Prior to 2020, Melbourne had hosted an F1 race every year since 1996. During that time it was the season opener on all but two occasions. Upon signing a deal in July 2019 with F1 to race in Australia’s city of sport until 2025, Martin Pakula MP, Victorian Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, said: “This is a fantastic vote of confidence from Formula.” However, following the COVID-19 outbreak it is now three years since a Grand Prix ran on race day there. As such, the CEO of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Andrew Westacott, has said, a successful 2022 F1 Grand Prix must run without incident as “It is a make or break for Melbourne.”
In an exclusive interview held by drive.com.au with the CEO of Australian Grand Prix Corporation, Andrew Westacott, gave an insight into the progress being made at Albert Park Circuit and just how high the stakes are.
When next year’s provisional F1 calendar was unveiled last week, it showed that Melbourne was back although it would not host the season opener as that honour has been given to Bahrain.
Albert Park Circuit famously called off the season opening F1 Grand Prix of the 2020 season at the last minute, with fans at the turnstiles ahead of FP1. Despite being originally listed on the 2021 race calendar towards the end of the year, restrictions once again meant it could not uphold its part of the deal. Therefore, another cancellation was inevitable and speculation on the future of the Australian Grand Prix followed.
In the exclusive interview with drive.com.au, The CEO of the Australian GP Corporation Andrew Westacott, said: “It is a make or break for Melbourne…I think there’s a real risk that with the amount of competition for slots on the F1 calendar, patience only goes so far and patience can wear very thin. So, if we weren't able to take the 2022 event in Australia, then I think F1 would be well within their rights to be looking at alternatives to Melbourne.”
For now, F1 in Melbourne is very much on the agenda but its placing is an unfamiliar third on the schedule. Nevertheless, Westacott feels this may benefit the Australian GP even more:
“It will give us more time to prepare. It's interesting that this isn't a change that is permanent, but ... it's a record number of races in 2022, it's going to be 23 races [for the entire F1 championship].” Westacott explained.
The preparation taking place in Melbourne has been quite something. Albert Park Circuit tends to produce a processional race. However, in 2022 due to new aerodynamics and a chance for closer racing, the track will look very different, as Westacott made clear in his recent remarks.
“Phase one was widening of pitlane by two…The second was the geometric changes where we widened the corners at Turn One, Turn Three, Turn Six, we removed Turn Nine and 10 around Lakeside. We changed significantly old Turn 13, which has now Turn 11. We widened old Turn 15, which is now Turn 13…We'll have geometric changes designed to better suit the new aerodynamics of the cars, promote overtaking higher-speed opportunities, and we'll have a pitlane, which we hope is going to increase the speed limit in pitlane from 60 to 80 kilometres an hour…Again, the combination of many of these changes is going to make for more exciting racing.”
All of this shows that the plans are well in place. So, what chance is there of the event successfully being held in a world which still has changeable situations and new border rules on a daily basis?
“I'm extremely confident...because there is a clear understanding from the Victorian Government of the importance of maintaining that stakeholder relationship between the Victorian Government, AGPC and Formula 1, and it's a strong relationship, and it's a mutually understood relationship that's built on 25 years of trust.”
If Melbourne hopes to still be on the calendar in 2025, the end date of its current contract, then the next 6 months are vital to its chances.
As confident as the Corporation is, they have had to unfortunately had to plan for the worse. Andrew Westacott has made clear to an uncertain public that if 2022’s Australian GP is cancelled, spectator tickets will be fully refundable. Hopefully, this statement will prompt any uncertain local Melbourne citizens to take the risk.
Above all, CEO Andrew Westacott expressed his excitement for what is to come. “I'm extremely excited about what the fans are going to experience, and so they should be excited.” No doubt, an Australian public that has not seen F1 cars on track since 2019 feels the same.