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Bells toll for A1 Ring.

THE hills will be alive with the sound of Formula One engines for the last time in Austria today.

Austrians have been told that their grand prix will be struck off the 2004 calendar to makeway for new venues and Sunday's race at the picturesque A1 Ring is scheduled as a farewell. 'We'll be racing for the last time in Spielberg on May 18 this year,' Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone said last January in a decision heavily influenced by European anti-tobacco legislation.

Surviving winners, including local hero Niki Lauda, have been invited to mark the end of an era at a circuit that stands out for its chocolate-box backdrop of Alpine meadows and pine forests.

'You expect Julie Andrews and the entire Von Trapp family to come over the hills around the track,' Murray Walker once said.

PasturesSpielberg is in farming country where cowbells ring out in the pastures. Lauda, triumphant with McLaren in 1984 and the last home driver to win, says the race is simply different.

'The cows are running around all over the place - there's a completely different way of life,' he once said.

But Austria is not only cows and chickens. In 1987, Sweden's Stefan Johannson hit a deer in his McLaren at 250kph during practice at the old Oesterreichring.

The car careered into the barriers and burst into flames.

In 1961, on the eve of the first non-championship Austrian Grand Prix at the old Zeltweg airfield, Briton Innes Ireland shot a stag. He later celebrated winning the race by climbin/g the spire of nearby Judenburg church. Much has changed since those heady days but Formula One regulars still look forward to their rural Austrian excursion before Monaco.

'The thing about Austria is that it is out in the country and that I like because tracks in Formula One should be different,' said Williams technical director Patrick Head.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:May 18, 2003
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