The controversy sparked by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone’s warning that the Australian Grand Prix will probably not get a new contract after 2010 is a case of “we don’t want what you aren’t prepared to give us”. It’s easy for someone who has a ten or eleven-digit figure in their savings accounts to say, “Maybe we don’t want to be in Australia. Our costs are very high in Australia and we get a lot less money. It’s bloody bad for us.” It’s like kicking your dog to test its loyalty — brazen but extremely effective.
By axing the annual US Grand Prix at Indianapolis for 2008, Ecclestone showed that he is not prepared to give away the world’s second most watched sport (after football) for peanuts or punishment, even if the sponsors and car manufacturers are dead keen to be seen in what is still the world’s most powerful economy. So if Brumby did decide to turn and pull the trigger at the tenth pace, he might find that Bernie had already pinched his wallet and taken to the air in his waiting Citation II.
The problem with Brumby’s tough stance against agreeing to a floodlit 8pm race in 2011 and beyond is that Bernie has already placed on hold the desperate pleas of potential GP host nations including Mexico, South Africa, Korea and Greece — not to mention a nearly done-deal for India — because there is no room on the current race calendar.
In the Concorde Agreement, teams are contracted to attend a maximum of 17 events per year, and the 2008 schedule has already spilled over to an uncomfortable 18. The reality of Ecclestone’s predicament is that if he wants to tap into, for example, the booming Indian market — where hordes of locals are abandoning their bicycles for the four-wheeled products of F1’s carmaker partners — he is going to have to scrap one or more of the superfluous current venues. And unfortunately for Aussie F1 fans, a promoter that carps regularly and loudly about already-subsidised race promotion fees is close to the top of Ecclestone’s hitlist.
Ron Walker and his cronies at the Australian Grand Prix Corporation are kidding themselves if they think Albert Park is a blue-riband event that F1 people are desperate to get on a 23-hour flight to attend. And while carmaker CEOs like Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn and DaimlerChrysler’s Dieter Zetsche probably enjoy the photos of their multi-million dollar F1 racers cuddling koalas at Melbourne Zoo, they would spill family blood to dump Australia and get Renault and Mercedes-Benz logos speeding around Indy again at the scene of the most lucrative passenger car market on the planet.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, the sport’s origin, home and central focus, die-hard fans struggle to wake earlier on a Sunday morning than they do for work or school to watch bleary-eyed images of South Melbourne asphalt. And even Aussies don’t give two-hoots about the sport; if they did, the ratings would compel Network Ten to shell out more than a crate of bananas for the semi-trained monkeys who introduce the world’s richest sport in the insultingly delayed red-eye witching hours of Monday morning.
Hasta la vista, Brumby.