Maria de Villota has been found dead in a hotel room in Seville, just days before she was due to launch the story of her life, and recovery from serious injury, in the Spanish city.

The 33-year old hit the headlines when she was appointed as a development driver for the Marussia F1 team late in 2011, and again when her first outing with the team - a straight-line test at RAF Duxford - ended in tragedy when her car accelrrated into a half-raised tail-lift on one of the team's support trucks.

The accident left her with serious head injuries, and cost her the use of her right eye, but de Villota appeared to have overcome the setbacks to return to motorsport in roles with both the Spanish motorsports authority and the FIA's Commission for Women and Motorsport.

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She made her return to the F1 paddock at her home event in Barcelona, sporting what had become a trademark colourful eye-patch, and reports of her death rocked the paddock in Suzuka, where the Japanese Grand Prix is due to take place this weekend.

de Villota's passing was confirmed by her family via a message on her Facebook page which stated that "Maria is gone. She had to go to heaven and all the angels. We thank God for the year-and-a-half more that he left us."

The Marussia team issued a brief statement in response to the news of de Villota's death.

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

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Maria's family and friends at this very difficult time." also sends its condolences to all of Maria's family and friends at this sad time.