The Australian Grand Prix Corporation’s long-serving chairman, Ron Walker, has confirmed he will retire after next year’s Grand Prix, the twentieth to be held in Melbourne.
His replacement – subject to a simple rubber-stamping by the AGPC board – will be John Harnden, the company’s former CEO, who is currently heading up the organising committee for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, being held in Australia and New Zealand.
Walker (pictured above) has had a high profile in Australian sports and politics. A former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Walker has earned hundreds of millions of dollars through co-founding the Crown Casino empire, in addition to senior leadership positions held in the conservative Australian Liberal Party.
It was in partnership with then-Victorian state premier that he successfully lobbied his long-time friend Bernie Ecclestone into moving the Australian Grand Prix to Melbourne from 1996 onwards, where it has remained ever since with Walker at the helm. It is well-known that Ecclestone will only deal with Walker when it comes to renegotiating the Australian Grand Prix contract.
Walker is now 74 and the once burly figure of the Melbourne paddock is becoming increasingly frail after suffering a fall and, subsequently, a number of cancer scares.
“It’s good governance to let someone fresh take the reins,” Walker told the News Limited newspaper group.
Walker confirmed that the negotiations to extend the Australian Grand Prix’s contract beyond its current 2015 deadline are well advanced, with the final agreement – as ever – coming down to the event’s sanctioning fee, which is largely subsidised by the Victorian state taxpayers.
“It’s now a case of talking to the government about whether it is worth it or not, I think everyone in the government wants the race. The assessment is going to be made over the price,” Walker added.
“We are asking for three extra years. We are not like the Arab states and some other countries — we have to be very careful the way we spend taxpayers’ money.”
Given Walker’s hand-in-hand relationship with Ecclestone, it was also little surprise to see chief figures in the AGPC – most notably Walker himself – aligning to Ecclestone’s recent criticism of the lack of noise produced by the new-generation Formula 1 cars.
That may be the case – and this criticism extends to the ‘old school’ folk in the media who have made the same whinges – but it also serves to underscore how poor a job the sport’s figureheads have done in failing to focus the public’s attention on what was actually happening last weekend: the new, amazing technology being introduced that will ultimately have a flow-on benefit to the broader automotive industry.
Speaking earlier this week, Walker made some particularly ridiculous assertions that Formula One was in “breach of contract” over the lost engine decibels. That is an utterly laughable claim, along with the other assertions that the reduced engine noise will lead to reduced crowd numbers and lower sponsorship revenue.
One might dare suggestion that the lack of engine noise is far less of a problem than the sport itself having the overhanging cloud of a CEO who has refused to stand down despite being indicted for criminal activities.
A few missing decibels are, frankly, the least of the sport’s problems at the moment.