F1 chief wants Melbourne race for '50 years'
Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone said on Tuesday he would happily sign a contract for Melbourne to host the Grand Prix for 50 years, declaring "everybody loves Australia".
The sport has a contract with Melbourne until 2015 but beyond that it is up in the air, and other cities have expressed interest in snapping up the event which Ecclestone has previously said is the "least viable" on the F1 calendar.
Ecclestone said he hoped to travel to Melbourne for the season-opening 2013 race on March 17, in a year in which negotiations on a new contract are set to begin.
"Everybody loves Australia, loves Australian people and it's good to be there because it's the first race, it's nice, it's relaxed," he said in an official Australian Grand Prix podcast.
"We hope we're going to be in Melbourne forever, although I understand we do get a little bit of criticism and I don't know why.
"We're happy with Melbourne. I'd be happy to sign a 50-year contract. So we don't have a problem with Melbourne."
Ecclestone revealed that other Australian states had contacted him in attempts to poach the event from Victoria, but he indicated he was determined to keep the race in the southern state's capital.
"We get proposals from other parts, but we're happy in Melbourne," he said.
Ahead of the 2012 race Ecclestone floated the idea of a "divorce from our friends in Melbourne" and "walking away from Australia" when the contract expires.
"The race itself, from our point of view, is probably the least viable of all the races we have," he said then.
Ecclestone also said last year he was keen on a night race, which would fit better with European timezones, helping to sell TV rights there.
Such a move would likely be opposed by residents who live around Melbourne's Albert Park circuit, as well as costing the Victorian state government more to stage.
Last year's race cost taxpayers A$56.7 million (US$58.2 million) – more than the revenue it generates – with A$30 million of that reportedly going to Ecclestone for the right to host the race.
Ecclestone said the fee was "purely what the race cost" and included bringing six jumbo jets full of freight transportation to Australia.
Melbourne has hosted the Grand Prix since 1996.