2011 opener could be Melbourne's last blast UPDATE #2
With Melbourne’s contract due to expire in 2015, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle voiced his opposition to its escalating costs at Albert Park, claiming it was no longer needed.
|Bernie Ecclestone appears to have already written off Melbourne|
That prompted Formula One chief executive Ecclestone to counter that the sport “didn’t need” Australia on the calendar.
Australian Grand Prix promoter Ron Walker moved to calm the waters on Tuesday, claiming that Ecclestone appreciated the value of Melbourne and stressing there is an option to extend.
“There is a five-year option there that goes either way, and Mr. Ecclestone recognizes that this is a great city to come to.
“It is like Montreal. They lost it, and then they turned around and wanted to get it back. It is one of these things that advertises the city on free-to-air television....It is an amazing sport to help publicize the city.”
Walker, who believes that the race pumps over $160 million into the local economy, described Ecclestone’s reaction as understandable.
“I would say the same thing if I was him,” Walker said.
“If you have the mayor of a capital city criticizing the race and saying we don’t really need it as it is too costly, I would turn around and say: ’Well, I’ll give it to President Putin, or to the Prime Minister of India, or Korea.’
“The Mayor of New York wants one for Staten Island. So that is what I would be saying — Bernie doesn’t want a race to come to a capital city where it is unwelcome.”
Walker stressed the intangible benefits of an event that is free-to-air in terms of publicizing the city and even mooted a permanent circuit close to Avalon airport, 55 kilometers south-west of Melbourne’s city centre.
“Now that Mr. Ecclestone has raised the issue again, maybe we might go to Avalon and look at the plans,” Walker said. “It is a lot of money to build it, but then again the government has $1 billion (£618 million) invested in the tennis centre.
“If the government decided to invest in a train line, as we would need public transport there, then it could work for us on a permanent basis.
“It would take about three years to build, and the decision would have to be made next year. Or, as part of the new contract from 2015 going forward. Telegraph03/21/11 On the eve of this year's season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone has delivered perhaps his biggest-ever threat that the race could be scrapped from the calendar. Indeed, it could go as soon as next year if Ecclestone and Australian decision makers don't see eye-to-eye and, for once, this isn't a throwaway threat from the F1 boss. It is very, very real.
Formula One is facing a huge crisis which is being well covered up to say the least. It is not a crisis for Ecclestone's business, far from it. Instead, it is a crisis for the fans and perhaps the direction that the sport is taking.
It all starts with the number of races being capped at 20 and Ecclestone says it won't increase beyond this. If it wasn't for the cancellation of Bahrain there would be 20 races this year which could cause a problem in 2012 when Austin joins the calendar. Two years later F1 will go to Russia and there has been talk in recent months of South Africa and even the Ukraine wanting to host a race. If the calendar is capped at 20 races then some are going to have to go to make way for the new arrivals and this may leave some fans more than a little upset.
Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt met Ecclestone for lunch last week and, writing in the Express newspaper, he quotes the F1 boss admitting that "we are probably going to have to drop two races to fit in Austin and Russia." Ecclestone adds that Australia is likely to be dropped because its decision makers "are saying they don't want a race."
Last year the race, which is held in Melbourne's Albert Park, lost $49.4m AUD (£29.5m) and it has prompted the city's mayor to question its value for money. It's not the best way to go about things if a country wants to keep its race.
"If Australia want to go they can go and the next one is maybe one of the races in Spain," adds Ecclestone. Since 2008 there have been F1 races in Barcelona and Valencia but Ecclestone says "we will have to have only one race per country in future. We are alternating in Germany so maybe that's what we will do in Spain."
Fans are not likely to bemoan the loss of one of the Spanish races but the cancellation of Australia could be another matter entirely. The contract to host the race in Melbourne expires after the 2015 event but Ecclestone's comments indicate that if the powers that be in Australia want to get out early then he won't stop them.
One country which isn't at risk, surprisingly, is India. The inaugural race is due to take place in October and it doesn't look like its organizers are planning to repeat the debacle of South Korea where the circuit was only ready a matter of days before it hosted its first GP last year. "India is very much on track and they are going to do a good job," says Ecclestone. TotalF103/20/11 (GMM) After the niceties of last week, Bernie Ecclestone has now hinted Australia might be dropped from the F1 calendar as soon as next year.
The Melbourne race has a contract through 2015, but F1's chief executive has latched onto a rising local rhetoric about the escalating cost of the annual event to Victorian state taxpayers.
Ecclestone, 80, revealed to the UK Express newspaper that next Sunday's 2011 season opener could be the last blast at Albert Park.
Despite saying last week that Australia is important to F1, he now says the current calendar is stretched to the limit and one or two races therefore need to be dropped.
"We are probably going to have to drop two races to fit in Austin and Russia," said Ecclestone, referring to the 2012 calendar.
"Australia are saying they don't want a race. If they want to go, they can go and the next one (to go) is maybe one of the races in Spain," he added.
"We are alternating in Germany so maybe that's what we will do in Spain," said the British billionaire.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker acknowledged the risk that the cost-conscious Victorian government might pull the plug.
"We could be priced out of the market in 2015, and that's what the government is saying," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.