Touring Car Championship in 2006 and 2007 and the Superleague Formula open wheel racing series in 2009.
Her brother, Emilio, also is an auto racer, while her cousin, Pablo, has ties to Formula One via Banco Santander’s sponsorship of the sport.
“Dear friends: Maria has left us. She had to go to heaven like all angels. I give thanks to God for the year and a half that he left her with us,” the De Villota family said in a note on Facebook.
After learning of her death, Education, Culture and Sports Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said De Villota would be posthumously awarded the Royal Order of Sports Merit in the Gold Medal class.
News of her death stunned and saddened the racing world.
“I still can’t believe it and I need time to reflect. It’s very sad news for the world of auto racing, since Maria was loved by everyone. Now, all we can do is pray for her and her family,” Spanish two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso said on hearing about De Villota after he finished a practice run for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Japan.
De Villota, who got married this summer and was to present a book on Monday about her recovery from the accident, was a landmark figure in Spanish sport, experts say.