Every year leading up to the Australian Grand Prix there are stories in the local press that suggest the event could be moved to a new venue where Bernie Ecclestone can hold a night race and the annual running costs will be far less. Albert Park has long been under pressure given the immense cost of staging the race (even before the FOM fees are taken into account) and there are plenty that believe the Australian Grand Prix’s future lies elsewhere.
There have recently been rumours of an F1 circuit being built along the runways at Avalon Airport in Melbourne’s south west. In the past there has also been talk of a new racetrack at Flemington Racecourse on the outskirts of the city. More radical stories have suggested that Sydney’s Eastern Creek circuit could be upgraded to F1 standard, or that totally a new permanent facility would be built in south east Queensland to host the Grand Prix as well as the WRC.
Despite the whispers, Albert Park is still the best overall venue for the race. The circuit is great for drivers and fans, it is close to the centre of Melbourne, and TV images of the scenic parkland align with the Government’s tourism agenda.
However, there is one other venue in Melbourne that might be suitable should the race ever move in the future.
Phillip Island is a fantastic world-class circuit and is a highlight of the MotoGP season. It is easily one of the most beautiful and exciting racetracks in the world.
The Phillip Island circuit was built in 1956, roughly thirty years after the public roads around the island hosted the first race to be called the ‘Australian Grand Prix‘. The circuit started running local touring car races and burst onto the international stage in 1989 when it secured a round of the World Motorcycle Championship. The track has been a regular feature of the international biking scene ever since and is one of the most popular venues in MotoGP.
With a few subtle modifications that I have suggested in the map below, the track could be used to host a Formula One Grand Prix.
Not only that, but the venue could become one of the most popular in the sport. It isn’t hard to see why.
The circuit is a fantastic challenge for drivers and would produce some spectacular high speed racing. It is similar to the older style of racetrack that Formula One used to visit in the sixties, much like Watkins Glen or Mosport Raceway. It would be very exciting to watch a Grand Prix car tackle the sweeping curves and elevation changes, and it would almost like an entire circuit of Maggots and Becketts from Silverstone.
With an increasing number of generic mid-speed circuits in Formula One, Phillip Island would be a very welcome addition to the championship. It would also suit the modern regulations as tyre wear would be a critical factor and would certainly liven up the racing without refuelling.
The only concern with the venue is that its fast flowing nature might not suit overtaking, and that’s primarily why some minor changes would be required.
Below is a map of Phillip Island with a few hypothetical alterations that I have suggested. I have added 700 metres onto the circuit’s length with a hairpin down behind the Southern Loop. I have also tightened the Honda corner which increases its braking distance. The effect of these two changes is that it turns the circuit into one where F1 cars can race closely without ruining any of the existing classic corners.
These changes could potentially work for a number of reasons. The first is they follow the standard formula for overtaking with long straights and tight corners.
The second is they don’t ruin the nature or character of the circuit. All of the existing fast corners are untouched and there is no tight or twisty addition like the new section of track in Bahrain.
These alterations would also make good use of the land available and are certainly not impractical or overly expensive. If the circuit was to be modified this way, the disruption to normal activity during construction would be minimal. It’s also worth noting the old track layout could still be used for MotoGP and touring cars for which it is so well suited.
The Phillip Island circuit was bought by the Linfox Group in 2004 and its facilities were significantly upgraded two years later. Linfox is a large transport company with an annual turnover of roughly two billion dollars so it is no gutless backer. The company bought the circuit with the goal of building a five star golf resort nearby and would love to make the venue more of a tourist attraction. The global financial crisis dented those plans but Linfox would possibly jump at the chance to invest more if there was a promise of a Grand Prix contract.
If the Australian GP ever moved to Phillip Island in the future, there would be a lot of work required to ensure the race was managed properly.
The main issue is aesthetics. Phillip Island is one of the most beautiful and picturesque circuits in the world and that’s responsible for much its charm. The rolling green hills are great for TV, especially with ocean views in the background, and from some angles the MotoGP race looks like a blast along open country roads. Ruining that with F1 spec fencing and tarmac run-off areas would be a crime against common sense and would defeat the purpose of holding the race there. There must be a way to integrate modern F1 safety without it being intrusive.
I’d rather see a Formula One Grand Prix at my local go kart track than at an uglier version of Phillip Island.
Out of interest, has anyone ever tired painting the hurricane fencing a darker colour so that doesn’t stand out as much as bare aluminium?
Phillip Island would be one of the more dangerous circuits on the F1 calendar and the safety requirements laid out by the FIA could stop the race from ever going there, even before aesthetics come into play. The straights could be deemed too long and too fast, the hill near the back of the circuit could be too steep, and the available runoff might not be adequate. Grass is fine for a tumbling MotoGP bike, but it isn’t so great for a spinning Formula One car. I would like to think the circuit could be satisfactorily upgraded for F1 machinery but I am not an expert on the matter and won’t pretend to be.
Another obstacle to an F1 race at Phillip Island would be the environmental movement. Outside of motorcycle racing, Phillip Island is best known for its penguin parade and there are more fur seals living in the area than people. The wildlife attracts a staggering 3.5 million tourists per year, which means its survival is crucial to the economy as well as the environment. Whilst the circuit is already home to a MotoGP round along with semi regular rock concerts, the extra building works, extra visitors, and perhaps even the noise from a Formula One race could be enough to disrupt the local environment and prevent the event from going ahead.
However, the circuit has the potential to be a sensational addition to the Formula One World Championship.
Just as long as it’s done properly.
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