Victoria has secured the rights to the Australian Grand Prix for a further two years, ensuring the race will celebrate its 40th anniversary in Melbourne.
The previously undisclosed contract extension, which was negotiated within months of the Victorian government entering into a new, 10-year agreement to keep the race at Albert Park, means the event will now remain in Melbourne until 2037.
Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief Andrew Westacott and Victoria’s former sports minister Martin Pakula announced the original, 10-year contract extension in June this year.Credit:Daniel Pockett
The opportunity to extend the contract arose after a scheduling clash with Ramadan, a holy month of fasting for people of Islamic faith, forced the owners of Formula 1 to revise their fixture for the 2024 season.
Under the original 10-year deal announced by the Andrews government and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation in June, Formula 1 agreed for the 2024 and 2025 Australian Grand Prix to be the opening races of those seasons, along with another three years covered by the contract.
The opening race of the season, which carries heightened expectations for F1 fans around the world, brings additional commercial benefits to the host city.
The timing of Ramadan, which in 2024 falls between 10 March and 8 April, led to requests by both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for the timing of their grands prix to be shifted to avoid falling into the 30-day observance. As a result, Melbourne was stripped of its right to host the opening race of that season.
Melbourne soccer fans were thrilled with the men’s team’s World Cup campaign but less than impressed with the decision to stage the next three A-League grand finals in Sydney.Credit:The Age
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation and the Victorian government, which is in a pitched battle with NSW to secure major sporting events to stimulate tourism and corporate spending after the disruption of the COVID years, seized the opportunity to renegotiate the contract for a further two years.
The competitive tension between Australia’s two largest states over sporting events was underscored by this week’s announcement that the A-Leagues had sold the rights to host their men’s and women’s grand finals for the next three years to the NSW government.
The decision sparked anger among football fans outside Sydney and prompted the resignation of Melbourne Victory chairman Antony Di Pietro from the Australian Professional Leagues, the body which runs the national A-League competitions.
However, with the deal with Destination NSW reportedly worth $20 million, APL chairman Paul Lederer, the owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, was unapologetic about maximising the money available to his sport.
“APL is committed to this new and significant partnership and the resulting generation of important new funds for football, all of which will be invested into the growth of the game,” Lederer said.
The Australian Grand Prix has been run at the Albert Park street circuit since 1996 after the Kennett Government poached the event from Adelaide. The event costs taxpayers about $60 million to stage but provides a boon to the state’s hospitality industry. Last year’s race – the first since the onset of the pandemic – led to a 90 per cent occupancy of city hotel rooms.
When Victoria negotiated its 10-year contract extension earlier this year, it faced fierce competition for the event from NSW and South Australia.
In announcing the original contract extension in June, Victoria’s then-sports minister Martin Pakula described the F1 Grand Prix as an Australian icon.
“We don’t have the harbour, we don’t have the Gold Coast,” he said. “We have the city, our beautiful regions and our major events calendar that drag people into this state and give Melbourne a global profile.”
A spokesperson for the Australian Grand Prix Corporation declined to comment on the new contract extension. Victorian sports minister Stephen Dimopoulos was contacted for comment.
The additional two years provides a 15-year horizon for the Albert Park race, which was the first major sports event in Australia to feel the full brunt of the pandemic and subsequent COVID restrictions.
In March 2020, the grand prix was cancelled two days before race day following a snap decision by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton to prohibit people attending. Fans queueing up outside the gates at the time the decision was announced were left frustrated by the rapidly evolving situation.
The pandemic forced the race to be cancelled for a second consecutive year in 2021 but in April this year, a capacity crowd and brilliant autumnal weather converged on the Albert Park circuit for the first Melbourne race since 2019.
Spectators in Melbourne were turned away when the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled at the last minute.Credit:Joe Armao
The appetite for Formula 1 among Australian sports fans, driven by the popularity of the Drive to Survive series on Netflix, is continuing its resurgence with a bumper crowd of up to 130,000 on the cards for race day in 2023.
Tickets for the final day of next April’s grand prix sold out in less than three hours earlier this month. The Saturday program, which features the qualifying session, is now also sold out.
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