The Australian Grand Prix should return to Adelaide, according to a local group which is lobbying the South Australian State Government to make a bid for the event.

Adelaide hosted the Grand Prix from 1985 until it headed to Melbourne in 1996. The circuit snaked its way around the Adelaide parklands on the outskirts of the city, close to the trendy cafe district, and past the Stag Hotel, after which part of the circuit was named. During its eleven year stay in South Australia, Formula One proved popular, the city almost coming to a standstill with a week-long festival as locals embraced the event. Flags hung from lamp posts throughout the city while posters adorned every inch of vertical real estate. Fans swapped their Cold Chisel t-shirts for team apparel as Grand Prix fever took root, the Formula One paddock couldn't help but be swept up by the enthusiasm. It's something that's missing from the event in Melbourne, something it has never been able to recreate.

"It doesn't compare to the great atmosphere that Adelaide had," says Michael Terminello of the race in Albert Park. "There are a lot of people in South Australia and F1 fans worldwide that want Adelaide back on the F1 calendar… It shouldn't have left!"

A devoted member of the Tifosi, Terminello's passion extends beyond the casual fan. He is one of the driving forces behind the 'Bring the Grand Prix Back to Adelaide' campaign which has been gathering support via social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

"There are many of us in F1 who would like to race again in Adelaide," wrote Jean Todt in an email to Terminello, before pointing out the commercial realities to which the sport is now a slave.

As countries vie to for the right to host a Grand Prix the commercial rights holders, led by Bernie Ecclestone, have been able to dictate terms which are typically stacked in favour of Formula One Management. Prospective hosts are forced to spend millions of dollars in hosting fees, leaving operating margins slim resulting in most promoters running at a loss. Many rely on government subsidies to keep themselves afloat.

Costs for the Grand Prix in Melbourne have risen every year since 1996; in 2010 the Victorian state government covered an almost $50.2m (33.8m) short fall, a figure expected to rise to $55m (37.1m) this year. Supporters of the event suggest the outlay is offset by the boost to tourism and the local economy, industry monitor Formula Money claims the benefit to Victoria is as much as $125m (84m). However, a report produced for Tourism Victoria last July contradicts that, suggesting the state saw a $39m (26.3m) return on its 2010 investment, a loss of almost $11m (7.4m). It follows on from protest group Save Albert Park which suggests the government has ignored advice from the Auditor General to perform a cost-benefit analysis. It's unsurprising that many Victorian tax payers have now had enough.

Adelaide however could reverse that trend, suggests Terminello, who believes the city would see an overall net benefit as a result of the race. He points to the Clipsal 500 touring car race which last year generated $34m (22.9m) for the local economy. An independent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers after the 1992 Grand Prix in Adelaide suggested more than $37m (24.9m) was injected into the state as a direct result of the race, admittedly with significantly lower sanctioning fees.

In 1984, the year before it held the first Grand Prix, Adelaide's population reached the one million mark. Even now only 1.2 million people call Adelaide home, with Melbourne, Australian's second largest city, boasting a population of about 4 million. That Adelaide achieved such a return two decades ago is a testament to the support the event had, even in its final years. Even decreasing ticket sales indicate a greater local interest per capita than Melbourne has ever been able to achieve.

Adelaide has much to thank Formula One for. In the early part of the 1980s it was relatively unknown on the world stage as tourists focussed largely on the eastern seaboard. It was the arrival of Formula One which can justifiably claim to have put Adelaide on the international map. Since the Grand Prix left the city the South Australian state government has been particularly astute in identifying and promoting events to maintain that global identity. At the turn of the millennium Adelaide hosted a one-off 'Race of a Thousand Years' for sports cars while more recently V8 Supercars, Australia's version of NASCAR mixed with a football match, has also taken root and is a firm and prestigious fixture on the local calendar. It draws crowds rivalling those of the Grand Prix - in 2011 some 271,800 attended the touring car race in Adelaide, compared with 298,000 for the Grand Prix in Melbourne. South Australia also hosts a round of the UCI World Tour with the Tour Down Under, a week-long cycling event attracting many of the sport's biggest names. There are a host of other world class events, WomAdelaide and the Fringe Festival to name just two, all geared towards boosting Adelaide's global profile and tourism industry. All cost a fraction of what Formula One does and all capitalise on the goodwill it left behind.

The race had social benefits, too. A tourism report produced in 1986 suggested the Grand Prix was "instrumental in increasing pride in their city and greater self confidence among Adelaide residents."

Crucially, as far as Terminello is concerned, legislation legalising a Grand Prix still exists. As the circuit is made up of a mixture of public roads and parklands laws had to be passed to allow the first race to take place. This legislation was revised in the wake of the Grand Prix but to this day allows the Victoria Park circuit to be used for two motor sport events a year.

"Putting the Clipsal 500 (touring car race) and the Formula 1 Grand Prix together would help promote the V8 Supercars motorsport worldwide due to the massive exposure that F1 brings due to the many millions of people watching it around the world," Terminello suggests.

However Terminello's comments fail to address a number of crucial logistical and political details. If the Grand Prix were to return - hypothetically in a traditional season ending (November) time slot - the circuit may as well be left up permanently. By the time it was pulled down for the Grand Prix it'd be time to set it up for the V8 Supercars, and vice versa, which would likely only antagonise locals with constant road closures. Also, what Terminello fails to mention is that V8 Supercars already feature at the Australian Grand Prix.

Beyond the logistics merging a Formula One event and Adelaide's existing touring car race would likely dilute the brands of both events, which is not in either category's best interest. It's also hard to imagine Formula One would be willing to stand on equal billing as a local touring car event. Running the events in close proximity to one another would likely detract from attendance figures as the local appetite for motor sport is quenched, driving down already slim potential profit margins, while separating them would drive up construction costs. There's no obvious middle ground.

Terminello however remains defiant, convinced those problems can be solved. He's secured the signature of Alain Prost, a two-time winner around the Adelaide streets, and his petition is swelling with public support. Local politicians have even thrown their weight behind the campaign, even if the government is not so inclined.

Instead the South Australian government has invested more than $500 million redeveloping Adelaide Oval, increasing capacity for the venue which hosts cricket and, in future, top-flight Australian rules football. "That is more than 20 years' worth of Grand Prix hosting," Terminello points out. "The South Australian Government could have easily left the Adelaide Oval the way it was and spent 60 million on a new 40,000 capacity multi-purpose stadium."

But Premier Jay Weatherill is content with the Clipsal 500 touring car race, especially considering the costs associated with Formula One. In the current financial climate changing the Premier's position on the Grand Prix will be no mean feat, but Terminello is convinced that people power can sway him.

"Our government was practically hiding the information about the profits the state was actually making and always stuck to being negative about the costs," Terminello argues. "It means that Formula 1 makes more profit than the Tour Down Under and the Clipsal 500." He quotes former South Australian Premier Mike Rann, who was outspoken in his desire to have the race return to Adelaide.

While Minister of Business Development in the 1990's Rann claimed the event stimulated the local economy beyond tourism, increasing business opportunities. "Investment in the Grand Prix is totally justified considering the immediate return to the State, particularly in terms of tourism and business opportunities," he said. "The event also generates 97 full-time and 1,600 part-time jobs each year. It sells 70,000 bed nights in South Australian hotels and provides an ongoing boost to South Australian industry."

"Bringing F1 back to Adelaide is important to increase tourism and boost the economy - especially pubs, restaurants and clubs in our state," Terminello says. "Formula One also could help our retail sector, which is struggling while tourism is down by as much as 20%.

"It's important we increase the international tourism in our state, and because of that I would be happy for the government to spend my tax money on luring the Grand Prix back, and will keep pressing them to," he adds. "I won't give up on this campaign."

Mat Coch

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Published: 01/03/2012
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