Could Melbourne be a dusk race?

We have just about become comfortable with the concept of night races, after the success of last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. But in Bernie Ecclestone’s quest to have all races starting at a sociable hour in Europe, could he have inadvertently invented the dusk race?

There were a couple of close calls last season. The season finale at Interlagos last year was strange enough. The fact that the entire circuit was plunged into complete darkness immediately after the chequered flag only added to it. The podium was lit, and the sky behind looked pitch black even with all of the techniques they can use on television to mitigate it.

The sun wasn’t even setting. Sunset was approximately 90 minutes after the end of the race. But heavy clouds ensured that if the race hadn’t finished, they may well have had to bring out the red flag anyway, so dark the place seemed.

It was a similar scenario during Friday Practice for the Italian Grand Prix last year. Even in the late morning, when the sun is high in the sky, a fierce storm gave teams a dry (okay, a very, very wet) run for the dark conditions they were to expect at the following race in Singapore.

In the past two yeras the start time of the Australian Grand Prix has been shifted from 1400 local time to 1530 last year to 1700 this year. The idea behind this is to have the race starting at 0700 British time (0800 CET), which is a smidgen more sociable than 0300.

I don’t know about you, but being a nightowl I much preferred the middle-of-the-night start. It felt like a special occasion, and for me it was all part of the romance and the excitement of the build-up to the start of the season.

Sometimes ITV put on a special night of programming building up to it. No such thing from the BBC this year of course. A “grand prix night” is a bit redundant when the grand prix is on in the morning. This is a missed marketing opportunity, showing once again that Bernie is not quite as smart as he thinks he is.

But does the later start also have implications for safety? The evening start is a messy compromise. Bernie wanted a night race, but the Australian GP organisers refused. So they met in the middle.

That’s all very well in normal circumstances. The race starts at 1700. So the sun will be pretty low, but it will still be daylight.

But what if something unforeseen happens? The start of last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix was delayed by fifteen minutes. If the race has to be stopped, that will add more time as well. On top of all this, the race may be anything up to two hours long (and that excludes any stoppages for red flags).

On 29 March 2009 the sun sets in Melbourne at 1918. Let’s say the formation lap takes three minutes. If the two hour time limit is reached, cars could still conceivably be running at racing speeds at 1905 (for the time it takes for the leader to reach the finish line, then the cars on the lead lap to complete that lap). Then there is the in-lap. If, for some reason, the red flag has to come out, they would only be able to take ten or fifteen minutes maximum to be sure that the race will be completed with the sun still in the sky.

It is an unlikely scenario. The two hour time limit is seldom reached, and a lengthy race stoppage is thankfully also rare. But the possibility exists. I’m surprised not to have seen anyone else mention this. Can the drivers, marshals and spectators be sure that all of the appropriate precautions have been taken?

Could the Australian Grand Prix be the first ever dusk race?


  1. At least the pictures of an F1 pack going around the circuit with the sun setting in the back will worth it :-).

    Talking about the starting hour: you get the race moved from 3AM to 8 AM, here in Argentina we’ve moved from 0AM to 5AM. That’s an unsociable hour to start! Anyway, I’ll be right there in front of the TV as every year… If you think about the US, it’s just another blow in their face. On most of the country they go from late Saturday to really early Sunday, a perfect time to draw new viewers in a much needed market…

  2. You’re right guille. You have to admire those fans in North America. I don’t know how they put up with F1 sometimes…

  3. Not only that, so late in the day the sunglare coming off the bay as you face west is horrendous. At speeds of 300kph+
    I’m not sure I’d like being blinded by the sun every time I come around turn 13.

    At this stage though, no forecast for rain on race day. However, Melbourne’s weather is notoriously unpredictable so who knows what challenges it will throw up on the day. I just hope Bernie et al know what they are doing (yes, I see the irony in that last statement).

  4. I don’t know about you, but being a nightowl I much preferred the middle-of-the-night start. It felt like a special occasion, and for me it was all part of the romance and the excitement of the build-up to the start of the season.

    I agree, but on the other hand I don’t enjoy getting to Sunday afternoon feeling utterly exhausted!

  5. I’ve mentioned this before on blogs. It’s the first thought I had when the re-scheduling was announced. I think it will be fine, unless it’s overcast. Then we’re in trouble. That makes two potential sources for disaster next weekend – A red flag at 6pm for poor light, and protests over diffusers. Both could easily have been fixed by now….

  6. dont think the sun will set, the 2 hr time limit is a set limit, if there are delays and what not and it looks like they’ll run out of time, the timer will start 15+ minutes before the end of the 2hr mark, so regardless, it’ll end on 2hrs.

  7. Sure it’s 19:18, and not 18:18?

    It’s getting pretty dark by 19:45 now — and don’t forget we drop out of daylight savings at 0300 on the Sunday of the Grand Prix, so we lose an our of light at the end of the day.

    I live in Western Victoria (later sunset than Melbourne) and it’s well dark by 20:00. If you’ve allowed for daylight savings, the implication is that right now it’s getting dark in Melbourne around 20:20, which I know isn’t true.


  8. My mistake. Daylight savings has always ended last weekend in March — but this year, for some funny reason, it’s slipped until the first week of April.

    As you were. Nothing to see here… move along.

  9. Mmmm and Andrew, thanks for your comments.

    The two hour time limit does not include any delays or stoppages. There must be two hours of green flag racing. We saw this in the 2007 European Grand Prix when there was a stoppage due to a downpour. Fernando Alonso won the race with an official time of 2:06:26.358, despite the fact that the two hour time limit hadn’t been reached.

  10. Having to get up really early to see the season opener really added something to the season that I don’t think a breakfast race will capture.

    Bernie is a muppet.

  11. dont get me wrong, Bernie is a muppet but personally I can have a full nights sleep and get up and watch the race first thing (UK). I have 2 young boys and this works for me. Bernie must know that europe is a bigger viewing market (is that true?), so he’s rather treat the europeans well than the americans.
    People like my wife would never watch at 3am, but will at 7am. its all advertising.

  12. Hello Doctorvee- my first time visiting your site! I am a frequent visitor and semi-frequent guest writer for F1Fanatic, so cheers to more blogging!

    Here in the Northeast U.S., the first few rounds are going to start at a really crazy time- you really can’t go to bed early and wake up for it, yet staying up late makes it even tougher. Last season the Australian GP started around midnight in this time zone- a very good time, but now it’s getting tougher for everyone in the western hemisphere, as Guille referenced earlier.

    In any event, it still can’t dampen my thirst for F1, so let’s kick the season off in style!

  13. Andrew, gazzap, Gman,

    Thanks all for your comments, and welcome to my blog. I hope you see fit to keep on visiting throughout the season. 🙂