Later starts for the Australian Grand Prix

Australian Grand Prix officials have said they are prepared to push the start of the Australian Grand Prix back to 5pm an a bid to fit in better with a European schedule and the wishes of Bernie Ecclestone.

Ecclestone is pressing for the Australian race to become a night race or risk losing it s contract beyond 2010 however Australian officials have ruled out turning the Melbourne event into a night race. “The only way the race could stay in Melbourne, or anywhere else in Australia, is if it is staged during the night so that the public in Europe can watch it,” Ecclestone told British newspaper The Mail On Sunday. “At the moment it is ridiculous that people are asked not to sleep in order to see it live that can t carry on.”

It appear that Australian Grand Prix organisers are prepared to compromise over the issue this season s race will be starting at 3:30pm, an hour and a half later than normal in a bid to capture a larger European audience. Organisers have also said that they are prepared to push the start back by another 90 minutes to 5pm next season if this season s new race start proves to be a success.

“If starting the race later this year increases the television audience around the world as we believe it will we will seek a 5pm start for the 2009 race,” Australian Grand Prix Corporation Chairman Ron Walker explained. “That will mean a 7am start time for the television coverage in Europe, finishing at about 8:40am; a 6am start time in the UK, finishing about 7:40am; and an afternoon start and finish across the Asian continent where there are potentially hundreds of millions of extra viewers. All this can be achieved without any additional infrastructure costs.”

Should the race start at 5pm, it will still finish before dark meaning no expensive lighting systems will need to be installed.

Walker has also explained that with the current row over whether the Australian Grand Prix should be a night race or not, the future of the race is out of his hands. Currently, the feeling is that it would be too expensive to turn the Melbourne race into a night race.

“The decision rests solely with the Premier, and no doubt some time in the next six or nine months he will meet with Mr. Ecclestone and they will either come to an arrangement or they won t. But it will be a sad day for Australia if we were to lose, because it s the only international motor sport event in the country.

“When you think how many other countries want it, it would be a great loss. It provides a spectacle you won t don t see very often, but that s up to the government.”