F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone has insisted that having an Australian Grand Prix on the sport's annual calendar is 'as important' as retaining Monaco, as he hinted at the construction of a new, permanent circuit in Melbourne.

The future of the Australian Grand Prix has been hotly-debated ever since Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle suggested that the event no longer represented value-for-money for Victoria taxpayers and as such has run its course and should be scrapped once the existing agreement expires following the 2015 edition [see separate story - click here].

Ecclestone responded by asserting that should organisers wish not to renew the contract, then nor would he try to force their hand - but now the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive concedes that whilst in hindsight, a state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility should have been constructed in the first place rather than electing to race around the temporary Albert Park Street Circuit when the grand prix moved from Adelaide to Melbourne back in 1996, there is nothing to say a new track cannot be built for use from 2016 onwards.

"Ron [Walker - Grand Prix Corporation chairman] and I spoke about this a long, long time ago and I suppose in reality it would have been the right thing to do," the British billionaire confessed to the Herald Sun newspaper, conceding that he remains open to the notion. "It would have been ten years ago or whatever and it would have been built cheaper than it would be today, but of course we would [still consider it]."

The cost of transforming Albert Park into a permanent F1 venue has been estimated at around $14 million AUD, but Ecclestone believes the expense would be worth it for a race that he holds in the same kind of esteem as the celebrated jewel in the sport's glittering crown, the signature Monaco Grand Prix.

"Australia is just as important to us as Monaco," the 80-year-old underlined. "It's part of the world championship and has been for an awful long time. We'd hate to think that we were going to lose Australia. We have been together a long time and it's like one of those long marriages - it would be bad to end in divorce - but if the other partner wishes, we wouldn't start fighting.

"In the case of Melbourne, if the product is too expensive for them, we understand that and when the contract comes to an end there's no need to renew it. We wouldn't force somebody to buy something that they don't want or think is too expensive. We get massive worldwide television coverage - but if that's not important well, okay, don't buy the product."



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