23 February 2011
Melbourne happy with late-March date
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation insists that it is happy with its late-March slot on the F1 calendar and won't seek a move to open future campaigns.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott has admitted that, despite being thrust back into the spotlight as the opening round of the F1 world championship for 2011, the Melbourne-based event will not attempt to claim the role every season.
The trip to Albert Park used to be regarded as the traditional curtain-raiser until the arrival of Bahrain - and a clash of dates between the F1 weekend and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 - saw the order shuffled in favour of the Gulf state, but the recent rise of civil unrest across the Middle East, culminating in fatal clashes between police and protestors in Manama last week, has resulted in the 2011 season-opener being cancelled and the start of the year being delayed until the end of March.
While the switch has been welcomed as beneficial for Melbourne, however, Westacott has revealed that the AGPC would not seek to capitalise on its good fortune by pursuing a permanent return to the role of season-opener, insisting that the race's new twilight time slot is better suited to its current position on the calendar.
"It's terribly sad for Bahrain, and I can empathise with them from an organiser's perspective but, from a Melbourne point of view, it's all systems go for four-and-a-half weeks' time as there is added work being the first race of the season because of the extra attendance from the international media and broader numbers of team members who attend the first race," he told the city's Age newspaper.
"Being the first race is very exciting and a great honour, but the last weekend in March will remain our preferred date, [as] daylight savings allows for a more convenient viewing time within European and Asian markets. It's a 5pm race slot and we're broadcasting into Europe from 8am or 9am on a Sunday morning, which is great from a branding and tourist point of view."
While sympathising with Bahrain's plight, local hero Mark Webber has admitted that he is looking forward to getting the 2011 campaign underway on home soil, claiming that the return of Albert Park as the season-opening venue was a 'return to the good old days'.
"It's a real shame that we missed out on Bahrain as it has been good to us in the past - hopefully, they will get on top of everything out there shortly," the Red Bull Racing driver acknowledged, "The next one happens to be in Australia [and] it's back to the good old days, isn't it?
"It always used to be the season-opener and it's a sensational place for it. [Being the season-opener] is a real great positive boost. As usual with someone's little bit of misfortune or bad luck, which is certainly the case with this one, someone receives a bit of a boost. It's not like we've just gained an event, it was always on the schedule, but it's just I suppose an added 15 per cent bonus as the first grand prix."
His F1 debut aside, when he scored a points finish for the unfancied Minardi team, Australia has not been good to Webber, and the 2010 title contender insists that he wants to break that run of poor results before he retires.
"Monaco is the number one [race to win] and, after that, you'd go for your home races," UK resident Webber, who won in both the principality and at the British Grand Prix last year, explained, "We are not in a position to pick and choose [where we win], but it is one that any driver would like to win after Monaco."
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