Australian Grand Prix chief Ron Walker is confident Melbourne will retain its place on the formula one calendar until the end of the decade, despite admitting there are ”sticking points” in renewal negotiations.
As race organisers prepare for Monday’s official launch of next month’s F1 season-opener at Albert Park, the second-last of the current five-year contract, talks are continuing to finalise an agreement for 2016-20.
Walker, the chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, said he was optimistic the race would be renewed by the Victorian government beyond next year.
”I’m as confident of it as I can be,” he said. ”Negotiations are continuing in a favourable direction, so we’ll just see what happens.”
There will be no announcement by Premier Denis Napthine at Monday’s gala launch of the March 13-16 event about the future of the race beyond next year. The lakeside launch at the Albert Park street circuit will feature announcements of the AGP’s title sponsor and the event’s celebrity ambassador.
Although Walker expected the Australian GP’s future would be decided before this year’s event, he confirmed the new deal was not ready to be submitted to the government for approval.
”The lawyers are still talking about some minor points,” he said. ”It’s a work in progress. It’s just taken longer than we thought. I hope the impasse will be resolved soon. Hopefully, it will be concluded before this year’s race.”
Chief among the hurdles is the government’s insistence that the annual sanction fee for the race, which will reportedly reach almost $36 million this year, be significantly reduced.
As well as slashing the operating costs of the event, which reduced the public subsidy to $50.7 million last year from a high of $56.7 million in 2012, the government wants any new contract to represent ”better value”.
Walker and the government are relying on the fact that F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has reduced fees in the renewals of other races that have been under financial pressure.
Walker maintained the obstacles to a new agreement would be ironed out in the ongoing discussions between legal representatives of the AGPC and Formula One Management. ”We think there’ll be a meeting of the ways soon,” he said. ”There are just a few sticking points to be resolved, then it goes to the government. The [AGPC] board will make a recommendation to the government, which will weigh up the figures.
”We won’t take it to the government until we’re ready. There’s no rush as far as we’re concerned.”
He dismissed the disputed terms as ”nothing serious”, characterising them as ”just normal practice” in high-stakes negotiations.
Despite his insistence that finalisation of a renewal agreement won’t be hurried, Walker said he still hoped to secure a renewal ”sometime before this year’s race”.
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