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Maria De Villota back in the paddock at Barcelona

12 May 2013

Maria De Villota made a welcome return to the F1 paddock at the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday, a first appearance at a Grand Prix since her horror accident in testing for the Marussia Racing team at Duxford Aerodrome in England last July.

De Villota said that she had been excited and nervous the night before attending Saturday's qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix.

"I've been racing my whole life. This has been my world and I have a big stop in my life for 10 months," the Spanish driver told The Associated Press in Barcelona. Her connection with the sport goes right back to her childhood - her father was former F1 driver Emilio de Villota, who competed in the sport between 1976 and 1982.

"Now I'm here again. So I needed to check myself, my feelings, how I was going to react," she continued. "I hear for the first time in 10 months the noise of the engine and then my whole body reacts. For sure I would like to be involved.

"It's a mix of adrenaline and also a little bit of sadness," she said. "It's a great weekend but on the other hand it's also not easy, but I think I'm going to enjoy [watching the race] on Sunday."

Although looking in the picture of health in Barcelona this weekend, her recovery is still being monitored by brain and eye specialists at Madrid's La Paz University Hospital, and the loss of her right eye inevitably means that she will never again be able to pursue her dream of being a Grand Prix driver.

"I have dedicated my whole life to being a F1 driver. That part of my life ... so many efforts, so many years," she said, understandably still finding it a difficult subject to talk about.

"It's still a tough thing to think [about]," she admitted. "But I'm alive, that's the [main] thing.

"Doctors came and just said: 'This is like a miracle, Maria, we cannot believe you're alive,'" she recalled. "I have been right into the line. When you realize you have a second chance in life, you don't have any other way to live it than with a big smile in your face."

De Villota said that she was still intending to be very much a part of the motorsports scene in her native Spain and that she was still in touch with Williams test driver Susie Wolff - "every time she's in the car I feel like I'm with her."

She added that support from some of the current drivers on the F1 grid such as Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez had been a real boost for her during her recovery.

"I spoke with Fernando, I spoke with Checo," she said. "When you are in the hospital, and you get their support, it was so important for me. Because you feel this tiny, you feel so small in that moment. You feel that you're not worth it."

If nothing else, then her warm welcome from the F1 paddock this weekend will certainly have assured her that she's been much missed over the last year.


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