Bernie Ecclestone: Australia is ‘as important as Monaco’
Formula 1 supremo hopes to keep Australian Grand Prix on the calendar for years to come
Bernie Ecclestone believes the Australian Grand Prix is as important as Formula 1’s iconic race in Monaco.
The race at Melbourne’s Albert Park is under growing threat from locals in Victoria, with some politicians calling for the state-supported event to be scrapped after it failed to make a profit in recent years.
Ecclestone had previously conceded that he would end the contract, which runs until 2015, if it was requested, but had hoped to persuade them to remain in the sport.
“Australia is as important to us as Monaco,” Ecclestone told Reuters.
“It’s part of the world championship and has been for an awful long time. We’d hate to think that we’re going to lose Australia.
“In the case of Melbourne, if the product is too expensive for them, we understand that and when the contract comes to an end there’s no need to renew it. We wouldn’t force somebody to buy something that they don’t want or think is too expensive.
“We get massive worldwide television coverage-if that’s not important well, OK, don’t buy the product,” added Ecclestone.
Victoria’s trade and tourism minister Louise Asher subsequently issued a statement saying Victoria would like to keep the race, but would not be bullied by Ecclestone into signing a deal that wasn’t beneficial to the state and its people when renewal discussions are held in 2013 or 2014.
“We would like to (extend the contract), but we will sit down and we will negotiate about it,” Asher told Reuters.
“There’s no doubt about it that the Victorian government would want to secure the Grand Prix. It’s just that we’re not going to be bunnies in contractual negotiations.”
Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, and Lawmaker Michael Danby, were both vocal in calling for the race to be scrapped after the event posted year-on-year losses in excess of A$40m (£24.48m), with Doyle suggesting the city should look at a more cost-effective alternative event.
Liberal Party minister Asher has also turned the situation political, blaming the Labor Party, who were recently deposed after 11 years in charge.
“We’ve inherited a contract that Labor has signed up to, and I just have to deal with it,” said Asher, who helped bring Formula 1 to Melbourne from Adelaide as the state’s major events minister in 1996.
“So my opinion of what might be an acceptable loss is irrelevant because the event is contracted until 2015, so what we’re trying to do is manage what we’ve inherited.
Like many other races, Australia has suffered a downturn in attendances and sponsorship, ultimately leading to a loss on the event itself.
However, wider tourism in the state continues to benefit each year, with a private report suggesting the race was worth A$175m (£107.1m) to the state.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and they can say whatever they like, but there’s a significant economic benefit to hosting the event,” Asher continued.
“Victorian tourism’s had to really fight for everything we’ve achieved. Sydney’s got the harbour and Brisbane’s got the Great Barrier Reef, and we’ve had to brand ourselves by events or being a city of things to do.
“Now we’ve got sporting events, cultural events and theatre events which are taxpayer-sponsored as well, so we’ve really had to work hard at brand Melbourne up.
“And particularly for internationals to know Melbourne exists and want to come to Melbourne and also for the interstate people to actually view Melbourne as exciting again.”
Melbourne will host the opening race of the 2011 season on 27 March 27 at 07:00GMT following the postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix.