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    Maria de Villota, 33; Formula One racecar driver

    Ms. de Villota was hospitalized for a month after suffering serious head injuries during testing in England last year.
    Andrew Hone/Getty Images/2012
    Ms. de Villota was hospitalized for a month after suffering serious head injuries during testing in England last year.

    NEW YORK — Maria de Villota, a pioneering Formula One test driver who lost an eye and nearly died in a crash last year, was found dead Friday in a hotel room in Seville, Spain. She was 33.

    The autopsy showed ‘‘neurological damage’’ from that wreck probably caused her death, her sister Isabel said. She added that her sister died in her sleep about 6 a.m.

    Ms. de Villota had seemingly recovered from the crash, although she was no longer doing F1 testing. She had written a book about her accident and recently married.


    Spanish police said that her death was from natural causes and that there was no indication of foul play. They said Ms. de Villota’s manager alerted staff at the Hotel Sevilla Congresos after her body was found.

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    She was in Seville to participate in a conference called ‘‘What Really Matters,’’ whose mission organizers said was to teach youngsters ‘‘universal human values.’’ The conference was canceled.

    Ms. de Villota, a Madrid native, was the daughter of Emilio de Villota, who competed in F1 from 1976-82. She was seriously injured last year during testing for the Marussia F1 team in England. She lost her right eye and sustained serious head injuries that left her hospitalized for a month.

    Ms. de Villota was the first Spanish woman to drive an F1 car. Sport minister Jose Wert announced that she would be posthumously awarded Spain’s Gold Medal of Sporting Merit.

    Jean Todt, president of motorsports’s governing body, said from the Japanese Grand Prix: ‘‘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.’’


    McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, chairman of the Formula One Teams’ Association, said: ‘‘She was an inspiration not just to women in this sport, but also to all those who suffered life-threatening injuries.’’

    Ms. de Villota first drove an F1 car in 2011, a Renault at the Paul Ricard circuit in Marseille, France. She had also driven in the world touring car championship in 2006 and 2007, plus the Superleague open-wheel series.

    Her 2012 accident happened in July while she was driving an F1 car for only the fourth time and the first time for her Marussia team. She hit a support truck during an exercise near an airfield in England. A team investigation concluded that the car was not at fault.

    Her death came just when Ms. de Villota seemed to be moving past her accident. She told Hola magazine in February she felt free and ‘‘back to being me’’ after returning to driving on normal roads.

    She returned to a F1 paddock for the first time in May at the Spanish Grand Prix. There she told the Associated Press that she felt a mix of ‘‘adrenaline and also a little bit of sadness’’ on again being near the sport that almost cost her her life.