Moving the season-opening round of the world championship to a late afternoon start time appears to have had some benefit for the Australian Grand Prix - even if the change did not meet with universal approval from the drivers.
Although title sponsor ING - which is understood to have spent US$4m in each of the three races it has sponsored - was in the last year of its deal, organisers claim that they managed to increase both the number of sponsors and sponsorship revenue in 2009, mainly because the time change opened up further entertainment opportunities - including a post-race concert - for the Melbourne event.
“The simple result of that is increased interest and increased attendance particularly in the general admission areas,“ chief executive Drew Ward told SportsPro Media
, “What we're seeking to do is use that as a base to appeal to new and different markets. Down the track, there are certainly assets that we would expect to exploit commercially with the right partner.“
The Albert Park event has attracted notable criticism from those who believe that it is a drain on resources, but this year's commercial performance has moved the weekend a step closer to profitability, with promoter Ron Walker expected to welcome Ward's news.
“I get criticised every year that the grand prix loses money but, like Monaco, we have to cart 45,000 tonnes of equipment into the park, erect it, pull it down and then go and store it - a process which, alone, costs US$4m a year," he revealed in the build-up to this year's event, "If it was on a permanent circuit, then we'd be one of the few F1 races that makes money.“
As well as the US$4m from its title sponsor, the 2009 grand prix is reported to have attracted US$2m of support from secondary sponsor Qantas - as well as 'sizeable backing' from brands such as Panasonic, Cadbury, Sprint Gas, Schweppes, Vodafone and BP - but Ward admitted that the event was still looking for commercial partnerships and, in particular, a replacement for ING.