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Ecclestone wants long-term deal for Melbourne

26 February 2013

Bernie Ecclestone wants to lay to rest any uncertainty about Australia's place on the F1 calendar, and said that he'd like as long a duration a deal as possible with the organisers of the traditional curtain raiser to the world championship season.

"We're happy with Melbourne and I'd be happy to sign a 50-year contract," Ecclestone told the Australian GP's Keeping Track podcast. "We don't have a problem with Melbourne," he added. "We hope we're going to be in Melbourne forever."

The Australian Grand Prix, which has been held in Albert Park in Melbourne since 1996 after switching from Adelaide, has been a popular event with F1 teams and drivers who enjoy the atmosphere and the summer weather as a way of starting a new season following the chilly offseason layoff.

But the event has come under criticism from local politicians and residents groups as a result of the expense of staging the race, and there have been doubts over how keen the local organisers are to extend the existing contract once it expires in 2015.

"I understand we do get a little bit of criticism," admitted Ecclestone. "I don't know why. You start wondering are we really wanted in Melbourne?

"Whenever these sorts of things happen I'm told, 'Don't be silly about that, it's just one or two people making a noise. We're happy for F1 to be there,'" he added. "Everybody loves Australia and loves Australian people, and it's good to be there.

"Melbourne, in itself, is a nice place," Ecclestone continued, before acknowledging that he wasn't short of offers from other prospective venues in Australia interested in taking over the running of the nation's Grand Prix event if Melbourne did decide that the annual licensing fees that they have to pay to Ecclestone - which last year cost organisers more than AUS$30m - are too much in the current economic climate.

Ecclestone said that the fee was "purely what the race cost" and was "the same as anywhere else in the world," given that it had to cover the costs of six jumbo jets full of freight transportation to bring the team's cars, equipment and personnel halfway around the world.

"We get proposals from other parts, but we're happy in Melbourne," Ecclestone insisted, adding that he wasn't interested in getting involved in local political squabbles and that he would only talk business with Ron Walker, the chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation.

The implied underlying threat to the continuation of the event in Melbourne after 2015 wasn't lost on Andrew Westacott, chief of the Grand Prix Corporation.

"There is always a risk from the other states," Westacott said. "This is why Melbourne can never be complacent when it comes to major events and doing things that is going to keep Melbourne in the tourist branding and business eye of the world," he added, explaining the benefits that staging an F1 race brought to the Victoria state capital.

"Melbourne probably doesn't need being put on the map, but that's what F1 does for a city, for sure," agreed Ecclestone.

Westacott said that Ecclestone's mention of a 50-year-contract to stay in Melbourne - ten times the usual duration of such agreements - was a ""wonderful sentiment", but that he was realistic that the city could not take anything for granted in the upcoming contract negotiations.