Never one to shy away from a fight or a confrontation, indomitable F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has responded to Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle's suggestion that the Australian Grand Prix should be ditched by calling his bluff - and asserting that 'if [he] thinks I'm cranky, I can help him by proving it'.

Earlier this week, Cllr. Doyle controversially claimed that both Melbourne and the state of Victoria would be better off without the grand prix, an annual fixture since moving from Adelaide in 1996. He reasoned that mounting losses in recent years meant the charge to taxpayers had become unsustainable, and Victoria Premier Ted Baillieu agreed that unless costs are brought beneath the $50 million AUD mark, then once the current deal expires in four years' time, the event may have to go [see separate story - click here].

Ecclestone has now hit back at the criticism of what has generally been one of the most popular races on the calendar, revealing that he too cannot guarantee the Australian Grand Prix's future beyond 2015. The British billionaire explained that 'quite a few countries' would happily pay the going rate to step into the breach and stressed that although the race has been held in Melbourne for an 'awful long time', the hosting fee will not be reduced to help the event to cut costs.

"If the mayor thinks I'm cranky, I can probably help him by proving it," the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive told local radio station 3AW, alluding to Cllr. Doyle's character description of him in a newspaper article. "I think I will be dealing with these things longer than he will be Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

"We have a contract - we don't break contracts. We have always been happy because I've always thought we had big, big support in Melbourne and there's no reason why we should leave. The only thing is the Mayor doubts it. If he's not happy with the event in Australia, in that he wants to cancel the contract, we'd be happy to talk to him about that. It's up to him - if he wants to talk about terminating the contract...he should talk to someone in our organisation and see what he can come up with. Let's have a chat with the Mayor, shall we..."

Meanwhile, as he endeavours to find ways of cutting the annual bill, Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker - a man who was instrumental in luring F1 away from Adelaide and to Melbourne in the first place a decade-and-a-half ago - has reiterated the $160 million AUD in economic benefits as well as $100 million AUD in terms of free advertising to 300 million people in 132 countries that global television coverage of the race delivers.

"The only expense that will not be spared is the 'Melbourne' sign at the start-finish line - which goes into Russia, China and India during prime time," he is quoted as saying by the Herald Sun newspaper. "You can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by having less cosmetics at the track, and all these things are being looked at. You can always direct the cameras to certain areas of the track, which is what happens anyway, but it is driving into the place, driving out, keeping all of the beautiful lawns mowed and the presentation that are affected.

"The race will not leave here until 2015, that is for sure - unless the government decides to talk to Mr. Ecclestone about termination. There are a number of people who the race could go to, such as Russia, India and Warsaw in Poland. Qatar, Dubai and Kuwait want one, and they are negotiating in New York for a race on Staten Island."



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