Formula One Debate in High Gear

by Ed Kennedy

Formula One fans celebrated the 60th anniversary of the first Grand Prix at Albert Park last month.

This milestone has come alongside the revelations of the events cost, which have amplified debate surrounding the Grand Prix. It was the first time since the Kennett government brought the race back to Melbourne in 1996 that the annual hosting fee of $57 million was made public following a leak in January.

It also comes just before negotiation of a contract extension is due to get under way in the second half of this year. The current contract expires in 2015.

Given that we host the Australian Open, Melbourne Cup and Australian Grand Prix, we love to boast we are Australia’s sporting capital.

Central to the Grand Prix debate is its impact beyond Australian shores. Australian Grand Prix Corporation CEO Andrew Westacott says more than any other sporting event the race cements Melbourne as an international city.

“The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix remains the jewel in the crown of Victoria’s major events calendar,” said Mr Westacott.

“There is no other annual sporting event that compares to Formula 1 when it comes to positioning a city on the global stage.”

For Peter Logan, spokesperson of the Save Albert Park the apparent benefit of the Grand Prix held over four days is far outweighed by the group’s vision of what the Park could be without hosting the race.

“The people of Melbourne deserve a high quality park not a motor racing track.” Mr Logan said.

Though the group would welcome an end to the Albert Park race Mr Logan emphasised it does not mean the group desires to see an end to Formula One in Melbourne.

“We at Save Albert Park are not anti-Grand Prix – we’re just anti-Grand Prix in Albert Park.” Mr Logan said.

The ‘Albert Park’ debate is central to the tension that exists within St Kilda surrounding the race.

Save Albert Park and many residents would welcome the Grand Prix relocating – but remaining in Melbourne.

In the minds of event promoters and seemingly both sides of state politics though losing the entire event post 2015 remains a possibility – moving it from Lakeside Drive as long as it’s held in Melbourne is not.

For event promoters  no other alternative (such as Sandown raceway outside of Geelong) could deliver an international TV audience Melbourne bounded by the city skyline on one side of the park and Port Phillip Bay on the other.

It is this imagery that fits so well with the glamour, beauty and exclusivity of Formula One racing and seeks to promote.

As there are only 19 Formula One events on the calendar this year it appears the appeal of this exclusivity is shared by both sides of state politics.

This year’s schedule details events held in Formula One’s traditional heartland on historic tracks in Monaco, Britain and Germany as well as some newer additions such as Shanghai, Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

It’s no surprise then that successive Liberal and Labor governments since 1996 have relished the chance to display the ‘Melbourne’ logo across the starting grid of the track and bask in the perceived status according to an Formula One host city amongst cosmopolitan European capitals and hyper-modern cities of Asia.

Back home race-goers who attended day two of the Grand Prix at the Park offer an insight into why fans are drawn to the race.

For George Morgan, an aircraft designer and technician from Hayfield in Rural Victoria the event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Grand Prix at the Park offer him a cherished link to the past.

“I was here in 1956 with my father. Since the return of motor racing to Melbourne with Formula One’s arrival in 1996 I’ve been attending regularly.”

Mr Morgan also feels though the motor racing has come and gone from Albert Park over the years if the government does not renew the contract in 2015 it shall be an end of a racing era for Melbourne and for his attendance at the race.

“If it leaves we won’t get it back. Even if it went to somewhere like Sydney – I’m a big fan but I don’t think I’d be traveling up there year in year out to attend it.” – George Morgan

Geoff and Terri Larkin travelled down from Bathurst, NSW to attend the event with their young children.

For Geoff, an air conditioner technician and Terri a teacher’s aide the event is not just about motor racing but also a great day out for the family.

“I feel the Grand Prix offers a great family atmosphere.  I attend the Australian Open every year and this has the same feel, the same environment – it’s great,” said Terri.

Save Albert Park Group feels however with no Grand Prix and the right planning Albert Park could offer something even better on a grand-scale to both residents and those further afield year round.

“With the right vision and planning by the government Albert Park could be one of the great parks of the world comparable to New York’s Central Park,” said Mr Logan.

Nevertheless some in St Kilda feel while the event does may hurt the local community this is outweighed by the benefits to the wider city.

“I understand people’s feelings on both side of the issue. In my mind it’s clearly great for Melbourne but not so much for St Kilda,” says Paul Raynor, owner of the Melbourne Wine Room located just across the street from Albert Park.

For residents of St Kilda this shall remain the central issue. All sides of the debate agree were the race to leave Melbourne it would be decades before it returned – if ever.

For Paul despite misgivings amongst the local community he feels the race in the end should remain.

“Business may be a little down with some locals out of town for the weekend to avoid the traffic but personally I think the benefits to the city outweigh the temporary inconvenience to St Kilda.”

Article first appeared in St Kilda News April 2013.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist and web designer proudly from Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co or on Twitter @Edkennedy01

#Melbourne and Australia#Politics and Policy

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