NASCAR

F1 team Marussia signs female test driver

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MADRID (AP)

Formula One team Marussia hired Maria de Villota as a test driver for the season, providing the sport with a full-time female pilot for the first time since the 1990s.

The daughter of former Spanish F1 driver Emilio de Villota had tested with Renault last year and has single seater experience in Spanish F3 and the Daytona 24-Hours. The 32-year-old De Villota will likely get behind the wheel at a young drivers' testing session in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season.

''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,'' De Villota said. ''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.''

McLaren gave American driver Sarah Fisher a chance to test drive at Indianapolis in 2002 but Italian driver Giovanna Amati was the last woman to enter the F1 championship. Amati was replaced by eventual world champion Damon Hill after failing to qualify her Brabham for a handful of races to start the 1992 season.

Five women previously raced in F1, with Italian driver Lella Lombardi starting 12 races in the 1970s.

''Our test driver program 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,'' Marussia team principal John Booth said. ''We will also provide Maria with the opportunity to sample F1 machinery later in the year, further adding to her racing credentials.''

Marussia goes into its third season after changing its name from Virgin.

The season begins on March 18 with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

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