You could be forgiven for thinking there
was a sporting event on in Albert Park this weekend. In reality, it’s a
many-ringed circus with an emphasis on girls in tight clothes, jet fighters,
wheel spins, stunt riders, and eventually a car race.

The car race is on Sunday afternoon, and
while many might call that the main event, the event itself is four days long,
with a half an afternoon dedicated to the business of winning points in the
Formula One World Championship.

You might say that’s being a little unfair,
given that the cars take a few days to acclimatise to the track, the support
categories – the DIY brigade – get a chance to shine on the biggest stage in
world motorsport, and the V8 Supercars give local enthusiasts something local
to cheer about. But Bernie Ecclestone’s inference yesterday
that this year’s event lacks hype was instructive.

It shows Ecclestone knows hype is what gets
people through the gates. In many ways, it’s what he sells. Sated by the
Commonwealth Games and with our attention on the return of AFL, the GP is up against
it this year, and it seems Ecclestone knows it. It also appears he demands
total commitment from host cities, and Melbourne is more than a little
distracted at the moment.

Ecclestone’s genius has been in creating an event capable of consuming a city
for a weekend, perhaps with good reason. Nobody can deny that what the cars, the
engineers, the drivers, the officials, and the organisers pull off is worthy of
attention. Nor can you ignore the billion dollar industry surrounding the
sport, or the fanatical dedication of fans around the globe.

But is that “hype” wearing off in
Melbourne? Given that Melbourne is an expensive logistical exercise for
F1, if its sports-weary public prove hard to impress with flyovers and
grid girl fashion parades, you’d have to wonder if Ecclestone will
rethink his commitment to the
Melbourne event, regardless of how firm Ron Walker insists their
agreement is.

Peter Fray

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