Ever since the first Grand Prix in Melbourne back in 2006, Australia’s Formula One event has been something of a political hot potato. Depending on your view, it is either a unique tourism opportunity, generating worldwide exposure and a not insignificant economic impact, or an unnecessary – and noisy – drain on the public purse. This year’s race attracted a four-day, Thursday-to-Sunday, crowd of 323,000 people, the highest overall total since 2005. However, the 103,000 figure for Sunday’s race was slightly down on 2012.
The Lotus position
Kimi Raikkonen was a very popular winner of the opening Grand Prix of the year and inevitably the focus has quickly turned to whether his Lotus team can sustain its impressive form to allow the Finn to mount a significant title challenge. Ultimately, the team’s ability to continue developing its car may come down to money, with Lotus not currently in the same financial league as the likes of Red Bull Racing, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes. Speaking to SportsPro immediately prior to the season, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier insisted he was “not envious” of better-funded rivals, adding: “Definitely the target is to get more resources, more money, more budget, but my target is to keep the spirit and the culture we have here. We would like to keep this efficiency in the way we are spending money, in the way we are performing because, for me, in the future, it could be one of the assets where you can go and see huge corporate companies and say ‘yes, we have money, we are doing an expensive sport, but we are very rational about what we are doing and that efficiency word is part of our daily vocabulary now’.”
Watching the clock
The Australian Grand Prix marked Rolex’s official arrival in Formula One, the luxury watchmaker having signed a major deal to become the sport’s official timepiece late last year and then signing a separate deal to title sponsor the Melbourne event. The company certainly didn’t stint on its branding, virtually blanketing the Albert Park circuit for its debut, with signage aplenty and a large section of grass painted in Rolex green and gold. The company is also sponsoring Formula One broadcasts on Sky Sports in the UK and NBC in the United States. “It feels so natural for Rolex to be part of Formula One,” said Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time world champion who has been a Rolex ambassador for some 45 years. The company also unveiled a Rolex clock above the pit-lane, which will be present at every race this season. Similar clocks are already displayed at more than 150 sporting events around the world, including Wimbledon – indeed, Rolex will have felt quite at home on Saturday in Melbourne when rain stopped play.
The United States and Russia represent two areas of huge opportunity for growth for Formula One and there was positive news on both fronts over the weekend. In the States, NBC covered its first Grand Prix since acquiring the rights last autumn. Not only will NBC’s platforms increase the number of homes the sport reaches in comparison with its previous home on Speed – 13 races this year will be on NBC Sports Network, two on CNBC and four, including Monaco, on the main NBC network – but they offer significant promotional opportunities and additional programming. Russian-owned Marussia, meanwhile, has signed a partnership with Russian betting firm BC Liga Stavok, which could see the company promote the sport in its 500-plus branches across 120 cities in the country. Ahead of the first Russian Grand Prix, planned for November 2014 in the Olympic city of Sochi, that kind of boost could be worth its weight in gold to Formula One.
The last call
Vodafone’s decision not to renew its title sponsorship of the McLaren team beyond the end of 2013 was confirmed on Thursday, ahead of a dismal weekend for the British team. Already facing the loss of a star driver and its technical director, plus the new burden of having to pay for its supply of Mercedes engines, the team appears calm about the loss up of to US$75 million from its annual budget – but, all things considered, it is a less than ideal start to the season. Potential Vodafone replacements include Telmex, a long-time backer of the team’s new driver Sergio Perez; GlaxoSmithKline, a McLaren strategic partner since 2011 which is contracted until 2016; or even Honda, which is strongly tipped for a return to Formula One as an engine supplier to the team in 2015.