Melbourne’s major event planners have dropped Bernie Ecclestone’s big race in
it again, scheduling the Grand Prix and the World Swimming Championships
alongside one another during March 2007.

That’s a concern for Ecclestone. It will be
the second year in a row his GP has come up against another major international
sporting event. After witnessing Melbourne’s, and indeed Australia’s, enthusiasm
for this year’s Commonwealth Games, Ecclestone couldn’t help but compare the
popularity of that carnival to his own, and his came out looking second-rate by
comparison.

Most tellingly, crowd figures were down,
moving Ecclestone to suggest that host cities might be more excited about
hosting Grands Prix if they came to town less often. If crowds turn their back
on the GP again this year, one suspects idle threats like that might take a
step closer to realisation.

But the swimming will have nothing like the
impact of losing Australia’s most loyal motor racing constituency – the V8
Supercars – which has withdrawn as the event’s premier support category.

Officially, the V8s can’t get from Melbourne to Perth the following
weekend for the first round of the championship. A curious excuse given a) the
enormous exposure the GP gives the sport, and b) the fact that this year’s
schedule won’t be finalised until September.

V8 Supercars chief Wayne Cattach has
already suggested the loss will cost the GP ticket sales. But peer a level
below his logistics argument and you’ll find a more likely explanation:
television dollars.

The profitability of the GP is not
Cattach’s concern, but honouring his new TV deal certainly is. The V8s recently
defected from Ten (the GP broadcaster) to Seven in a deal thought to be worth
more than $70 million over six years,
substantially more than Ten was paying.

Now it seems the V8s don’t need the GP, GP CEO Tim Bamford hasn’t
reacted well
: “They’ve given
up racing here to go to Barbagallo (Raceway) after all,” he said somewhat
insultingly.

And now that Bernie has been deserted by Australia’s
most popular homegrown motor sport and presumably many of its fans, the
question becomes, will this further weaken his enthusiasm for an Australian
event?

Peter Fray

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