Make no mistake; for better or for worse, like it or not, get used to it, next March’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix will be raced under lights.
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who despises the 22 hour flight from Heathrow, last week gritted his teeth and made the trip for the first time in four years.
On the stopover, he made it clear to officials that any contract for a Singapore grand prix would be a night race.
A few days later, face to face with Australia’s GP boss, the F1’s diminutive 76-year-old ringleader would have set out his dilemma: Ron Walker is a long time friend and ally, and Ron’s contract is for the first race of every season, but Europeans don’t like waking up at 5am to watch the season opener.
To clear a path for Melbourne’s Commonwealth Games a year ago, Bernie temporarily sent Bahrain to the top of the F1 calendar and a few days later spat out his cornflakes when reviewing the TV ratings.
Melburnians should at least think twice before assuming that a grand prix under the stars is for their benefit. The novelty factor will guarantee plenty of local buzz for a while, but – as Dylan would have put it – We Are But a Pawn in the Game.
First, Melbourne’s F1 contract ends in three years. Shrewd enough to feature on Forbes‘s list of billionaires, Bernie knows that bringing up the night race issue now is a way to have Walker on side in his quest for better global TV ratings for the Australian Grand Prix. Advised not even to argue about whether or not the sun will be up and down for the waving of the chequered flag, then, Walker is less likely than ever to mention the inevitable race fee increase.
Even more crucially, Bernie does not intend to foot the bill for the $10m or so in lighting infrastructure, adding to the $30-odd million of Victorian taxpayers’ sweat and tears that put local opposition groups in such a spin over the last week or so.
But wait, there’s more. Can the city’s power grid cope with the job of making Lakeside Drive look like daytime at 9pm for racers at 300kmh? What will the green regulars say about the amount of extra coal that will be sacrificed to help F1 cars pump carbon dioxide into the heavens?
What about the mums trying to put their kids to bed while whining machines – whose decibel output at 20 metres is at the threshold of human pain – circulate across the street?
Fernando Alonso is F1’s reigning world champion and the president of the drivers’ safety union, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, and he observed this weekend that, after driving his F1 car in a Spanish city at night for the McLaren launch, it is “hard to believe” Albert Park could ever be safe enough for a race once the sun goes down.
Costly, environmentally problematic and unsafe, but Bernie and German F1 revheads sleeping peacefully at 5am next March will be happy.
But are we?