This week, the 2008 season kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix. This means, for me in the UK, at least, an early start. The race will begin at 4:30 am, with our television coverage featuring a build up for an hour before.
Bernie Ecclestone has been questioning the future of the Australian race, given this early hour. He would prefer a more mainstream hour for the race to start at, especially as it is the first one of the season. Essentially, he has given the Australian organisers an ultimatum: hold a night race, or you wonít be holding any race at all.
A compromise has been offered, however. This year, the start time has been delayed by 90 minutes, to try and make things a little bit friendlier for the main European audience. If this is successful, and sees an increase in viewing figures, organisers have offered to delay it another 90 minutes. This means the race would start at 5pm local time, and 6am in the UK. Officials draw the line at a night race, because the added expense of lighting and safety would be too much for the event to handle. Theyíd have to raise ticket prices and that would only be a deterrent for people actually attending the race.
So for now, this is how the land lies. It seems remarkably unfair for the Australian audience, if their race was cancelled due to the needs of an audience thousands of miles away. However, Europe hosts the majority of the viewers, and Bernie wants to make sure that as many people are watching F1 as possible.
Perhaps things will be different after the Singapore race this year. The first ever F1 night race, Singapore will be an experiment, a test, to see how it works. Already, the first ever MotoGP night race has taken place, and seems to have been a success. A few rogue shadows caused some concern, but nothing major that canít be solved.
If the Singapore race was a resounding success, it may convince other countries that night racing is an acceptable way to hold the event. It is more expensive, but itís the way Bernie wants things to go, and unfortunately, he holds all the cards.
For now, it is worth forgetting the uncertainty surrounding the future of the Australian Grand Prix. In less than five days, we will see the cars take to the track, and the 2008 season will have begun. Even though it means getting up at crazy hours in the morning, I canít wait.