After spending a frustrating 24 hours trying to get back from a Top Gear shoot in the middle of the Moroccan desert, the last thing I expected to receive as I woke up still groggy and sandy this morning was a message telling me of Maria de Villota's untimely death.

The Spanish F1 test driver sustained life-threatening head injuries in an accident during a UK test with Marussia last year and spent the past 15 months making a miraculous recovery by anyone's standard. With doctors unable to save her right eye, she took her rightful place as an ambassador for the sport and earlier this year was given the all-clear to drive again.

With news breaking this morning of her yet-unexplained death after she was discovered in a hotel room in Seville, southern Spain, key figures in the motorsport world reacted - with a number of Maria's shocked friends and colleagues currently in Japan for this weekend's F1 race at Suzuka.


Fellow FIA Women in Motorsport ambassador and Sauber F1 Team Principal, Monisha Kaltenborn, told the BBC: "It's really a shock to me." Whilst some drivers took to Twitter to express their thoughts, with Former F1 driver Karun Chandhok writing: "Tragic news about Maria de Villota. Sat next to her just a couple weeks ago at FIA Drivers Comm meeting. Was doing a lot for women in racing."

Whatever the circumstances, it's a sharp reminder that life - regardless of gender or profession - is precious and fragile. Or as Maria herself had titled her autobiography - which is due for release this Monday: 'Life is a Gift'.