The Inside Line #108: New races, old favourites

TILI Logo PrintIn my cobbled-together career of making a living out of writing about what are essentially games played by grown-ups, there’s been some interesting days for reasons good and bad – covering the death of Marco Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011, being 30 minutes from deadline on the official program for Bathurst in 2006 when news emerged of Peter Brock’s fatal accident, and Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix in 2014 and the hasty re-filing of four news stories, a feature and a video blog at 3am. All one-off events. But few people/organisations have caused me to have as many lengthy and frustrating days at work over the past few years than James Hird [1] and Essendon. As someone who only dips in and out of working in Australian Rules football during the season, I can’t imagine how some of the journos covering that story full-time for years must feel, especially when it continues to have a pulse.

What does this have to do with F1? Well, Hird’s name popped into my head this week when I read The Age’s story that the Australian Grand Prix Corporation’s leadership was being plunged into uncertainty (their words) because of the Victorian government’s preference to have Essendon AFL chairman Paul Little installed into the AGPC chairman’s role over acting chairman John Harnden, who took over when Ron Walker stepped aside after the AGP this March. Could be true, might not be, I have no additional information one way or the other. But the line that made me sit up was that an unnamed source claimed Bernie Ecclestone was “very jumpy” (their quotation marks, not mine) over the leadership position, making me wonder if the relationship between Bernie and the AGPC will ever be what it was in Walker’s tenure. Yes, Australia signed a five-year extension to host F1 until 2020, but the date of next year’s race – April 3, the latest start to a season since 1988 – left the door open for a race to be installed before Melbourne to bump Albert Park out of its traditional season-opening slot. How much of that is a coincidence, would that have happened had Walker still been there, and what does it all mean?

And then comes a report a few days later quoting the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) saying all it needed were “a few more meetings” with Ecclestone to sign an agreement to host an F1 race. It’s only July after all, so why couldn’t that race happen in 2016? And in March 2016? It was very unusual for next year’s calendar to be released as early as April, as it was this year – as Jonny Noble mentioned in a column back then, does the length of the season (21 races with the addition of the European GP [2]), no fewer than seven back-to-back race weekends and the later start create room at the beginning of the season for more events? There’s a set of circumstances at play here that all appear independent of one another, but a line can easily be drawn to link them. And when there’s reportedly this sort of money involved, who says more races can’t be added, or existing races moved? Makes the $2 million Essendon was fined in 2013 for its supplements scandal look like small fry in comparison …

Qatar may or may not be on next year’s calendar; one race that has stood the test of time on F1 calendars from day dot is the British Grand Prix, which celebrated its 70th running last Sunday at Silverstone. The old circuit still looks brilliant [3] when the world’s best drivers are giving it all they have (if only in qualifying, but it’s better than nothing), and the atmosphere when the country has a reigning world champion to cheer remains one of the best in the sport. If the weather is good (and that’s a big ‘if’ in England as last weekend proved), there are few better venues.

Our wrap of an enthralling British Grand Prix is the focus of Episode 108 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week – check it out.

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[1] I promise this name will never be used here again, and my apologies.

[2] In Baku, remember. You know, Baku in, er, Europe.

[3] Despite gushing TV commentary to the contrary, it still ranks behind Suzuka and Spa for me. Still have to write that circuit rankings piece …

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One comment

  1. Given the utterly appalling job Little has done at Essendon, why on earth would anyone want him to run anything? He’s not even shown himself to be competent in hiding things that the club would prefer to be hidden – his confrontation style has proved to be appalling, both for football AND for Essendon.

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