Melbourne, do you want a Grand Prix or not?
They say it’s the little things that make up life. In the case of the Australian Grand Prix, it’s the little signs scattered around Melbourne that tell us the city is becoming more polarised over the future of the event, perhaps with a growing antagonism thrown in the mix.
It’s the constant cost-benefits debate that overshadows a grand prix already overshadowed by the first round of the AFL season.
It’s the shrinking size of the main grandstand from year to year, which seems to match the shrinking enthusiasm.
It’s the Melbourne journo who had a sit down with Mark Webber and reported back that he was disappointed in the F1 star’s lack of AFL knowledge. (Webber is from the ACT, lives in the UK and is a lifelong Canberra Raiders supporter. Aren’t there more pressing motorsport matters to discuss?)
It’s the feeling that pervades Melbourne in grand prix week that this city would, in the main, genuinely not miss its absence.
It’s certainly an odd phenomena for the Formula One community to experience. As former driver now commentator David Coulthard told SEN Radio, “Every time I come down here we see all the debate beforehand, all the anti-grand prix debate, and we don’t get that anywhere else in the world.
“What is it that when they don’t like it they have to spoil it for everyone else?”
While the Australian Grand Prix Corporation insists the race has a long-term future, be it at Albert Park or a permanent facility at Calder Park or at Avalon, the Victorian government and politicians continue to send out mixed messages, either by stoking the flames of the costs debate with suggestions the race has run its course or suggesting alternative events they can nab from rival states (South Australian events such as the Clipsal 500 or Tour Down Under).
Those suggestions highlight a worrying irrationality from the people charged with leading us. Having tried to transplant the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne from Adelaide and seemingly failed to win over the city, how do they think another stolen event will help?
Well, being politicians, they’re thinking of the bottom-line; the ever-growing amount of dollars written in bright red that shows the cost of staging a grand prix.
That figure will always be bigger when it’s the cost associated with staging of an event with the global profile of a Formula One grand prix, as opposed to more humble events – the greater the exposure and stage, the greater the cost.
All major events lose money. For example, the first stage of the upgrade to the Melbourne Park Australian Open tennis facilities will cost $363 million, which is likely to increase over the ten to fifteen years it takes to complete the whole redevelopment.
That’s the equivalent cost of building a permanent grand prix circuit at Avalon or the like; the equivalent of six or more grands prix at Albert Park pulling in a global television audience which is only outranked by the football World Cup and Olympic Games. Yet there is hardly the equivalent outcry when it comes to the Australian Open.
As the true benefits of the grand prix, such as overseas exposure and the full amount interstate and international visitors spend while visiting the city, cannot be truly quantified or appreciated, the very quantifiable costs tend to standout.
As Coulthard continued, “You’ve got to presume that when a number of countries have continued to put on grands prix it’s because there’s long-term economic benefit to those countries.
“You have to see the bigger picture, you have to have economic growth.”
Sadly for the Australian Grand Prix, the cost perception has stuck and it’s unlikely to change.
Whether the race stays at Albert Park and continues to lose in the vicinity of $50 million per year or the Grand Prix Corporation commits to a permanent facility, that cost debate is now irreversibly linked to the grand prix, as if the bottom-line cost is tattooed on the event’s forehead.
For an event that isn’t ingrained on Melbourne’s psyche like the AFL season, Spring Racing Carnival, Melbourne Cup, Australian Open tennis and Boxing Day Test, the grand prix comes across as the ugly duckling.
So Melbourne, either come to terms with the costs and truly appreciate the benefits or put the event out of its misery. This indecisiveness is only condemning the event.
Follow Adrian on twitter @AdrianMusolino
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.