There has been much comment in Victorian newspapers this week over the possibility that Melbourne may lose the F1 Grand Prix if it refuses to run the event at night, as strongly suggested by F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone.

Now, leaving aside for a minute the not-insignificant matter that the event is losing money hand over fist each year, and for which the taxpayers of the state have to foot the bill, Ecclestone wants to run the race at night so that his millions of F1 fans in the other part of the hemisphere can see the race during daylight hours, and not at night as a result of the time differences between the northern and southern hemispheres.  

Melbourne’s contract to run the F1 GP is locked in until 2010, so its future would seem to be assured until then, but stranger things have happened. Who knows, for instance, whether there is some obscure clause in the contract that gives Ecclestone the right to foreclose on the deal due to the promoter’s refusal to bow to his demands?

The event is an important one on Victoria’s major events calendar but has met with stiff opposition from not only the residents directly affected by the inconvenience the event creates around the Albert Park Lake area, but the growing number of anti-F1 opponents who fail to see the economic benefits, however small, that the circus brings to Victoria.

Victoria were given the chance years ago to apply to run Australia’s round of the World Rally Championship under Jeff Kennett’s Liberal government, but chose not to pursue the opportunity. Had they done so, running a night stage of the WRC close to Melbourne would have proved a lot more of a spectator benefit (and with much less noise and disruption) than running the F1 in the middle of heavily populated inner Melbourne suburbs long after Melbourne’s children were put to bed against the background of screaming F1 engines.

Again, rallying was dealt another blow by Kennett’s decision, but rallying is all about expecting and dealing with knocks, and there is no real reason to believe that a WRC round close to Melbourne would attract less visitors than an F1 race in the city.

Melbourne probably needs the F1 each year, but not at the scale of losses that it tallies up. There are better ways of satisfying motor sport fans – even Ecclestone-supporter Ron Walker must have thought that just recently when doing an evaluation on the Rally of Melbourne which was about to throw its hat into the ring as a possible contender for Australia’s WRC round.

Let’s not knock motorsport. As a global sport, motor racing and rallying are at the top of the ladder, but huge government-funded losses that come with hosting F1 rounds and poorly-publicised WRC rounds do nothing but paint a bad picture for the vocal minority who see motorsport as a huge waste of the earth’s dwindling oil supplies.

Victoria’s F1 budget would be better off spent helping other major events, such as the Rally of Melbourne. But then rallying has never featured highly on the State Government’s list of priorities.
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