Over the past few weeks there have been a number of stories surrounding the Australian Grand Prix. It must seem as though everyone wants to throw stones at Ron Walker and co.
Of course, this is nothing new. Bernie Ecclestone’s carping criticisms are par for the course whenever any circuit’s contract is coming up for renegotiation. Melbourne has most recently been feeling the heat.
And ever since the Australian Grand Prix moved to Albert Park back in 1996, environmental campaigners and pressure groups such as Save Albert Park have been trying their best to do away with the race. This report of a recent radio interview with Ron Walker highlights the increasingly hostile attitude that many Australians appear to be taking towards the Melbourne grand prix.
Due to its apparent political unpopularity, the race’s organisers have been trying their best to articulate the case for keeping the race in Melbourne in terms of the economic benefits and the race’s popularity in terms of attendance figures. But in the face of mounting pressure their case has begun to fall apart.
Increasingly it looks as though the race organises have been massaging attendance figures in order to project a better picture than is really the case. According to a report on Pitpass a few weeks ago, the “official” attendance figures include freebies, school excursions, corporate tickets and even competition prize tickets that haven’t been used! Despite the use of a variety of schemes to encourage people to attend, grandstands can look pretty empty.
A recent story published in The Age has raised some eyebrows in Australia. The newspaper wrote a report highlighting some home truths about Australian Grand Prix attendance.
Among the interesting information in the report is the fact that the organisers do not even know how many people attend the event. Nevertheless, organisers advertise it as “the best-attended grand prix in the world”, citing a figure of 301,000. Meanwhile, the Save Albert Park campaign group, using a more open and transparent process, have worked out that the “official” figure has been inflated by as much as 45%. Most astonishingly, the “official” figure is said to include “drivers, car mechanics, grid girls, hospitality staff, and even race bosses”.
As you can see if you have visited The Age website, the story now comes complete with a honking great “clarification” in bold writing at the top. According to Crikey, the way this has been handled is causing consternation among the paper’s staff.
The word around The Age newsroom is that after reporter Ben Doherty’s story was published, he was called in to editor [Andrew] Jaspan’s office to meet Grand Prix executives and answer their queries. This is extraordinary. Traditionally, editors shield their reporters from this kind of pressure, unless there is a clear case of error or misconduct. Even then, it is the editor’s role to deal with the interested parties.
Furthermore, the “bullshit” clarification does little to undermine the story. The very length of the clarification is apparently unprecedented.
The case for the Australian Grand Prix remaining in Melbourne appears to be fairly flimsy. In the face of increasing public dismay about taxpayers’ money being spent on the race, the race’s organisers appear to be adopting strong-arm tactics in order to keep a lid on the debate.
They used to call it a “great place for a race”. But are the days of Albert Park as an F1 venue numbered?
Any thoughts on this? Would you be sad to see Melbourne go? What possible alternative venues are there for the Australian Grand Prix?