An Aussie spy or two in the vicinity of London’s Hyde Park noticed a familiar
face exiting Number Six, Princes Gate a few days ago.

Was Ron Walker, chief of the Australian
Grand Prix, adding to the Corporation’s $100,000 a year travel bill just for
the fun of it? Perhaps. Another theory is that he met Formula One’s little big man,
Bernie Ecclestone, in order to have a big argument about the race in Albert
Park.

Some time last year, Walker shook
Beatle-Mopped Bernie’s hand on a deal to move the 2006 Melbourne GP out of the
Commonwealth Games’ shadow. Problem is, Bernie could hardly believe the TV
ratings of Melbourne’s temporary ring-in, Bahrain. Seems
that European F1 fans enjoy watching their season-opener with an early dinner
rather than through bleary eyes propped open with tooth-picks at some ungodly
hour. Funny that.

As anyone who has ever locked hands with
F1’s supremo will attest to, such an exchange is worth much more than the ink
on any contract. Possibly, then, it was to no avail when Walker handed Bernie a
magnifying glass to read the fine print of his iron-clad 2010 agreement.

Ron, of course, should tread carefully and
choose his weapons well if he wants to take on Ecclestone. Fans of the
hugely popular Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps know what happens when
their race’s organisers find Bernie in a mood to play hardball. The 75-year-old
is already feeling a bit grumpy about the end of the Howard Government’s
patience with an exemption for cigarette adverts around the Albert Park Lake.

Ron Walker might also have used his
magnifying glass in another London meeting, this time with lawyers of the “A1 GP” open wheeler
championship. He recently launched legal action to stop them using the term “Grand Prix” for their Australian fixture.

In this case, Walker’s stumbling block is
that the phrase, literally meaning “Big Prize” in French, and its widespread
use for motor racing and other sports events, pre-dates even Thomas Jefferson’s
recommendations for the first discernible trademark laws in 1791.

Peter Fray

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