As Albert Park gets back to its normal role as a leafy, up-market suburb of Melbourne, the buzz of another powerhouse F1 Grand Prix still hangs in the air. After four days of partying, screeching engines and wall to wall celebs and heady petrol fumes, the traditional kick-off to the F1 season has once again delivered.
In fact, the vibe and energy of the Melbourne event is being seen by many as a model for the sport as its new owners spin their wheels and surge off the mark in their first year in charge.
Some say F1 as a brand has been suffering somewhat from creeping elitism that may be characteristic of the previous owner, Bernie Ecclestone. Further, issues of environmental sustainability have underlined the sense that the sport cost too much and was out of touch.
Global TV audiences have fallen by 40 per cent since 2008.
Clearly, the brand needs a revamp and, In this context, Melbourne’s more open approach and its laid back atmosphere looks to provide the key to turning the product around.
According to new F1 owners, Liberty Media, Melbourne is already being seen as the template for the sport.
F1’s new head of commercial operations, Sean Bratches, in Melbourne to view the season opener, says Melbourne has set a standard to be matched.
“I think they have done a fantastic job here,” he told media.
“I have been extremely impressed with their creativity and ingenuity and what they have created from a fan experience point of view around the circuit.”
The new owners are looking to bring fans closer to the action and incorporate them more into the event, make them part of the show. It’s a little like major recording artists watching traditional record sales plummeting and being forced to focus on touring. For F1 and Liberty Media, Melbourne’s hands on, eye to eye strategy maybe the new normal.
The focus in Melbourne is very much on the public, with four days of events embracing the Grand Prix. Melbourne’s legendary cultural and culinary genius is leading the way.
According to the Melbourne event’s CEO, “We’ve tried to be innovative”
This has been reflected in an increase in corporate hospitality sales by 10 per cent in the latest F1.
The organisers are looking at ways to reach out through social media and better access between fans and race participants, a subversion of the Ecclestone approach. The decidedly mainstream vibe of Melbourne allows this strategy to breath.
Grand Prix week in Melbourne has become part of the vernacular.
An important part of the hum of expectation is tying in with the beginning of the start of the season for the Australian Football League (AFL).
It’s an addition to the space encouraged by Aussie F1 high flier, and AFL fan, Daniel Ricciardo.
“I’ve encouraged some of the F1 people to go to the footy,’’ he said. “I’m like ‘if you get a chance see the game because it’s awesome’, especially at the ’G would be pretty epic.’’
It may be hard for Albert Park to compete with historic venues like the UK’s Silverstone, Italy’s Monza or Monaco’s thrilling Monte Carlo street circuit in pure wow-factor terms. But, Melbourne offers a lot in terms of urban access, add-on events and all round ambience for dyed in the wool rev-heads that these venues can’t match.
Melbourne is well placed to become the go-to for other F1 venues and the sport’s fan experience around the world. With a guarantee to host the event until 2023, organisers have plenty of time to further perfect the art.