Melbourne: Organizers of this weekend's Australian Grand Prix say the absence of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone from the season opener should not cast doubt upon the future of the event.
Ecclestone will not attend the Melbourne race. Australian GP Corporation chairman Ron Walker said Ecclestone was in New York for talks with Mayor Michael Bloomberg about a possible future race on Staten Island.
But Andrew Brent, a spokesman for the Bloomberg, said the mayor will not will be meeting with Ecclestone.
Ecclestone had previously expressed impatience at the local government's complaints about the cost of staging the Melbourne race, as well as the seeming impossibility of installing temporary lighting at the street circuit to create a night event to suit European TV audiences.
Walker was quoted on Wednesday as saying the future of the Melbourne race "very secure" beyond its current 2015 contract.
"There is a five-year option there that goes either way, and Mr. Ecclestone recognizes that this is a great city to come to," Walker was quoted as saying on the autosport.com website.
Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle in January questioned the worth of the race to his city and Victoria state given its cost to taxpayers, prompting Ecclestone to say F1 did not need Australia on its calendar.
Walker said he understood Ecclestone's response, but was not concerned for the future of the race.
"I would say the same thing if I was him. If you have the mayor of a capital city criticizing the race and saying we don't really need it as it is too costly, I would turn around and say, 'Well, I'll give it to President Putin, or to the Prime Minister of India, or Korea,'" he said. "The Mayor of New York wants one for Staten Island. So that is what I would be saying — Bernie doesn't want a race to come to a capital city where it is unwelcome."
The Melbourne GP loses an estimated $40 million each year to stage a race at the temporary track around Albert Park in downtown Melbourne.
Walker said one option to cut costs would be to relocate the race to a purpose-built, permanent facility at a site near Avalon Airport, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside Melbourne.
"It would take about three years to build, and the decision would have to be made next year," he said. "Or, as part of the new contract from 2015 going forward. It is something that we will raise with the government very soon after the race."
Doyle had threatened to boycott Sunday's race, but will now be attending to show his support for local businesses. Still he insists the GP's future should be scrutinized.
"It is reasonable that we have a discussion about the grand prix when the time comes, which is when the license fee is up again," he said.