By Joanne Bladd
Melbourne set to mop up better TV viewing figures and ticket sales playing host to season-opening race
The scrapping of Bahrain’s Grand Prix spells good news for Australia, which will now play host to the opening race of the Formula One season.
The Melbourne race, held between March 25-27, will benefit from a bigger global television audience, better ticket sales and a higher profile as the season opener, said Australian Grand Prix boss Ron Walker.
"Good for our branding, that goes throughout Asia at midday to China, Russia and India," he told ABC. "We'll have an increased audience throughout Europe and that's great for our brand Melbourne, it's great for tourism, it's great for the city of Melbourne."
Red Bull’s Mark Webber – who was the first big-name driver to voice doubts about the appropriateness of racing just weeks after bloodshed in Bahrain – said it was the right decision.
“The right decision was made, in light of what is going on, so we look forward to Melbourne instead,” said Australian-born Webber. “It’s my home race and I’m looking forward to it. We’re in good shape as a team.”
Bahrain made the decision late Monday to axe the March 13 Grand Prix amid ongoing political unrest in the Gulf state that has left six dead and hundreds wounded.
Arabian Business reported last week that protesters planned to target the F1 race – the biggest event on Bahrain’s sporting calendar - in a bid to draw attention to their cause.
The race boasts one of the biggest television audiences in the world, attracting an estimated 527 million people.
The future of the Melbourne race, which loses around AUS$40m a year, has been questioned by key Melbourne politicians who argue the race is unnecessary and expensive.
Formula One commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone said earlier this month the industry “doesn’t need” Australia on the racing calendar.
Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott said he did not want to make light of the situation in Bahrain but said Melbourne will benefit from being the first race of the year.
"We'll have the eyes of the Formula One world and the sporting world on us," Westacott told website Ninemsm.
"And without the race in Bahrain, potentially the teams will spend more time in Melbourne after final testing in Barcelona.
The race is expected to attract 23,000 visitors to the city and take up 70,000 hotel nights, he said.