The family of the Formula One test driver Maria de Villota said yesterday they believe her sudden death was directly linked to an accident in England in which she lost an eye.
Ms de Villota was testing a F1 car at Duxford Aerodrome in Cambridgeshire in July 2012 when she hit a truck at 64km/h. She suffered serious head injuries and lost her right eye - forcing her to quit Formula One - but had made a dramatic recovery to become a motorsport safety adviser.
Subsequently she was given the all-clear to resume driving again in February 2013 and had written a book about the accident, which she was promoting in Seville when she died in a hotel room on Friday.
The De Villota family released a statement about her unexpected death yesterday. It said that Ms de Villota died in her sleep at approximately 6am as “a consequence of the neurological injuries she suffered in July of 2012, according to what the forensic doctor has told us”.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said an investigation was launched after the Duxford crash and would take into account findings from the autopsy. A spokeswoman said: “We are still investigating the crash. HSE will see what the post-mortem says and take that into account in our investigation.”
Stuart Ross, the neurosurgeon who treated Richard Hammond of Top Gear for head injuries after the presenter crashed at 483km/h in 2006, believes that Ms de Villota's death may have been caused by epilepsy: “The only obvious connection I can see between the injury and her death is that she could have developed seizures after her head injury and she happened to have a big seizure in the hotel room,” he said.
Mr Ross added: “After a knock on the head or any brain injury, there's a possibility of developing epilepsy. That could happen 14 months down the line.”
The charity Epilepsy Research UK has said that sudden unexpected death due to epilepsy kills more than 500 Britons a year. Marussia, the makers of the car Ms de Villota was driving at the time of the Duxford accident, was cleared of any potential fault last year. -The Independent on Sunday