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The future of the Australian GP

NEWS STORY
04/02/2008

Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, and close friend of Bernie Ecclestone, Ron Walker, remains confident that despite threats regarding the future of Formula One in Australia, things will be sorted out and that the situation will "blow over".

As previously reported, Ecclestone is calling for money from race organizers, in addition to wanting the race held at night, in order that the race schedule better suits F1 (TV) fans in Europe.

Talking to Sydney's Sunday Telegraph, Ecclestone said: "Maybe we don't want to be in Australia. Our costs are very high in Australia and we get a lot less money. It's bloody bad for us."

Referring to the prospect of a night race, he added: "In Melbourne, if we were to continue to be there, we would have to have a night race. "That would be the only option."

Speaking to the Australian Associated Press however, Walker remains confident that even after Melbourne's current contract runs out, after the 2010 event, F1 will continue in Australia, and most likely Melbourne.

"When you look at other Grands Prix around the world in China, Dubai and Malaysia they don't get anything like the attendances we get in Melbourne," he said. "This will just blow over and negotiations will take place in a normal fashion."

However, the fact is that in recent years attendances have been diminishing, due in part to the decision to drop the highly popular V8 Supercars from the schedule. In 1996, 401,000 fans attended the event over the course of the GP weekend, while by last year, despite all manner of incentives, the figure had dropped to 301,000.

And then there's the money; with taxpayers expected to make up the shortfall. As Richard Hinds points out in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled, 'Try threatening someone who cares, Bernie'.

"With falling crowds and lukewarm support from sponsors, the cost to the Victorian Government has inevitably risen, putting the race under a harsh spotlight," writes Hinds. "The annual economic impact statement might paint a rosy picture about the number of beds occupied, meals eaten and cocktails swilled by visiting F1 fans, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians to convince an indifferent public that the financial loss it suffers to run the race - $34.6 million last year - will end up in their pockets. Particularly in a rapidly growing city where people are far more concerned about the crowded public transport system than the single-seater jalopies that circle Albert Park."

Other than the financial element, there is Ecclestone's demand that Melbourne runs the Grand Prix at night, another move unlikely to go down well with those who have campaigned against the Albert Part event since it was first announced, and more importantly those who actually fund the race, the taxpayers. The disruption to the city caused by holding the race at night doesn't bear thinking about, and all to fit in with Ecclestone's desire to see the race shown at a 'decent' time on European televisions.

Finally, it should be pointed out that last week, without any prior warning, the FIA announced that the 2008 race will be moved from its traditional 14.00 start to 15:30.

Naturally, this will go a little way to appeasing 'the powers that be' in F1, for it will allow the event to be shown at a slightly more user-friendly time in Europe, thereby getting the 2008 viewing stats off to the best possible start.

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