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  Monday, 27 January, 2003, 09:45 GMT
Early end for Austrian GP
Rubens Barrichello (right) allows Michael Schumacher past on the A1-Ring's finish line
Barrichello (right) handed Schumacher the win in 2002
Austria will be thrown off the Formula One calendar next year despite having a contract until 2006, the sport's impresario Bernie Ecclestone has revealed.

The move is a reaction to the decision of the European Union to bring forward its tobacco advertising ban to 1 October 2005 from the same date in 2006.

"We'll be racing for the last time in Spielberg on 18 May this year - then it's over," Ecclestone told Austria's Kronen Zeitung newspaper.

The F1 chief explained: "We had a contract with Spielberg until 2006, but with an exit clause that's now come into effect.

"Your [Austria's] health minister is the one to blame because he agreed to bringing forward the ban on tobacco advertising."

It appears as if Ecclestone has made Austria a scapegoat for the EU's decision - but it is likely that other European races will also lose their dates to make way for new events.

Ecclestone said: "In 2004, we're racing in Shanghai and Bahrain, 2005 in Istanbul, then in Russia.

"It's possible that we then only have five or six races in central Europe," he said.

Asked whether Austria could still be one of those venues, Ecclestone insisted: "The decision is final."

Austria would be the second European country to lose its Grand Prix as a consequence of the battle over tobacco sponsorship.

The Belgian Grand Prix has already been dropped after the government in Brussels decided on a tobacco advertising ban from August 2003.

Ecclestone's actions raise serious questions about the likelihood of F1 going through with the international advertising ban it had promised from 2007.

The sport's governing body, the FIA, had been working towards an agreement of October 1 2006 and not July 31 2005.

FIA president Max Mosley has warned that Europe's decision has made it more difficult for F1 to stick to its plan.

"As a result of this legislation, the FIA advised teams with tobacco sponsorship not to enter into contracts beyond 2006," Mosley wrote in a letter to David Byrne, the EU Health Commissioner.

"By choosing a date earlier than the world date, the EU will now force teams to seek events outside the EU during part of 2005 and all of 2006 in order to observe contracts which do not expire until the end of 2006."

China and Bahrain have already been awarded dates on the world championship calendar from 2004 with Turkey also expected to stage a race in Istanbul in 2005.

See also:

26 Nov 02 | Formula One
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