The Australian Grand Prix – a mainstay on the Formula 1 calendar since 1985, firstly in the South Australian state capital of Adelaide and now in Melbourne's Albert Park – has come in for severe criticism as its future remains up in the air, with claims that local residents have 'had more than enough' and that the race 'does not benefit' the country.
There has been considerable debate over the event's future for a number of months, with no guarantee that its current contract – set to expire in 2010 – will be renewed. F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone is demanding that the race be held at night in order to capture greater European viewing audiences, a move circuit promoters have repeatedly insisted is not a viable option.
The cost of welcoming the grand prix – including the fee payable to Ecclestone's Formula One Management company – has risen steadily each year, climbing by a staggering $8 million AUD (£3.9 million) from $33 million AUD (£15.9 million) in 2006, funded by Victorian taxpayers.
Indeed, the race is now running at a considerable loss, even if the state government has pointed to clear economic benefits generated by the kudos of staging a Formula 1 event, in terms of visitors, publicity and widespread international television exposure.
In a new twist, however, the local Melbourne council which hosts the race has crucially withdrawn its support and is asking the Victorian state government to get rid of it, arguing that the grand prix 'does not benefit Victoria as a whole' or the rest of the country.
“After 14 years, residents have had more than enough,” City of Port Phillip mayor Janet Cribbes stressed in a statement. “Why should they have to suffer the noise and the inconvenience of a car race in a park, a race whose public price tag blew out to $41.3 million AUD (£19.9 million) last year? It simply doesn't stack up on economic, social or environmental grounds.
“It's simply not fair that this event is exempt from the normal legislative protections empowering Victoria Police and the Environmental Protection Authority to take action on noise and other infringements on residential amenity.”
Victorian Premier John Brumby, meanwhile, remains optimistic that a compromise can be found that will see the race retained on the F1 calendar. He added that following Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker's meeting in London with Ecclestone earlier this month, it is hoped an agreement can be reached by the end of this year.
“I'd hope we can resolve this in the not-too distant future,” Brumby asserted, speaking to local news agency AAP
. “Our aim in relation to these negotiations was to get them concluded before the end of the year. We're making progress; I think that timetable has shifted forward.
“It's no secret we have been having discussions. We haven't concluded those discussions. We'd like to get an agreement going forward, but it's got to be the right deal for our state; it's got to provide value for money.”
In a recent poll to find Melbourne's best tourist attraction, held by the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and Tourism Victoria, the grand prix failed to gain even a single vote.
Previous reports have suggested that a new deal that will see the race continue to be held until at least 2015 has been all-but agreed [see separate story – click here
]. It has also been suggested the event could be moved to a heavily-revamped Eastern Creek circuit near Sydney, which currently hosts A1GP.