The smell of fuel trackside, the beast-like snarl of engines, a huge and excited crowd … yes, the iconic Formula 1 is once again rolling into Melbourne.
On 25 March, Formula 1 cars will roar off the grid and battle it out over 57 laps at the Formula 1® 2018 Rolex Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. And the key question, no doubt, will be whether homegrown favourite Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull can push to the front or if last year’s title holder, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, can repeat the win.
The Australian Grand Prix, which attracted some 296,600 visitors over the four race days in 2017, has staged the race since it took the mantle from Adelaide in 1996, and will continue to run the event until at least 2023.
We caught up with the race’s chief since 2011, Andrew Westacott.
What do you love most about your CEO role?
First and foremost, I’m a passionate Melburnian and it allows me to promote everything that’s great about Victoria through the Australian Grand Prix and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. The role leverages off my major events involvement at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, my obsession with sport and events in general, and my technical and operational background in project engineering logistics, procurement, supply chain management and manufacturing (I have a Bachelor in Chemical Engineering from RMIT University).
How does the Australian Grand Prix fit in with the Formula 1 ethos?
We’re aligned perfectly to their strategy to deliver the greatest racing spectacle on the planet. Melbourne leads the way when it comes to great racing and world-class fan engagement. As Formula 1 moves from being a motorsport company to more of a media and entertainment brand, we’ll benefit. Being the opening race of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship Season (which consists of 21 grands prix around the world) is a privilege that’ll become more significant as Formula 1 continues its development.
In both 2016 and 2017, the Australian Grand Prix clinched gold in the Major Festivals and Events category at the prestigious RACV Victorian Tourism Awards for putting Melbourne on show globally, boosting the number of passengers using Australia’s second busiest airport and packing out the city’s hotels, bars and restaurants. How do you plan to make this year’s race the best yet?
We need to raise the bar every year and deliver to a standard commensurate with staging rounds of the World Championship, giving the perfect combination of entertainment and value-for-money to our diverse fan base. One example: no other race in the world gives fans access to drivers and teams as they arrive at the circuit each day and move through ‘Melbourne Walk’, making themselves available for autographs and selfies.
With a flyover from F/A-18 fighter jets and the Royal Australian Air Force acrobatic team, The Roulettes, a DJ set by US hip hop outfit The Black Eyed Peas, plus food trucks and a kids zone, there are activities to keep everyone satisfied. How is the race’s audience changing?
It’s hugely diverse, from corporates to families to young event-goers and motorsport enthusiasts. It’s much more than just a race, and as the event offering continues to grow, so too does our audience.
What initiatives are you rolling out in 2018?
We’ll have the biggest support category experience in history. For the first time, Supercars will be racing for points in the Coates Hire Supercars Melbourne 400 – it’s headlining an exciting line-up including the Porsche Wilson Security Carrera Cup Australia, Australian GT Championship and the international Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli – Asia Pacific.
Does the race capture the nation’s attention, along the lines of the Spring Racing Carnival, cricket and AFL (Australian Football League) at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) and the Australian Open tennis?
Yes, it’s a highlight of Melbourne’s major events calendar, contributing to Melbourne’s reputation as the sporting capital of the world, shining a global spotlight on our city and state. We aim to create an action-packed entertainment destination for event-goers who are looking to enjoy a great day out and experience all that Melbourne has to offer – food, culture, music and of course, the world’s best motorsport racing.