Female driver De Villota joins F1 ranks
March 24, 2012 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Former Formula One test driver Maria de Villota passed away aged 33. "It is presumed to be death by natural causes," a National Police spokeswoman said Friday.
Maria de Villota: 1980-2013
Joining the men
Like father, like daughter?
- Spaniard Maria de Villota joins Marussia as a test driver
- De Villota is the first woman to join a Formula One team since 1992
- The last woman behind the wheel of an F1 car was Giovanni Amati with Brabham
- Maria Teresa de Filippis scored half a point as a Maserati driver in 1975
(CNN) -- Maria de Villota has become the first female to be involved in Formula One for 20 years after joining Russian team Marussia as a test driver.
De Villota, the daughter of Spain's former F1 driver Emilio de Villota, is the first woman to be part of the elite motorsport since Italy's Giovanni Amati entered three grands prix for Brabham in 1992.
The 32-year-old will work alongside Marussia's newly-formed driver line-up of German Timo Glock and French rookie Charles Pic, and will be given time behind the wheel during the 2012 season.
"I am very happy to be joining the Marussia test driver program," De Villota, who has competed in the World Touring Car Championship, told the team's official website.
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"This is a fantastic opportunity to work closely with a Formula One team and gain important experience to help me progress my career, including the chance to drive the new car later in the year at the Abu Dhabi test.
"I will be joining the team trackside so I'm looking forward to working alongside them at the first race next weekend, and this can only help my future ambition to step up to Formula One racing."
Team principal John Booth welcomed De Villota to the Britain-based team, which competed as Virgin in 2010 and 2011.
"We are pleased to welcome Maria to our test driver program, which will enable her to be integrated into a Formula One team environment and gain a vast amount of experience that will be useful to her career progression," he said.
"We will also provide Maria with the opportunity to sample F1 machinery later in the year, further adding to her racing credentials."
De Villota is only the sixth woman to be involved in the elite division of motorsport, the first being Italy's Maria Teresa de Filippis -- who raced in three grands prix for Maserati in 1958.
The best finish achieved by a woman in F1 was in 1975 when De Filippis' compatriot Lella Lombardi scored half a point for placing sixth in a shortened Spanish Grand Prix.
This is a fantastic opportunity to work closely with a Formula One team and gain important experience
Maria de Villota
British driver Divina Galica entered three races for both the Surtees and Hesketh teams between 1976 and 1978, but failed to qualify.
She told CNN last year that De Villota's biggest challenge would be handling the media attention and withstanding the physical demands of F1.
"My concern for her is not that she would be an ambassador, which she would be, and I'm sure she would do a wonderful job," Galica said. "But when she actually gets in the car I'm wondering if she'll be fit enough.
"I would be in the gym trying to lift heavy weights and get my neck muscles going and just make sure I'm strong enough. I don't know her, but I think that would be my advice."
American Danica Patrick attracted huge interest last month by becoming only the second woman to win pole position for a race on the NASCAR circuit.
Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of open-wheel racing, after becoming the first female to win an IndyCar series event and coming third in the Indianapolis 500 in 2009.
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