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JULY 5, 1999

Australia lobbies for date change

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX chief Ron Walker was in London last week arguing that the Australian Grand Prix needs to be the first race of the 2000 season. The FIA announced recently that the Melbourne race would be held on March 5 - two weeks after the Malaysian GP. Walker's primary aim is to get the race moved to March 12, which is the traditional LaborÊDay holiday weekend in Australia and the Moomba Festival in Melbourne. This has proved to be a good weekend to attract crowds in previous years. There is an added complication in that the Australian rules football season is going to start earlier than normal so as to avoid a clash in the autumn with the Olympic Games in Sydney.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation has spent a lot of time negotiating with the footballing authorities to ensure that no major matches are scheduled for the days when the Grand Prix is in town.

It is worth noting that Philippe Gurdjian, the executive consultant of the Malaysian Grand Prix says that a February 2000 date will be a problem for the organization at Sepang. "Happily," Gurdjian says, "the calendar is not definitive. The date can perhaps be changed when the official calendar is published in the autumn."

The early date for Malaysia appears to be an attempt by the FIA to stop the teams doing as much winter testing as they have in the past. If the Malaysian date remains as it is, the teams will have to cars ready to depart on February 10 which will mean they will lose three weeks of testing. One possible compromise would be to move Malaysia back a week to February 27 with Melbourne going to March 12 and Brazil from March 19 to March 26. This would mean that there would be only two weeks between the Brazilian and San Marino Grands Prix - which would cut down on early-season testing as most of the cars would be in transit. The extra week after the Brazilian GP had been left in the calendar so that there would be the chance for teams to test at Indianapolis. That test now seems unlikely to happen.

A mid-February start would also wipe out any chance of a winter test in South Africa. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone promised the South African authorities that there would be testing at Kyalami in 1999 and 2000 and a race as soon as there was an available slot in the calendar.