Australia F1 chief vows to keep race in Melbourne after Sydney overtures

Melbourne (AFP) – Australian Formula One Grand Prix chief Andrew Westacott Friday vowed to fight to keep the race in Melbourne after reports that Sydney wanted to poach it when its contract expiries in 2025.


Albert Park has held the sport's season-opening race every year since 1996, bar the last two when it fell victim to the pandemic, after winning the hosting rights from Adelaide.

But according to broadcaster Channel Seven, Sydney wants a slice of the action, reporting that "high-level talks" were under way to assess the feasibility of staging it, Monaco-style, on the streets around the city's famous harbour.

New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, has a new premier who has made clear he is keen to attract big events, recently earmarking a major cash splash to put the state "in pole position" to do so.

Westacott reiterated the race was locked into Melbourne until 2025 at least and said he was confident of extending the contract further.

"I don't think it has any legs, but I also don't doubt that there is activity there," he told AFP of Sydney sniffing around.

"I am confident of keeping it in Melbourne, we're very close to Formula One and have a strong relationship. Formula One loves coming to Melbourne."

But he also warned against complacency, with the city missing out in 2021 due to strict quarantine and entry regulations imposed by the Victorian state government as Covid-19 raged.

It followed the race sensationally being scrapped in 2020 just before the first official practice session as concerns spiked following a McLaren staff member testing positive.

The Grand Prix is due to return on April 10 next year as the third race on the calendar behind Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

"It will be three years between events when April comes around, and Victoria has got to deliver," Westacott said, adding that he expected teams would need to be vaccinated to enter Australia.

"We have the resolve and determination to do just that."

It is not the first time Sydney has been floated as an option, with the prospect also raised by senior officials in 2015 who suggested using a course that included a long straight over the famous Harbour Bridge.