Mike Stevens | Feb 23, 2011

Most Melbourne city councillors believe the Australian Grand Prix should stay.

The annual event, which dates back to 1996, has attracted international media coverage recently, particularly after Melbourne's Lord Mayor said the state government should not sign a new contract.

F1 Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone angrily hit back, but the story returned to the headlines this week.

Federal MP Michael Danby, whose electorate includes the Albert Park area, told parliament that his constituents overwhelmingly supported ditching of the event.

But a News Ltd report claims that Danby and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle's views are actually not widespread.

The report said seven of Doyle's eight fellow Melbourne City councillors "want to keep the annual event despite him saying its time was up".

"I want it to be here as long as possible," said councillor Carl Jetter, and his colleague Kevin Louey agreed that F1 is "unlike other sporting events" and "it enhances Melbourne's name".

Meanwhile, the 2011 event, scheduled for March 27, is now in the spotlight as the new season opener following the cancellation of the Bahrain race.

"We'll have the eyes of the Formula One world and the sporting world on us," said Australian Grand Prix Corporation Chief Executive Andrew Westacott.

(GMM)

 

Bahrain GP Could Return In 2011: Ecclestone

The 2011 season opener in Bahrain has been called off.

The news, late on Monday, followed hot on the heels of reports that the final pre-season test at the same Sakhir venue will also not take place, due to the civil unrest in the island Kingdom.

But while the ink was still dry on the cancellation statements, F1 Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone was stressing the possibility of a rescheduled Bahrain Grand Prix later in 2011.

"Obviously it would depend on the political situation there, so we would not plan anything in the next few months," he told the Daily Express.

It had been rumoured that the 80-year-old Briton might reshuffle the end of the calendar to make room for a new Bahrain date.

Ecclestone also said: "There is a three-week gap in August for the F1 shutdown but the temperatures then would be a bit extreme. Maybe later around the Indian Grand Prix could be possible if things are ok there (in Bahrain)."

The other knock-on effect of Monday's news is that teams have decided to reconvene at the Circuit de Catalunya for their final four-day test of the winter from March 8.

And the 2011 season will get started two weeks later in Australia.

The wording of the official announcement made clear that it was the Bahrain royal family's decision to postpone the event, which was important ostensibly for insurance, legal and commercial reasons.

"Our nation's priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together," said the Crown Prince.

He stressed that Ecclestone had reassured Bahrain "that a decision on the race was entirely Bahrain's to make".

"We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of (the race) to a later date," added the prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

The governing FIA said it "supports the decision", and Red Bull driver added: "Hopefully Bahrain can stage the race again".

(GMM)

 

Will Bahrain Axe Help Struggling Teams?

Mark Webber and David Coulthard have played down suggestions the Bahrain cancellation could play into the hands of F1's currently weakest teams.

With McLaren's new MP4-26 not the best car in the field currently in terms of pace or reliability, Lewis Hamilton said he was happy that the championship starting in Australia "gives us more time" to prepare.

"We have some catching up to do and not a lot of time until the season starts," he said.

BBC commentator and former McLaren driver Brundle agreed: "It (the extra time) will help some teams that were struggling to make fast and reliable cars.

"It will play into their hands," he told the BBC.

But Mark Webber, with arguably the best car in the field in his hands in the Red Bull RB7, countered: "I don't think the extra two weeks will make a huge difference.

"It's the same for everybody. We are always prepared to race in two weeks," said the Australian.

"The freight will still have to leave for Melbourne pretty early," added Webber. "I suppose you've got another 10 days' headroom, but it is swings and roundabouts."

His former Red Bull teammate David Coulthard has a similar opinion.

"This is one area where I don't necessarily agree with Martin," the Scot, who will share the BBC commentary box with Brundle in 2011, wrote in his latest Telegraph column.

"From the feedback I am getting, it seems Ferrari and Red Bull are currently at the head of the queue so, by implication, he is suggesting it could help Mercedes and McLaren.

"Yes, McLaren will have an extra two weeks of factory time but so will Ferrari. And with just one test to go they won't have any more track time to test parts or work on reliability," Coulthard insisted.

(GMM)

 

Berger Doubts Mercedes Can Catch Up In 2011

Over a month ahead of the new 2011 season opener in Australia, Gerhard Berger doubts Mercedes can be a contender for the world championship.

The former Ferrari and McLaren driver notes that the silver W02 car is already behind on the winter test tracks and "there is no logical reason why they should catch up".

Mercedes' Norbert Haug has admitted that, if a race was held today, Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg would not finish in the top ten.

But hopes are high for a major upgrade package for the first race.

"I have my doubts", Austrian Berger told Sport Bild magazine.

"I believe Red Bull have the best car again, and I see Ferrari and McLaren at eye-level behind them," he said, adding that Renault could be "a surprise".

As for Mercedes, Berger is concerned that the Brackley based team's recent revamp is in the area of "new race engineers" and new technical boss Bob Bell rather than a boosting of "the aerodynamics department".

"So there is no logical reason why they should catch up with McLaren or Ferrari," said Berger, "let alone Red Bull."

(GMM)

(Leading photo: Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

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