The ongoing uncertainty surrounding the future of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne has led to suggestions that the event, if it survives at all, could relocate away from Albert Park.

According to stories in the local press, Geelong is being encouraged to bid for the grand prix should the debate over whether it is too costly to continue in its current location. Geelong is 75km south-west of the state capital, and boasts a waterfront that Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker and colleague Andrew Westacott are apparently eyeing as an alternative to Albert Park.

"Geelong is a good market for tickets and we have always treated it with respect," Walker told the Geelong Advertiser, "If we had it at Avalon, it would promote the tree tops of rural land, while having it in Geelong would showcase the rest of the city - and Melbourne - to the rest of the world."

Walker and Westacott are reported to have challenged Geelong mayor John Mitchell to start lobbying for the event, with the councillor promising to make the discussions a priority at future local government meetings.

'Paparazzo' Darryn Lyons has apparently held talks with the AGPC that led to initial consideration of Geelong as a future F1 venue and, as an ambassador for the city, insisted that the waterfront would be an ideal location.

"I will fight tooth and nail to get it here at every possible opportunity," he said, "If Melbourne is prepared to throw away the GP, why can't we build infrastructure to have it down here?"

Mitchell, too, appeared confident that Geelong could put on a show to rival previous Australian grands prix, and repeated his vow to bring the matter to the political agenda.

"We will put our hand up and, if [Melbourne mayor] Robert Doyle doesn't want it, we will take it," he stated, "A grand prix in Geelong sounds good to me and what a great event it would be if came off. We believe major events are a big part of our business and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't start the discussions now and see where it takes us. There is no doubt we are good at running major events."

Doyle lies behind the current uncertainty, having claimed publicly that grand prix was failing to live up to its billing and costing the city of Melbourne millions of dollars that could be better used elsewhere [see story here]. And, while F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has called Doyle's bluff over the matter, suggesting that F1 is popular enough not to need an Australian GP [see story here], the local government insists that it remains committed to the event [see story here].

Ecclestone's argument is backed up by the enduring clamour to join the F1 calendar, with India added as a 20th race this season, and both the USA and Russia inked in for future campaigns. South Africa has also launched a bid to rejoin the fray, while others wait in the wings. Despite that, however, Westacott is optimistic that Geelong would be a good alternative host, despite the amount of money it would take to turn the city into an F1 venue.

"If Geelong wants to put its hat in the ring, I would suggest it's a great opportunity now to get your mayor to come in and push for it," he said, "If you were to pick a location there would be none nicer than The Esplanade. We saw how good it looked when the UCI [cycling championships] were held. If your mayor wants it and Melbourne's lord mayor doesn't, let's raise the issues."

Melbourne tourism and events minister Louise Asher, meanwhile, has refused to disclose exactly how much this year's Australian Grand Prix is expected to cost the city's taxpayers, despite admitting that she knows the likely figure.

"Of course I've been briefed," she told Melbourne's Age newspaper, "but I'm not going to start throwing figures up in the air today simply because you want an answer. You can ask the question over and over again, [but] the Victorian taxpayers will know how much they are paying for the event when the event is run. I don't think the Victorian taxpayers need to know a figure plucked out from the ether. 'When the annual report is tabled in the Victorian Parliament, you will know whether we have been successful [in cutting costs] or not."



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