MARCH 30, 2006

Getting a date in Melbourne

Ask around in the Formula 1 paddock about this year's calendar and you will hear a lot of people saying that they prefer having the first race in Melbourne - but not everyone thinks that is such a good idea. For some it is too far away from Europe for the first event and is a logistical nightmare for the teams and this year's Bahrain-Malaysia-Australia combination makes a lot more sense. The downside of that is that some team members have to away from home for more than a month.

The other question is that of TV viewing figures. There is no doubt that having the first race in Bahrain raised the viewing figures for the event, because the race is much closer in terms of time zones to F1's major market in Europe. The knock-on effect of that was that more interest was generated and so the TV viewing figures in Malaysia were up as well and probably that effect will continue with Australia as fans have had time to get interested before being asked to get up in the wee small hours.

Down Under there are also some who think the race is better being the third race, particularly in the media, who argue that they now have a story to tell rather than having to guess what is going to happen.

One man who thinks that everything will go back to normal is Ron Walker, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, who says that the race has a contract to open the World Championship. That may be so but most Grand Prix contracts also have a clause which invalidates the deal if tobacco advertising is banned so Australia might, in theory at least, have to redo the deal next year - and Mr E may not be offering the opening slot next time around.