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Tributes pour in for ‘inspirational’ de Villota

Oct 11, 2013, 9:00 AM EDT

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The Formula One world has paid its respects to Maria de Villota after the former Marussia test driver passed away this morning at the age of 33.

de Villota was brought up with motorsport in her veins, with her father Emilio competing in fifteen grands prix in the late seventies and early eighties. After initially testing with Lotus in 2011, she joined Marussia in 2012 as a test driver before her accident last July which left her with severe head injuries and resulted in the loss of her right eye. de Villota returned to the paddock back in May for the Spanish Grand Prix, and was a highly popular member of the Formula One family.

FIA President Jean Todt released a statement on Friday in Suzuka saying: “Today is a tragic day for motorsport. My deepest condolences go to the de Villota family. Maria was a fantastic driver, a leading light for women in motorsport and a tireless campaigner for road safety. Above all she was a friend I deeply admired.”

Her former team, Marussia, also sent their condolances to her family and friends. “It is with great sadness that we learned a short time ago of the news that Maria de Villota has passed away,” a statement from the team read. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Maria’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”

McLaren team principal and President of the Formula One Teams’ Association Martin Whitmarsh expressed his high regard for de Villota, calling her an “inspiration.”

“The whole paddock is very shocked by the news that Maria is no longer with us,” 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, and to see the images of her in Barcelona on the grid earlier this year, surrounded by a throng of jubilant children (pictured), told a great story.”

Many F1 drivers and personalities took to Twitter to lend their support to the de Villota family.

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