F1 Grand Prix: Should our nation’s most prestigious motor racing event be axed?

By Damian Watson

The Australian Formula One Grand Prix has been previously touted as the pinnacle of international sporting events staged across the country, however the sanctity of the race has been questioned and threatened in recent years. As a result of dwindling crowds, significant financial consequences and angst amongst local residents and politicians, the aura and hype surrounding the lead-up to this year’s Australian Grand Prix has been tarnished to a great extent despite the anticipation and hope of a victory for home-grown Red Bull driver Mark Webber. As the raging debate about the future of the Grand Prix on the Albert Park Circuit continues, I ponder whether the majority of Victorians are actually prepared to embrace the concept of the Grand Prix itself rather than cling to the event for the sole purpose of maintaining Melbourne’s international reputation as one of the ‘sporting capitals’ of the world. On Sunday, I sought to gain a greater understanding of the possible answers to these questions by venturing to Albert Park to witness the main racing event.

I am admittedly far from a motor racing expert, so I wandered into the Albert Park track as a neutral observer eager to assess the crowd reception as well as the sheer spectacle of the race itself.

The build-up to the race from my perspective had been far from inspiring. Firstly, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle alongside fellow State politicians had already expressed the severe consequences of the Grand Prix in terms of finance and taxation declaring that after 15 years as an integral part of the Melbourne sporting calendar, it is now inevitable that the racing event will eventually be shelved in the imminent future. As a proud Victorian I did not want to agree with the claims voiced by these political figures however I realised that their points were valid and alarmingly accurate. Maybe the event in Melbourne has finally run its race, pardon the pun.

My fears were compounded by the neglecting nature of many amongst the general public towards the Grand Prix as the F1 event drew closer. A substantial number of my friends of different ages and backgrounds who are avid sports fans had never intended to follow this year’s race, many did not even realise that the Grand Prix was about to be held in the days beforehand. Therefore it begs the question, do the majority of Victorians in particular really care about the circumstances surrounding the Grand Prix?

The impressions I have received so far indicates that a vast number of people would not care less if the race was relocated elsewhere.

I am not necessarily denying that there is a substantial contingent of Formula One racing fans scattered across the nation determined that the Grand Prix should retain its Australian fixture. However, it appears the remainder of the country’s population would not be too disheartened to see the racing event disappear from our shores.

On race day, I arrived at the track hoping to salvage some form of reassurance that Melbourne could remain prominent on the world stage through the stability and success of it’s International Formula One Grand Prix. However my observations left plenty to be desired.

Despite predictions of a capacity crowd coupled with pleasant weather, the official attendance figures saw a drop of at least 7000 from the previous year’s mediocre findings.  Had Mark Webber not qualified on the second row of the grid, I am certain the numbers would have worsened further. This was already all too evident through the gaping sections of empty seats within the surrounding grandstands. The fact that a combined total of almost 80 000 people attended the two AFL opening round matches basically serves to represent that many members of the public remain unhindered by the supposed glamour of the F1 event across town.

It wasn’t only the public who failed to absorb the vibe of the race, Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone was not even present at the opening round of the championship. The multi-millionaire instead opting to visit New York, a city rumored to become Melbourne’s possible replacement as a Grand Prix venue thus indicating that Melbourne’s future as a benchmark Formula One venue is severely limited.

Whilst my parents basked in the lavish Qantas corporate boxes and suites’, I was left to stand in the outer like a faithful Almanacker. I didn’t necessarily mind, besides the experience would provide a far more accurate stance on whether we Australians truly embrace this iconic race. As I congregated amongst the fans, the usual buzz and excitement usually associated with the opening lap of the race was ever-present. But as the sun set over Melbourne and the twilight event wore on I began to get a sense that the fans appeared to be out of touch with the race, virtually conveying an element of disinterest. Spectators were far more content in circumnavigating the lake, sun baking beneath the blue sky and even conversing about the post-race concert as the twilight event ran it’s due course.

To be honest I also succumbed to boredom as the cars repeatedly raced by at lofty speeds. From my vantage point on Turn 13, witnessing the Grand Prix unfold almost resembled the act of staring at a freight train whizzing past on a repetitive basis for 90 minutes. It confirms that I do not have a great zest for motor racing whatsoever.

However I ultimately learned that Formula One is essentially a sport for television, placing a greater emphasis on television ratings particularly in Europe where our time difference proves to be a critical factor in the bid of many F1 deputies to transfer the race to far more time-friendly part of the world, essentially striving for a ratings boost.

For the record the race failed to raise too many eyebrows or controversies. Young German driver Sebastian Vettel commenced the race in pole position and never relinquished his lead. The disappointing finish of Mark Webber left Australian fans shaking their heads in anguish as he posted an unimpressive 5th placed finish.

Meanwhile, my experience leaves a significant element of doubt within my mind as to whether the success of the Australian Grand Prix can be maintained in Melbourne from a long-term perspective as I continue to question whether the general Australian public can revitalize its vigour and excitement for Formula One racing.

Quite a substantial number of Victorians in particular ignore or neglect the concept of the Grand Prix and this factor compounded by race’s economic and preferential disadvantages will in my opinion see Melbourne lose the event within the next four years, without a trace of doubt.

Almanackers: Feel free to vent your spleen on the issue!

About Damian Watson

Hey,my name is Damian Watson and I am 14 years old. My ambition is to become an AFL broadcaster/journalist in the future. I am a keen blues supporter and I live in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I play and write for the Knox Falcons U/16's.

Comments

  1. Damian, I can understand the appreciation people have for this event, but it annoys me on so many levels, including to intrusion it causes, the continual promotion of it via young scantily clad girls, and the “bending” of Australian law to allow the advertising of cigarettes. (Incidentally, I’m not necessarily of the belief that such advertising should be banned, but I do get annoyed by the fact that those with money and power can simply buy their way around it.)

    There was talk back in 2007 of Sydney pinching the Grand Prix from Melbourne. I had this letter published in the Age at the time and my feelings haven’t changed:

    “I HAVE only one question to ask the Sydneysiders who want to take the formula one Grand Prix from Melbourne: when can you come and pick it up?”

  2. Pedra Blanca could be a good spot. The name sounds exotic enough.

  3. Ian Syson says

    Get rid of it. And give Middle Park back to Hellas.

  4. Dave Nadel says

    The only place where the F1 Grand Prix actually “sells” the city is Monte Carlo, because Monte Carlo is so small that the circuit passes all its highlights. The idea that the Grand Prix sells Melbourne is just part of Kennett and Walker’s spin and I have no idea why Bracks and Brumby started repeating it. All the major European car racing countries – Britain, Italy, Germany and France – hold their GPs at purpose built race tracks rather than city streets.

    I would be happy for the Grand Prix to continue if Ecclestone and Walker paid for it rather than the Victorian tax payer and it was held at Calder Raceway or some other race track at least 35 kilometers away from the CBD

  5. Steve Healy says

    Good report Damo, to be honest I have never given a stuff about motor racing, probably never will. It is a joke of a sport compared to footy, which is why I have no idea why it is held in Melbourne AND on the same weekend as Round 1. Get rid of it, annoying noise as well haha

  6. Interesting topic Duckie :)
    Once i was introduced to a bit of this motor racing i must say i did enjoy it.
    Deffers a Holden girl, Ford is such an underperformer.
    i do enjoy watching qualifying pole position races and my first fav driver is deffers R.Kelly, eventhough he is yet to
    make the standards set by Garth Tander. ;)

  7. Dammo, you said it all: “To be honest I also succumbed to boredom as the cars repeatedly raced by at lofty speeds. From my vantage point on Turn 13, witnessing the Grand Prix unfold almost resembled the act of staring at a freight train whizzing past on a repetitive basis for 90 minutes.”

    Grand Prix racing is a boring sports spectacle live. I’m sure most punters are there simply for the ‘event’ rather than being engrossed in a sporting contest. Which they couldn’t do anyway! I’d rather watch moon rises and sunsets. Or take in the smells of Canberra’s Summernats on a balmy summer’s evening. New York can have it.

  8. Grand prix melbourne is one of my favorite event that I look forward to as a motor sport racing fan. as a nation I think we should support this as it’s a chance for us to show the world how awesome our city is.

  9. Bring on March 2012…..We can’t axe the event surely

  10. I’ve just read online that the event could even be moved to Adelaide…what

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