The end of the Australian GP?

10/03/2008
NEWS STORY

Should Bernie Ecclestone stick to his guns - and he usually does - it appears that Australia's place on the Grand Prix calendar is under serious threat.

Speaking at the weekend, Ecclestone - having presumably only just discovered what time zones are - demanded that organizers in Melbourne host the race at night, claiming that it is wrong that F1 fans have to miss out on their sleep in order to watch the Australian GP. This comes on top of the customary demands for more money for the GP franchise.

His very close friend, and Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Ron Walker, remains hopeful of some sort of compromise, but admits that it is unlikely that the Melbourne race will ever be shifted to a night slot proper. Instead, he is hopeful that having moved the race to a 15.30 start this year, it could be held at 17.00 in 2009 and beyond.

"Let's clear the air and say that compromise is the art of good business," said Walker, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, "and we have made a huge compromise in terms of what Mr Ecclestone wants.

"I think Mr Ecclestone is a very fair person actually," he continued, "and probably one of the greatest sports promoters in the world today and he understands how we run the sport," he said.

"I believe we've gone a long way to appeasing Mr Ecclestone's aims to increase the TV audiences worldwide and I believe we will achieve that by the 5pm start. It will mean a 7am start time for the television coverage in Europe, finishing at about 8.40am, and an afternoon start and finish across the Asian continent where there are potentially hundreds of millions of extra viewers."

As a side issue, there is already resentment among fans and race officials in Australia, particularly the vast army of (volunteer) marshals. This year's event was switched to a 15.30 start without any prior warning, meaning that many marshals have had to change their travel arrangements and, in a worst case scenario, book an extra night in their hotel (at a time when charges are at a premium) and even take an extra day off work. These are the people without whom the event could not be staged.

Some time Pitpass contributor Glen Crompton, other than wondering "how come Ecclestone never managed to give a sh** about what time Europeans had to get up to view the Grand Prix since 1985 is suddenly losing sleep about it?" says "Albert Park is slap bang in the middle of urban, residential Melbourne and even hard-core nutter F1 fans like me accept that it is absurd to keep the residents of the better part of 70 suburbs awake to suit Bernie.

"Even if I lived where (former writing partner) Rob Margeit used to - some 10-15kms from the track, as the crow flies - I'd be against the night race with all my might because believe me, even that far out, the sound would make it impossible for my kids to go to sleep at seven PM, which at this time of year is about 1.5 hours before it even gets dark."

Then of course, there is the little matter of money, and the fact that in addition to all the other inconvenience, Ecclestone wants the hard-pressed taxpayers to subsidise an event that is already losing money hand over fist.

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Published: 10/03/2008
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