Australia gets March date

THE 1996 Australian Grand Prix will take place on March 10 next year in Albert Park, Melbourne, kicking off the new Formula 1 season a fortnight earlier than in recent years.

The news was announced last week by Pat McNamara, the Victoria state minister of tourism. The official 1996 FIA FormulaŹ1 World Championship calendar is not expected until the autumn, but the announcement comes after Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss Judith Griggs was given the go-ahead for the race by FIA Vice-President (Promotional Affairs) Bernie Ecclestone.

The event - which is costing US$ 45 million to put on - will thus take place on the Labour Day long weekend - which, in Melbourne, coincides with the local Moomba Festival (which will give the entire city a holiday atmosphere and attract larger crowds). According to Griggs, planning for the event is well-advanced with an action-packed program of races in addition to the F1 race. This will include numerous support races and displays on the lake in the center of the track.

But opposition to the race in the Albert Park area is still strong, and on Saturday at least 100 protesters invaded the building site after pulling down a fence. Earlier last week there was also trouble when workers refused to cross a union picket line, the local trade unions having become involved. The protesters are complaining that the park will be destroyed by the race while the local government is saying that the event will not only improve the park but will also create jobs and bring foreign investment into the city.

The news of a firm date for Melbourne means that the first and last races of the 1996 calendar will be March 10 and November 10 (the date expected for the United States GP in Las Vegas). There will be 16 races in the eight month season, and with at least two occasions where there will be races on consecutive weekends (Brazil/Argentina, France/Britain and Germany/Austria pairing are all possible), the strain - psychological and financial - on the F1 teams, will be a lot less than in recent years.

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