At Australian Grand Prix, Melbourne’s tribute to F1 great Schumacher
Sunday’s race will be different. Shortly before the start, a simple message for a celebrated and critically ill champion will flash on to the big screens around the Albert Park circuit; a tribute to Michael Schumacher and message of support for this family.
Schumacher won in Melbourne four times. During Ferrari’s celebrated rule at the start of this century, he was the driver who painted the town red. Like Andre Agassi at the Australian Open, he owned this city, albeit for a weekend. When he wasn’t setting lap records, he could be seen playing football at a suburban park or looking down from giant billboards with a gleaming, Swiss time piece prominent on his wrist.
This week at Albert Park, all of Formula One will gather for the first time since Schumacher struck a rock while skiing in the French Alps and sustained a life-threatening head injury. He has been in coma for two months. According to recent reports from the University of Grenoble hospital, his prognosis is unchanged and bleak.
Australian Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott said Schumacher would be “front of mind” for many at the track next weekend. After consulting with Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management, local organisers are putting the final touches on a video tribute that will celebrate Schumacher’s seven world championships, his race wins at Albert Park and send a message of support to his wife and children.
“There is very much a family of people involved in this,” Westacott told The Australian.
“The people who work in the teams have often worked at various teams in the Formula one paddock. It is their show. He is one of the stars of their show. So we are working with Formula One to make sure it is done in a correct fashion and a dignified fashion.
“Michael is alive. There is a balancing act. We want to think optimistically about him pulling through. We will pay tribute to Michael and we will send a message of support to Michael. The coming together of the Formula One family on the grid at a circuit that he won four times will be an important time for people to remember Michael at the start of a new season.”
This will be Westacott’s eighth race since joining the Australian Grand Prix Corporation from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and his fourth as chief executive. He is not a high profile figure, nor a familiar face. But with little fuss and less fanfare, he has steered the event through an important corner.
For the first time since the race was poached by the Kennett government from Adelaide, there is no serious debate, political or otherwise, about its future. Where previous contract negotiations with Formula One Management were marked by Ecclestone threatening to take his race elsewhere, the F1 boss is now publicly boosting the prospects of the race staying in Melbourne beyond 2015.
According to Westacott, the sensitive issue of the race start time has not been raised in current negotiations. Both Ecclestone and the Australian race management are happy to stay with a 5pm green light.
Financially, the race still loses money but the extent of the losses are being mitigated by improved revenue across corporate sales, sponsorship, grand stand sales and general admission. Last year’s cost to Victorian taxpayers of $50.7 million.