Maria de Villota, the Formula One test driver who lost an eye in a near-fatal accident in July 2012, was found dead in a Seville, Spain, hotel room Friday.
A spokeswoman for the Spanish police told the BBC that “we are assuming it was a natural death, but we cannot confirm anything.” Authorities told the Associated Press there were no signs of drugs or foul play. The family of de Villota, 33, confirmed her death with a message on Facebook: “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.”
De Villota, who was the daughter of former F1 driver Emilio de Villota, sustained serious head injuries and lost her right eye during a crash that occurred when she was testing for the Marussia F1 team in England. She was in Seville, according to the BBC, to present a book about her life at a conference. “Life Is a Gift” is due for publication this week.
“If anybody represented strength and optimism, it was Maria. Her sudden death is a big loss to the motorsport world,” Sauber’s Monisha Kaltenhorn, the first female team principal in F1, told the Associated Press.
De Villota was badly injured in July 2012 when her car unexpectedly accelerated and crashed into a team truck after a run at Duxford Airfield in Cambridgeshire. Her helmet absorbed most of the impact and she suffered serious head injuries, in addition to the loss of her eye, in the harrowing accident. Last year, she spoke of how the injury had changed her life.
“Before, I only saw F1, I saw myself in a car competing,” she said at a conference (via the BBC) in the spring. “I did not see what was important in life, the clarity to say: ‘I am alive.’ It has given me my bearings, given me back what’s important. I accept it with the energy to say I am going to live out this chance 100 percent.”
She had married her boyfriend, Rodrigo Garcia, over the summer. In her final tweet Thursday morning, de Villota posted a photo of herself with a friend: