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Former F1 test pilot De Villota found dead

De Villota, who lost her right eye and fractured her skull at a test in England in July 2012, had apparently died of ‘natural’ causes, a Spanish police spokeswoman said.

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“We are assuming it was a natural death, but we cannot confirm anything,” the spokeswoman said, adding that forensic scientists and a homicide unit would examine the scene.

De Villota’s sister Isabel was quoted as saying in local media later on Friday that the family had been told the 33-year-old had died in her sleep at about 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT / 5:00 A.M. BST) as a result of neurological injuries she suffered in the crash.

Although de Villota recovered, she no longer competed and had instead become an inspirational figure for aspiring female drivers and was due to present a book detailing her experiences on Monday.

The daughter of former F1 racer Emilio De Villota, she was appointed test driver for Anglo-Russian team Marussia a few months before her accident.

She never took part in a general test with other drivers but was one of only a handful of women to have driven Formula One cars in the last decade. None, though, have come near to racing one in competition.

The news of her sudden passing stunned Spain and the motor racing world.

“I feel I owe it to her (to say something) because, out of the paddock and out of the motorsport bubble, she was an incredible character, she was a fighter,” Susie Wolff, a Williams development driver who had a test for the team last July and knew De Villota well, told Reuters.

“She had such a spirit for life and what she came through was a testament to her strength of character and her positive outlook,” added the Scot from the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka.

“After the accident she was so behind me and had such a lust for life, she was so happy to be alive and that she’d survived it and she had so many great plans for the future.

“She was just an incredible lady, no matter about what she did on the racetrack. She was just an incredible character.”

ROLE MODEL

Spanish F1 driver Fernando Alonso appeared lost for words in an interview with radio broadcaster Cadena Ser shortly after hearing the news.

“I really don’t know what to say,” he said from Suzuka.

“Pray for her and her family and the whole motor sport family. She was really loved by everyone.”

De Villota’s family posted a brief message on Facebook.

“Dear friends. Maria has left us. She had to go to heaven like all the angels. We give thanks to God for the year and half more he allowed her to be with us.”

The crash occurred at Duxford airfield in England after De Villota had completed a test run and was returning to the mechanics. The car suddenly accelerated into the back of a team truck with her helmet taking much of the impact.

She was taken to Cambridge’s Addenbrooke’s hospital and had an emergency operation that began on a Tuesday afternoon and kept her in theatre until the following morning.

Marussia published a brief statement on their website (www.marussiaf1team.com) from Suzuka:

“It is with great sadness that we learned a short time ago of the news that Maria de Villota has passed away.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Maria’s family and friends at this very difficult time.”

SPECIAL INSIGHT

Speaking in public for the first time since the accident in October last year, an upbeat De Villota, who married her personal trainer Rodrigo Garcia Millan in July, said she believed the best part of her life was still to come.

Wearing a patch over her eye socket and with her blonde hair cropped close to the skull, De Villota thanked all those who had helped and supported her and said she now believed she had “a new opportunity to live at 100 percent”.

She said she was determined to stay involved with Formula One in some form and being a role model for aspiring young female drivers was extremely important to her.

“I have motor sport in my DNA and there’s no way I can stay away from that world,” she said.

“I want to keep fighting because I believe so strongly in women being part of motor racing.

“The crucial thing was to get back some optimism about the future, that’s what helped me to get my interior motor running again. I am sure that the best is still to come.”

Spain’s secretary of state for sport, Miguel Cardenal, said the government was discussing ways of sustaining her legacy.

“I was talking to her on Tuesday about the book she was going to present,” Cardenal was quoted as saying in local media.

“She believed she could help many people, find something positive, because losing something makes you realise what you have,” he added.

“The accident gave her this special insight and she wanted to give something to others. We are thinking about how to sustain her legacy because she brought something different to Spanish sport, different values and her vision of life.”

(Additional reporting by Alan Baldwin in Suzuka, writing by Sarah White, Sonya Dowsett and Iain Rogers, editing by Patrick Johnston)

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England close on finals after win over Montenegro

A Wayne Rooney strike after 48 minutes, an own goal from Branko Boskovic after 62 minutes, a stunning third on his debut by Andros Townsend, and an injury-time penalty from Daniel Sturridge secured England’s victory.

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England lead their section with 19 points, one ahead of Ukraine and four more than Montenegro.

Montenegro appeared to set up a nervous finale when Dejan Damjanovic scored after 71 minutes but England weathered the storm and will qualify for the 2014 finals if they beat Poland at Wembley in their final qualifier on Tuesday.

The only blot on an otherwise good night for Roy Hodgson’s team was a booking for right back Kyle Walker, which will keep him out of Tuesday’s match.

Rooney opened the scoring three minutes into the second half after a 70-metre run from debutant Townsend, whose cross caused mayhem in the Montenegro defence before Rooney lashed in a left-foot shot from close range.

England doubled their lead in the 62nd minute when Branko Boskovic turned the ball into his own net after a cutback from Danny Welbeck.

Those goals settled an anxious Wembley but Montenegro proved they were not totally down and out when Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic almost beat his club colleague Joe Hart with a 30-metre shot that smashed against Hart’s crossbar and bounced away to safety.

They did even better in the 71st minute, when Dejan Damjanovic diverted a shot from substitute Fatos Beqiraj past Hart to set England’s nerves jangling again.

But Townsend settled them in the 78th minute with a superb shot from 20 metres that swerved past Vukasin Poleksic and went in off the post.

Liverpool striker Sturridge completed the scoring from the spot in the third minute of time added on after he was fouled by Ivan Kecojevic.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)

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O’Sullivan makes fresh fixing claim

World champion Ronnie O’Sullivan has said he turned down an offer of STG20,000 ($A34,000) to fix a Premier League snooker match.

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The 37-year-old, five times champion of the world, wrote in his autobiography he was approached during a brief meeting in Epping Forest, Essex, east of London 10 years ago.

Nigel Mawer, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s (WPBSA) disciplinary committee, told the BBC: “We are aware of what has been said in the book and will be writing to Ronnie O’Sullivan to ask him to explain his comments.”

O’Sullivan wrote: “Someone rang me and said he’d like to meet me over in the forest and have a walk through the woods. I knew the fella, and it was someone you don’t want to mess around with.

“What they were offering me, 20 grand, I could get for a couple of nights’ work.”

O’Sullivan’s fellow English snooker player Stephen Lee, the former world number five, was banned last month for 12 years for seven match-fixing offences but is to appeal against his suspension.

Last month, following Lee’s ban, O’Sullivan told his Twitter followers: “I’ve heard there’s many more players who throw snooker matches .. I suppose Steve lee was just caught out.”

He added “plenty of people have got loads to hide”.

However O’Sullivan back-tracked after World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn warned he must not make “vague announcements” and risked disciplinary action.

In response, O’Sullivan said: “My reference to players throwing matches was out of context in that I was referring back to rumours from many years ago when there were only a few tournaments on the circuit.

“If I were aware of match-fixing, I understand that it would be up to me to report any fears to the association.

“I have no intention of undermining the integrity of the sport that I love and enjoy participating in so much and firmly believe that my tweets were taken out of context.”

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Belgium, Germany and Swiss book World Cup tickets

Belgium, boasting one of the most talented squads in Europe, will return to the global showpiece for the first time since 2002 after a 2-1 win in Croatia guaranteed top spot in Group A.

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Germany’s 3-0 home win over Ireland, with goals from Sami Khedira, Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil, put them through from Group C while the Swiss won 2-1 in Albania to wrap up Group E.

The Netherlands and Italy had already sealed their passage to the finals before the penultimate round of qualifiers.

Group F leaders Russia are on the verge of qualifying thanks to a 4-0 victory in Luxembourg while Wayne Rooney was among the scorers in England’s 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley which kept Roy Hodgson’s side top of Group H heading into Tuesday’s final round of matches.

England are a point ahead of Ukraine who kept up the pressure by beating Poland 1-0.

Bosnia, seeking to reach their first major tournament as an independent nation, and Greece remain neck-and-neck on 22 points at the top of Group G after home wins on Friday.

Bosnia, with Edin Dzeko scoring twice, thumped Liechtenstein 4-1 while a Martin Skrtel own goal handed Greece a 1-0 success at home to Slovakia.

Robin van Persie hit a hat-trick in the 8-1 demolition of Hungary to become all-time leading Dutch scorer, taking his tally to 41 international goals and surpassing the 40 scored by Patrick Kluivert.

Nicklas Bendtner made a sensational return from a six-month ban by netting both goals in Denmark’s 2-2 draw at home to Italy. The striker was suspended by the Danish FA after being arrested for drink-driving but his international return was spoiled by Alberto Aquilani’s stoppage-time equaliser.

World and European champions Spain will move closer to qualifying if the Group I leaders beat Belarus in a late kickoff.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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IMF cuts Asia-Pacific growth forecast

EDS: Not for use before 0015 AEDT, Saturday, October 12

By Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent

CANBERRA, Oct 12 AAP – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has confirmed it expects Australian economic growth to remain below trend this year and next, as the mining investment boom wanes.

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But in a mixed assessment of Asia and the Pacific in its latest Regional Economic Outlook released in Washington on Friday, the IMF expects neighbouring New Zealand to gain a boost as its post-earthquake reconstruction is accelerated.

It has cut its economic growth forecast for the region to 5.1 per cent for 2013, down from a 5.7 per cent prediction made in April.

For 2014 growth is now seen at 5.3 per cent rather than six per cent.

It says activity among emerging economies in the region lost their impetus during the first six months of 2013.

“Tepid external demand from advanced economies and a slowdown in China dampened industrial activity throughout much of emerging Asia,” it says.

At the same time, many of these economies have endured tighter financial conditions as a result of expectations that the US Federal Reserve will start winding back its monetary policy stimulus.

In India, one of Australia’s major trading partners, the fallout from financial stress has likely left corporate and bank balance sheets vulnerable, leading to a further downward revision to growth forecasts that were already historically lower.

While China has been insulated from recent financial market vulnerability, the IMF expects continued measures to slow credit demand from the excesses of the past should put the economy on a slower trajectory.

The IMF has cut its growth forecasts for emerging Asia by 0.9 per cent since April for both 2013 and 2014 to 6.3 and 6.5 per cent respectively.

Among advanced countries in the region, an economic upswing in Japanese growth has been a “bright spot” and is starting to lift the country out of chronic deflation.

“In Australia, a slowdown in the resource investment boom will drag down growth but in New Zealand continued low interest rates and the acceleration of post-earthquake reconstruction will provide a boost to the economy,” it said.

As in the World Economic Outlook released earlier this week, the IMF lowered its Australian forecasts to 2.5 per cent for this year and 2.8 per cent for the next, bringing it more into line with Australian Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s forecasts.