Ron Walker, the promoter of the F1 race in Melbourne, has been making all kinds of stink about the quieter engines that graced the streets of Albert Park. Even before the FIA excluded the Australian Daniel Ricciardo from his podium, the newspapers were printing vitriol about the lack of engine noise. Add this to the fact that there is growing resentment from the citizens that the Queensland government continues to shell out an exorbitant $50 million a year to subsidize the race, it would be fair to say that the future of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne is at least being called in to question.
Ron is threatening to sue Formula 1 Management for breach of contract since they didn’t provide him with loud engines. While it is doubtful that there is a decibel level specified in his contract, there could be wiggle room to argue about a bait and switch. Ron is also talking about getting all the race promoters together and suing F1 en masse. And he has again brought up the idea of switching Melbourne to IndyCar for a much cheaper price of $3.5 million.
Why Ron’s Blather Makes No Sense
If Ron truly plans on suing for breach of contract, he would be suing Formula 1 Management. That would be the end of any chance of the race in Melbourne continuing past the end of it’s contract next year. And by blasting the product and threatening to sue in the media, he is further destabilizing any support from both citizens and politicians to continue subsidizing F1.
Further, the idea of bringing IndyCar to Melbourne for a mere $3.5 million is laughable. It would cost more than that just for the freight to get the teams and equipment over there. Something on the order of $15-$20 million sounds more reasonable, especially when you consider that the teams have very few sponsors that are interested in the Australian market.
Whats Really Going On?
All this seems pretty specious, until you throw in one other fact. Ron Walker and Bernie Ecclestone are great pals. Ron and Bernie both have been making noise about these quieter engines since early last year. Ron was threatening the IndyCar switch last year, along with several other F1 race promoters who joined his loose coalition. So it would be fair to say that there is concern from several camps that the quieter cars will not help them sell more tickets or gain more TV revenues.
But also there is this other little specter of a trial coming up next month in Germany. Bernie is being taken to court over allegedly paying $50 million bribe to a banker to convince him to sell a German bank’s shares of the F1 media rights to CVC capital partners who had agreed to have Bernie continue as the F1 dictator in chief. That German banker is already doing time after being convicted of receiving this bribe.
If one were conspiracy minded, one would think it does F1 no good to have its leader trashing the product in the media. If one were conspiracy minded, one would think that Bernie might be encouraging his friend Ron and his pet media outlets to make all the noise they could over this issue. The last thing he wants them to do is pay attention to this upcoming trial.