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Mat Coch writes:
Former world champion Alan Jones has thrown his support behind the Australian Grand Prix, rejecting the idea of the event becoming a night race.
The race has come under pressure in recent years from locals who have grown tired of the government funding the event requires, while Bernie Ecclestone has pushed for the race to be run at a time friendlier to a European television audience.
"As Australians we've been getting up in the middle of the night to watch European Grands Prix for the last 25 years," Jones argued. "They (Europeans) can get up to watch one!"
The Australian Grand Prix starts at 17:00 local time, shunning the traditional 14:00 time slot, to make it friendlier for European time zones. Any move to start the race later would likely result in it running into the night, necessitating lighting around the Albert Park circuit.
"Lighting up Albert Park would be terribly expensive," scoffed Jones, adding that "it would be inconvenient" as well.
"You get a lot of corporates coming from interstate," he explained. "How would they get back in time to start work on Monday morning? As it is at the moment, I think it's a great compromise."
The Australian Grand can trace its heritage back to the 1920's. The 1953 event was the first held around Albert Park, a race Jones' father Stan competed in, but it was not until 1985 that Australia found a place on the world championship calendar.
In 1996 the race moved to Melbourne, much to the disdain of the population of Adelaide and the Formula One fraternity. Yet despite the event's relocation the Australian race has remained popular within the paddock.
"All the people involved in Formula One just love coming here and so if there had to be a vote taken they'd all put their hands up and say 'We would go to Australia'," said Jones. "They love coming here. They like the circuit. It's probably one of the best run Grands Prix in the world."
Melbourne's current contract runs until 2015, by which time the weary Victorian taxpayers will have spent more than £48million propping up the event.
"This is a very, very expensive race and I personally am not happy with this level of subsidy," Tourism Minister Louise Asher said in September. "The Brumby Labour government signed off on a contract that is too expensive for the taxpayer in my opinion."
It is expected the Victorian Government will enter negotiations with Ecclestone to extend the contract beyond the current deal, though a reduction in hosting fees will likely be key for any new deal.
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