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´Voice of Formula 1´ Heinz Prüller gets the chop

By Thomas Hochwarter

Austrian broadcaster ORF are axing Formula 1 commentating legend Heinz Prüller from their coverage.

The 67-year-old has been the "Voice of Formula 1" on Austrian television since 1965. Now the ORF – who recently reported a deficit of around 100 million Euros for the 2008 business year – said in a press release Prüller will "retire but he will be involved in future Formula 1 coverage in some way."

The Vienna-born commentator is known for his immense knowledge of the Formula 1 and everything linked to the sports, its drivers and teams. Occasionally, the talkative journalist missed the elimination of a driver or even a crash because he was philosophising about Jackie Stewart’s shoe size or Nelson Piquet’s favourite race day breakfast.

There are several websites and online forums such as www.stilblueten.at dedicated solely to the discussion of Prüller's sound bites. Austria’s market-leading radio station Ö3 always broadcasts a "Best of Prüller" on the days after races.

Prüller is quoted in today’s edition of the Vienna free sheet "Heute" as saying: "I am, obviously, too old, too stupid and too expensive for the ORF. If they do not want my commentary anymore, why should I be involved in Formula 1 coverage at all?"

ORF sports director Hans Huber said Ernst Hausleitner, the station’s man for pit lane interviews, will take over from Prüller in commentating the races in March.

Prüller dismissed allegations the decision is part of the station’s recent cut-back plans. He said: "There is no one who does it as cheap as I do. I got a special agreement with the ORF for two years."

Prüller explained the station pays just half of his travel expenses.

The F1 stalwart revealed he has received uncountable e-mails from fans. He said: "This proves to me I did it right."

Three-time Formula 1 champion Niki Lauda, a close friend of Prüller, told newspaper "Österreich": "The decision certainly hit him hard. He will have problems to understand it."

Lauda added: "It will be hard for [successor Ernst Hausleitner] to replace him – he has to replace an icon."

"If I am allowed to express a wish to the ORF for my 60th birthday [on 22 February]: I want Prüller to go on commentating the races."

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