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Sunday postcard from Austria 18 May 2003

Former winning cars of the Austrian Grand Prix, Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd6, Austrian Grand Prix, A1-Ring, Austria, 17 May 2003

The atmosphere in the Spielberg paddock this weekend reflects the fact that this may be the last Austrian Grand Prix for the foreseeable future.

In a celebration of the history of the race, the organisers arranged a party on Friday for all the past winners who could make it. Jacky Ickx (1970); Emerson Fittipaldi (1972); and John Watson (1976) were among those who attended.

"I always loved the challenge and the sheer majesty of the old Osterreichring," Watson recalled, while Ickx said: "It feels good to come back to the Formula One paddock. I am impressed by what I have seen, and once again Formula One is giving the fans what they want because it has become unpredictable again."

There is an impressive display of old Formula One cars at the entrance to the circuit, where Jochen Rindt is remembered via a large monochrome portrait photograph and a shot of his Cooper-Maserati leaping at the old Nurburgring in 1966. Nice touches.

It wasn't quite possible for race organisers to get the exact models of winning cars, but they did manage to obtain a Ferrari 312B3, a BRM P180 (commemorating the great Jo Siffert's 1971 triumph for the marque in a P160); a March 761 in orange Beta Tools livery (to recall Vittorio Brambilla's remarkable wet win in 1975 in a 751, which he promptly spun after crossing the finish line); a Williams FW07, an FW12, and an FW18.

Another little bit of history was made this weekend by veteran race reporter Mike Doodson, who cut his teeth with British publications Motoring News (now Motorsport News) and Motor magazine, before going freelance. The Austrian Grand Prix marked his 500th race, his professional Formula One career beginning at the French Grand Prix at Clermont Ferrand in 1969.

"There was only a small grandstand, no press room, no television, and it was all pretty exciting," Doodson recalled. "Clermont was a very fast circuit, and in those days you never knew what was going to happen next. A lot has changed over the years!"

Asked if he was likely to start slowing down he said: "Well, let's say the second 500 will be harder than the first. Some writers are still going at it into their 70s, but I don't want to be doing this as an old man."

Doodson, 62, was presented with a photograph of Jackie Stewart winning that first race in a Matra MS80, courtesy of Toyota who hosted a special lunch for him on Friday.

The current drivers seem to like the A1-Ring, which is a smaller version of the old Osterreichring. "This is a great track," said Nick Heidfeld. "I'm going to miss racing here." The German qualified sixth in 2001, fifth in 2002 and fourth this year, and said he had been looking forward to the mathematical progression to pole by 2006.

The Schumacher brothers also found time for a little humour. When it was pointed out to Michael that the circuit had not in the past been too kind to him (meaning that Rubens Barrichello had been quicker for the past two seasons) he replied, deadpan: "I'll keep trying!"

Brother Ralf will start his 100th Grand Prix this afternoon, and recalled the times he has raced wheel-to-wheel with his brother. "We have probably only met each other that way 10 times," he said, with a laugh, "but it's always quite tight and quite exciting!"