Tributes paid to De Villota
Maria de Villota will leave a lasting legacy on world motorsport, two of Formula One's leading female personalities have said.
Former test driver De Villota, on a tour promoting her autobiography Life Is A Gift, was found dead in a hotel room in Seville on Friday morning. She was 33.
A spokeswoman for Seville police has indicated De Villota's death was via natural causes - with the suspicion she suffered a heart attack - although added they could not yet provide confirmation.
The news filtered through just as the second practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix was drawing to a close, and was naturally greeted with deep shock and sadness.
Via a statement on her Facebook page, the family confirmed: "Dear friends: Maria has left us.
"She had to go to heaven like all angels. We are thankful to God for the extra year and a half that he left her with us."
The daughter of two-time grand prix starter Emilio, De Villota chose a difficult career path for a woman, but competed in a variety of open-wheel and hard-top categories over the years.
After a test with Lotus Renault in August 2011, De Villota was given her big break in March last year when she was appointed test driver with Marussia.
An ambassadorial role followed in June with the FIA's newly-founded Women & Motorsport Commission, but then a month later De Villota was involved in a freak testing accident at Duxford Aerodrome.
It resulted in De Villota losing her right eye, and almost her life, but after a month's recuperation in hospital she eventually made a remarkable recovery.
Showing strength of character and a pioneering spirit, De Villota was instrumental in not only the Women & Motorsport Commission, but also the FIA Action for Road Safety campaign and FIA Drivers' Commission.
One of those inspired by De Villota was current Williams development driver Susie Wolff, especially in the build up to her first serious outing with the team at Silverstone in July.
With understandable emotion in her voice, a tearful Wolff said: "I can remember her sending me a message before the test.
"She said 'I can imagine you are starting to get apprehensive, but don't think twice about it. You can do it. Just do what you do'.
"She knew from the testing she had done, and the time she had had in the car, that it was possible.
"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.
"Out of the paddock and out of the motorsport bubble, she was an incredible character, she was a fighter.
"She had such a spirit for life. What she came through was a testament to her strength of character and her positive outlook on life.
"She was just an incredible lady, no matter what she did on the race track. She was just an incredible character."
Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn came to know De Villota through the Women & Motorsport Commission, describing her as "bubbly, full of life".
Kaltenborn feels De Villota will continue to serve as an inspiration and the work of the Commission will now carry greater meaning.
"Looking at the Commission, you think how you can be convincing out there, to give young girls strength," said Kaltenborn.
"She was the best person for that after going through what she did, to still come out there and be so convinced about the whole thing.
"You can only learn and pass that on to the girls, that here is someone - although not so long in this sport - who hopefully made a difference.
"It is for us now, in the Commission, to transport that message further, because with her I know you can move things with whatever she has done and left for us."
The day was "tragic...for motor sport", FIA president Jean Todt said.
He hailed De Villota as "a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motorsport and a tireless campaigner for road safety".
Todt added: "Through her courage, strength and determination she transformed her personal misfortune on the track into a powerful message for road safety that was heard at race tracks, and beyond, around the world."
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, and chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association, provided an ideal summation.
Whitmarsh said: "She was an inspiration, not just to women in this sport, but also to all those who suffered life-threatening injuries.
"Her story, determination and subsequent inspiration flowed from F1 through sport as a whole."
A number of drivers also added their voice to the chorus of affection, with Jenson Button remarking: "This is a real shock to the whole Formula One 'family' and the world of motorsport.
"She had been through so much - much more than most people will ever have to go through in their lives - and it's been so tough for her."
Fernando Alonso spoke on behalf of all in Spain as he said: "Today is a very sad day for Spanish sport. A great fighter with a big smile has left us."
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