Sydney targets Australian GP as Melbourne kicks off 2015 F1 season

Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker has hit out at New South Wales Premier Mike Baird’s plan to lure the country’s Formula One race from Melbourne to Sydney as the opening weekend of the 2015 season of the motor-racing championship got underway today (Friday).

Baird today revealed that, if re-elected on March 28, work would commence on trying to take the grand prix to Sydney. Australian newspaper the Daily Telegraph said Baird is planning to form a bid team featuring Rod McGeoch, who led Sydney’s successful 2000 Olympic Games bid, and former News Corporation chief executive John Hartigan, the chairman of tourism body Destination NSW. The team is set to report to government by the end of the year on the economic feasibility of staging a street race in the heart of Sydney’s central business district.

Today’s news comes despite the Victorian Coalition Government in August securing a five-year extension to its F1 race deal, ensuring that Melbourne will remain the venue for Formula One’s season-opener through to 2020.

The new deal takes in races from 2016 to 2020, with Melbourne having hosted the Australian GP since 1996, when it replaced Adelaide on the calendar.

Speaking to Australian broadcaster the ABC, Walker said Baird was a bright and honest politician, “but his team of advisers have advised him very wrongly.” He added: “We have a contract with (Formula One Group chief executive Bernie) Ecclestone until 2020 and we have another five-year option. So it’s a long time before Sydney could even think about it.”

Walker said the five-year Melbourne race contract would probably be extended to 10 years “some time in the next few months.” The Telegraph said Baird is interested in a minimum three-year bid which would cost New South Wales taxpayers up to A$180m (€125.1m/$140.1m) to stage the event.

The state government last month announced it would boost its major events budget by A$123m if re-elected, with events being targeted including F1, the return of Major League Baseball to the city, or games from fellow American leagues the NFL and NBA. The extra money takes the major events budget to A$643m.

“I want the Formula One to come to Sydney, because no other city in the world could provide a more spectacular backdrop for this event,” Baird said. “We know this event is watched by up to 30 million people around the world, and securing the grand prix would put our already successful events strategy in pole position, but we need to get all the facts, before we move to bid stage. Rod McGeoch and John Hartigan are the right people to make this happen.”