There’s a saying: F1 doesn’t need to be popular to be successful. That cretainly rings true for Melburne this week, where the local press have re-sharpened their daggers in the debate about whether the Australian Grand Prix, after more than a decade at Albert Park, is money well spent . And they are armed with some uncomfortable numbers.
It’s the equivalent “of every adult Victorian making a compulsory $20 payment to the organisers” , The Age reported this week. Losses are predicted to approach $30 million this year. Crowd numbers have steadily declined since the race moved to Melbourne.
But why Melbourne? Why Australia? What’s in it for those who usually enjoy driving on the public roads around Albert Park rather than ferreting around them on environmentally-unfriendly detours? What’s in it for local residents?
These questions won’t figure prominently on the lists of the Grand Prix’s powerbrokers, because their needs are basically served with or without spectators or a local TV audience. To give you an example of where their interest lie, at past events organisers have given out free tickets to grandstands that feature prominently in the TV coverage. As long as it doesn’t look like no-one is interested, ringleader Bernie Ecclestone has a product to sell.
The same powerbrokers know that, like America, Australia proved long ago that it is reluctant to embrace a Eurocentric sport. The fact that, more than 20 years after Australia landed on the F1 calendar, we still do not have a premier open-wheel category is undeniable proof. The people who know this accept it — it’s why Channel 10 doesn’t show qualifying or the rest of the races live — because F1 in many respects is a lost cause here.
Apologies, punters, but the Australian GP is not on the calendar solely to entertain you. It’s there to entertain potential buyers of Renaults, Toyotas and BMWs in the markets that really matter, like India and China.
Of course, putting aside the benefits of international tourism and boosts to the local economy through things like employment, one can mount a strong case for giving the race notice to move on. From where I’m sitting, $30 million is a lot of police cars, public school teachers or hospital beds. But facts like those simply don’t enter the equation at the big end of town, regardless what the majority of Victorians think about the event, and how they would like their $20 spent.
And now, I’m off to the Grand Prix. Enjoy it, punters — a lot of people want it to be your last.