A Grand Prix for Sydney?

According to reports in Australia, Sydney could be lining up a bid for the Australian Grand Prix. The New South Wales state Premier Morris Iemma is said to have already had talks with Bernie Ecclestone on the subject and has plans to attract other sporting events in an effort to increase the number of tourists visiting the city.

To this end he has created a major event company which is headed by John O'Neill, a key figure in the Australian rugby world.

The current F1 contract with Melbourne lasts until 2010 but the event is making increasing losses and has thus come in for criticism from various parties as it is public money that is being spent. Melbourne still pulls in big crowds but there seems to be a lot of negative publicity about the race.

Sydney is the dominant venue for tourists visiting Australia with 55% of the market but these numbers have only marginally increased in the years following the Olympic Games in 2000. The state generates around $4.3bn a year from tourism with around 2.8m international visitors a year. Because of the distance travelled to get to Australia the visitors tend to stay for long periods with the average stay being about three weeks. At the moment Britain remains the principal source of tourists, providing 16% of the visitors with New Zealand next with 12%.

The reaction in Melbourne to the news of a bid from Sydney has been one of typical Melbourne-Sydney rivalry with accusations that NSW has copied Melbourne's structure. There is no doubt, however, that the news will focus the minds of the Victorian government to extend the current contract or let Sydney take the race. Bernie Ecclestone thus finds himself in the fortunate position of being able to ask more from Melbourne and if that fails to work, switching the race to Sydney.

Although there is the Eastern Creek circuit in the outskirts of Sydney, this has not been a great success and it is thought far more likely that any attempt at a race in Sydney would be in a parkland environment, not unlike Albert Park's arrangements in Melbourne.

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