The Australian Grand Prix has a new date next season, with the event to be staged during the first weekend in April.
According to AGP Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott, the race will retain the coveted curtain raiser status, despite being pencilled to run from March 31 to April 3 – which would represent the latest season commencement since 1988.
An effect of the date change is the event coinciding with the conclusion of daylight savings on the Sunday, which is likely to see the race start time brought forward to 3pm.
The AFL season will be in full-swing by this date, which has the potential to detract attendance numbers, as does the likely milder weather which traditionally envelops Victoria towards the end of March.
It could be argued that it is ideal to catch Friday practice or Saturday qualifying at the circuit prior to catching the tram to Federation Square and making the short journey to the ‘G, but without enjoying the exclusivity of being the only big-event sport in town, it is inevitable that many will choose to pass on the Grand Prix.
A curiosity of the announcement is the event’s twinning with the Chinese Grand Prix on April 10, which begs the question – has the recently renewed Malaysian Grand Prix been shifted, potentially to the September date which houses the neighbouring Singapore Grand Prix, or will the event inexplicably precede Melbourne, despite the latter’s contractual stipulation that it host the first race?
Bahrain has enjoyed curtain raiser duties in the past, in 2006 when Melbourne played host to the Commonwealth Games, in 2010 to commemorate the ‘diamond jubilee’ of the World Championship (who can forget the woeful ‘endurance’ layout?), whilst they were set to commence the season once more in 2011 until civil uprising forced the event’s cancellation.
With the recent switch to twilight status, complemented by high-quality races, one can understand the allure of commencing the season there, yet it lacks the carnival atmosphere which accompanies the Melbourne event.
For Albert Park to lose the prestigious status would represent a slap in the face, having been worthy custodians of the role on eighteen occasions since the controversial move from Adelaide in 1996.
The most recent running of the event certainly wasn’t the most enthralling in it’s history, yet to contemplate this as a factor in any potential stripping of status would be unfair – it wasn’t the circuit’s fault that Mercedes romped home.
Bernie Ecclestone is renowned for his unforeseen actions, not least as part of attempts to push numerous agendas – you only need to look at the inclusion of the Korean Grand Prix on this season’s initial calendar, when event organisers weren’t even aware that they had a race on their hands.
Had the event gone ahead, it would have clashed with the World Endurance Championship’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps – due to be staged this weekend, when a certain Nico Hulkenberg will be competing for Porsche. Another theory was that he was attempting to exploit the four-engine per season loophole by extension of a calendar exceeding 20 events.
Whether something is at play or it is a simple case of the 19 or 20-strong calendar being ‘condensed’ as is claimed, it still equates to an odd move.