Robert Doyle, the lord mayor of Melbourne, has said that he believes the Australian city should not renew its contract to host the countries Grand Prix when their current deal expires.
It seems that on an almost annual basis there is some concern as to the future of this much loved Grand Prix. This however is the first time that the one of the cities most prominent politicians has voiced his concerns as to the suitability of the race in the future.
Melbourne has hosted Formula 1 since the opening round of the 1996 season and became an instant hit with teams, drivers and fans but with ever increasing costs the burden on tax payers has become too great, according to Doyle. The mayor spoke The Herald Sun.
“The big stumbling block … is the cost to the Victorian taxpayer,” Doyle wrote. “In 1996 when the race was a combination of a four-day event and corporate sponsorship was far more generous than it is today, the race still needed to be underwritten by about $1.7 million. Last year it was $50 million.”
Doyle was keen to admit that the race had served as terrific publicity for the Victorian capital but with attendances having fallen dramatically in recent years he feels that the benefit of having the race now is outweighed by the cost of the cities contract with Bernie Ecclestone.
In the past crowds of 400,000 flocked to the city for the race but in recent years that number has fallen to just 287,000 in 2009.
It is interesting that some of the races struggles can be attributed to the decision by Ecclestone to move the race to a late afternoon time slot to accommodate European viewers. With the race starting three hours later it was all but impossible for fans from outside of Melbourne to get flights back to their homes on Sunday night. With the expense of an extra night in the city, many fans felt that it was not a justifiable expense to travel to the race.
With less fans from outside Melbourne attending the race losses have risen and over the last three years the event has suffered losses of $130 million. With these factors taken into account it understandable that there is new found pressure on the event.
Doyle was also keen to highlight the benefits that the race has had to the city but ultimietly that he felt the race had run its course saying to the newspaper that.
“It should be remembered as a stroke of genius,” he wrote. “Victoria had been the rustbucket state for years. The city was in the doldrums.but that in the end, it will be a government decision and one of the tough ones that [state premier] Ted Baillieu faces in his first term. Does he undo the legacy of Jeff Kennett, his mentor, in his very first term? My judgement would be: Get ready. Time’s up.”
With Mark Webber winning races and battling for the title it is clear that it is still imperative that a race remains in Australian but if Doyle, and his allies, can apply enough pressure to the states politicians it is clear that time really could be ticking on Melbourne as hosts to the Australian Grand Prix.