As you may have realized from my few previous posts and from the photos I came to Melbourne to see the opening race of the 2008 Formula 1 season. Last few years I went to Sepang, 5 hours shorter trip, but this time I decided to go to Melbourne and see how Aussies do it.
First I was a bit disapointed with not too much information about and promotion of the Grand Prix in Melbourne. But that is where for me as a fan the disapointments ended.
The biggest issue I usually face when coming to the race is the logistic of actually getting to the race. That is not an issue in Melbourne at all. Of course the location of the track in the city helps a lot but you still have to get there somehow. Over the whole course of the F1 weekend there were special tram services to and from the Albert Park. And as I found out from a very talkative taxi driver and got confirmed by the tram people, the F1 ticket was all that was needed to ride on public transport …
The races in Shanghai and Sepang may have excellent purpose built facilities, but try to get something decent to eat or drink there … That is not an issue at all in Melbourne. All over the F1 venue there are plenty of places serving all sorts of food, 5-6 different beers, wine, Lavazza coffee. In direct contrast with the greed of Mr. Ecclestone there is free drinking water all around the Albert Park. And that sure came very handy during the hot F1 weekend this year.
The program never stops on and above the track. There are no other open wheel races besides F1 on program. But this is more than compensated by the V8 Supercar race, celebrity challenge race, historical racing cars show, and some other local racing. When there was no racing, there were stuntmen on motorbikes. When there was no one on the track, there were stuntmen in the air in acrobatic planes or airforce pilots in F18 fighter jets.
I was quite surprised also by the size of the crowd on Saturday morning. These 2 pictures are from morning practice sessions:
Even in Germany or Monaco the stands were barely half full during the practice sessions and filled up for qualifying only. In Shanghai the grandstands did not fill up even for the race last year. Here in Melbourne 46,000 people came to see the the Thursday program this year (support races, autograph sessions, no F1 cars on track).
I went to races in Asia, in Europe but the experience was nothing compared to Australian Grand Prix. It would be a big shame if this race goes …
But to be fair, not everybody in Melbourne is keen on having the race. How big the unhappy crowd is I can’t estimate. I did not do any opinon poll or scientific research. I read few angry comments from local residents in the Redbulletin on Saturday morning, I saw a bloke staging this little exhibition just outside the gate 1:
If the race is to continue first of all Melbourne has to want to keep it. Once they are sure they want to go on they need to calculate how much the race costs them and how much it brings. For the organizers it is easy to calculate the profit and loss. For the city of Melbourne or the Victoria state it is not that simple math. If they only calculate the money they put into the race, yes, sure, they loose a lot. But if used smartly the Formula 1 event can be used as a big marketing tool for the city, for the state and for the country. And that is where Melbourne does not do enough. They have the opening race with millions of after winter break hungry fans. They have great venue. The drivers love coming here. The fans (not only me ) enjoy the race weekend here. The grandstands are full and we are talking about country where F1 is far from being the most popular sport. They need to make use of it. Right now, even if you are in Melbourne on Thursday before the race weekend, you may easily miss the fact there is F1 in town …