F1 praises 'inspirational' Maria de Villota

Sauber team boss Monisha Kaltenborn believes Maria de Villota will leave an inspirational legacy in Formula 1

F1 praises 'inspirational' Maria de Villota

The 33-year-old former Marussia test driver was found dead in a hotel room in Seville on Friday.

De Villota was a member of the FIA's Women in Motorsport commission alongside Kaltenborn.

The Spaniard had remained involved in the sport after the horrific test accident in 2012 that resulted in the loss of her right eye as well as massive head injuries.

"When I met her the first time, it was not even that long ago when we were all announced as the FIA ambassadors, and we spent this day and a half in Paris and she was so bubbly, full of life and excited about this test which she was going to do," said Kaltenborn.

"She said 'I can't believe it that I've got this chance,' and things just went so terribly wrong.

"We even saw after the accident an X-ray she showed, what had actually happened to her head. I just couldn't believe how quickly her sister said 'she's going to be back, and she wants to do this and this...'

"From her I think you can only learn to have that much strength in life, because there's no moment of her I remember when she didn't have a smile on her face. No matter what happened, she used to always have a smile on her face.

"Other people would have said they don't want anything to do with motorsport and just get out of it, but she was still so passionate as she was before the accident, and she really wanted to make a difference.

"Even if she didn't drive in Formula 1 the way she dreamt of doing, she still never gave up her passion for that.

"You can only learn and pass it on to the girls out there, that here's someone, who although not in the sport long, has hopefully made a difference."

Formula One Teams' Association chairman and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh agreed with Kaltenborn that de Villota's recovery had been an incredible story for F1.

"She was an inspiration not just to women in this sport, but also to all those who suffered life-threatening injuries," he said.

"Her story, determination and subsequent inspiration flowed from F1 through sport as a whole, and to see the images of her in Barcelona on the grid earlier this year, surrounded by a throng of jubilant children, told a great story."

De Villota's Marussia team issued a short statement expressing its shock at her death.

"It is with great sadness that we learned a short time ago of the news that Maria de Villota has passed away," it said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Maria's family and friends at this very difficult time."

Spain's leading F1 driver Fernando Alonso added on Twitter: "Today is a very sad day for Spanish sport. A great fighter with a big smile has left us."

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