Formula One and Melbourne’s selfish debate

Michael Lamonato Roar Guru

30 Have your say

F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel drives in for a pitstop during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

If you’re a Melbournian, you’ll already be familiar with the ranting and raving that tends to crop up at this time of year as to whether or not Formula One is worth our time (and, more importantly, money).

Inevitably, the hype will build to a crescendo on Friday, we’ll have the race on Sunday, and the following week the newspapers will report on how everyone had a generally good time. And then life goes on.

Of course, the closer we get to the expiry of our contract at the end of 2015, the more we need to engage with the arguments for and against. Both sides of the debate are generally well covered by the city’s major media outlets, but here’s the briefest of summaries:

For: International media coverage, puts Melbourne on the world stage, increases tourism.

Against: Costs outweigh the benefits.

So now you’re up to speed.

A little extra excitement was injected into the argument last week, however, when former F1 driver turned commentator David Coulthard chimed in to the debate via the AGPC’s official podcast, and promptly called Melbournians (or those disinclined against the Grand Prix, at very least) ‘selfish and small-minded’.

“For the one week of inconvenience, or whatever it is people don’t get the access, then they shouldn’t be so selfish, quite frankly,” he said.

“They should think of the greater good, what it does for the local economy, what it does to inspire young schoolchildren to want to be engineers, designers, whether it’s in engine design, tyres, whether they want to be drivers.

“You don’t inspire people by not giving them a taste of what is out there in the world.

“If people want to be small-minded and not look beyond their personal needs then that’s disappointing.”

This made me think: those who protest against the Grand Prix aren’t bad people – I’ll be the first to say that any major spending of government money ought to be scrutinised – but are they selfish?

Fact: Melbourne has a contract, like it or not, to stage the Grand Prix.

Fact: Having a Grand Prix guarantees Melbourne international media exposure.

Why, then, are we wasting that exposure on presenting to the world a bitter, bickering city when we could instead be welcoming the event with open arms, and debating the cost and wroth when the time comes to talk contracts?

Australia, I’m disappointed to say, has a habit of portraying itself as a bit of a joke when the spotlight shines upon it. In 2011, we had a unique opportunity.to showcase Mark Webber and his Red Bull charging across the Bolte Bridge – a publicity stunt that should’ve looked spectacular.

“No, no,” said Melbourne. “You must obey to speed limit when on the bridge.” So the car pootled along in first gear, much to the amusement of the rest of the world.

And again this year, concerns were raised that the closing of parts of Victoria’s scenic Great Ocean Road to film a promotional video for the race might be “a lovely advertisement for hoon driving”, according to a local councillor.

This is the side of us we want the world to see? This is the best we’ve got? Give me a break.

Each time the race’s antagonists publicly hold back an opportunity for the Grand Prix to do its thing, it is they who are limiting how much this city gets in return for its investment.

Each time one of them knocks back the opportunity to have the race promoted around the world, they reduce the race’s value.

For every poorly informed, inflammatory comment made about the race, a team, a driver, or about Bernie Ecclestone, our race is worth a little less, and a little more of the Grand Prix’s good work is undone.

We’re not paying for Formula One just watch some cars race around a track, we’re paying to promote our city’s image – and every time word of our bitterness about the cost makes its way to the international press, that image we’re working hard to promote becomes stained and tarnished.

So rather than this perpetual ranting and raving, Melbourne ought to exercise patience. Argue tooth-and-nail at the right time, with the right people. And in the meanwhile, seize this spotlight while it lasts, make the most of it now – because if you, who argues against this race, gets your way, that spotlight will be gone forever.