MP: Melbourne should ditch GP

Mon, 21 Feb 09:12:00 2011

Melbourne should cut its losses and not renew its contract to host the Formula One Grand Prix when the current deal runs out in 2015, a local lawmaker told Australia's parliament.

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Melbourne has hosted the race since 1996 but with losses now running at A$50 million ($50.59 million) a year, a fierce debate has been ignited in the city over the future of the event.

Member of Parliament Michael Danby, whose Melbourne Ports electorate includes the Albert Park street circuit, said a straw poll of local residents indicated 10 to one were against the race continuing.

"The grand prix may have been a good deal in 1996, when it cost the government only $1.7 million; but, with falling crowd numbers and taxpayers footing a $50 million-a-year bill, the government should cut its losses and walk away," he told parliament.

"Rising costs, dwindling crowds, fed-up local residents, an ambivalent Melbourne mayor... to me, everything points to Melbourne saying 'thanks for the memories' but gracefully declining to renew the grand prix contract."

Those behind the race say it offers invaluable publicity around the world for Australia's self-proclaimed sporting capital as well as a financial boost to the local economy over race weekend.

Formula One commanded an estimated worldwide television audience of 527 million last year.

The sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as telling German media last week that the sport could do without the Australian race.

As popular destination as Melbourne is with the teams, the time difference with the key television markets in Europe make it less desirable in marketing terms.

This year's version of the race could end up returning to its traditional place at the beginning of the calendar if the political unrest in Bahrain continues.

The Gulf kingdom was due to host the opening race of the Formula One season on March 13 but continuing violence over the weekend means it could be cancelled or postponed.

If that were to happen, the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place on March 27, would become the season-opener.

Reuters

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