Ron Walker has warned that Melbourne 'will seriously consider its position' on the grand prix schedule should the debilitating FIA/FOTA feud endure for much longer, as he urged Max Mosley to step down rather than 'slowly strangle to death the great brand of F1'.
The Australian Grand Prix has taken place around the streets of Albert Park in the Victorian capital every year from 1996, after Melbourne took over the reins from Adelaide, which had welcomed the top flight since its official debut on the calendar eleven years earlier still. The race's chairman Walker, however, has hinted that should the current sorry state of affairs continue, it will not be willing to do so for much longer.
The event is currently contracted to feature on the F1 schedule until 2015, but it made a $40 million AUD loss in 2008 and recorded the lowest attendance figure of any of its 14 editions this year, putting its future participation in persistent doubt.
The civil war between the sport's governing body and eight of its competitors in the guise of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA) has been characterised by blow and counter-blow over the past few months, with every outward entente cordiale
and sniff of a new Concorde Agreement being signed swiftly undone by a change of heart or accusation of dishonesty.
The major threat is that of a manufacturer-spearheaded 'breakaway' series – composed of FOTA members Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes, BMW-Sauber, Renault, Toyota, Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso and current world championship leaders Brawn GP – and without the allure and credibility of F1's most illustrious and successful teams and the associated television coverage and international media exposure that traditionally accompanies them, Walker admits, it would be difficult to justify Melbourne's ongoing support. He pointed out, moreover, that should a breakaway materialise, he would advise the Victorian state government – which helps to financially fund the race – to scrap the grand prix.
“If the disunity continues, Melbourne will seriously consider its position on continuing with Formula 1,” he told Australian newspaper The Age
. “Without Ferrari in Melbourne, the race would lose much of its glamour and therefore the government investment will come into question. In our contract it is pretty clear that we have to have 16 cars on the grid, and I don't think the government would want lesser names than Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes and Renault racing cars here.”
“The grand prix board would probably say to the [Victorian] Premier it's too hard,” AFP
quotes him as having added in an interview with a radio station today. “You can just imagine if the likes of [Roger] Federer and other major tennis players didn't turn up to the Australian Open in January, or if some of the best horses didn't come to the Melbourne Cup. It's the same scenario – the superstars sell tickets, and if you don't have the superstars then ticket sales sag.”
Walker was similarly vociferously outspoken in his insistence that Mosley has to go now for the sake of the sport he rules with an iron grip. The Englishman's increasingly autocratic reign – bordering on the arbitrary at times, it would seem – is at the heart of the teams' discontent, with many contending that the only way for lasting peace to be secured is if the 69-year-old resigns from what is the most powerful and influential post in international motor racing.
That is something Mosley vowed to do at the close of his present term in October, following the 24 June 'resolution' at the World Motor Sport Council in Paris...only to change his mind less than two days later in response to what he considered to be FOTA's lack of 'respect' in the way he claimed the organisation had suggested it had won and he had lost.
“In my view Mr. Mosley should walk away from the sport with dignity rather than slowly strangle to death the great brand of F1,” argued Walker, who has spent the past two days in London in discussions with Formula One Management (FOM) commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone.
“The sport needs fresh and dynamic leadership more than ever before to lead F1 into a new era of motor racing. Bernie Ecclestone is absolutely trying to be a peacemaker, but if the most successful automotive companies in the world will not agree to the rules laid down by the FIA then that will be the end of it.”