With the date for renewal of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix contract fast approaching (the current contract expires after 2015), Australian media attention has been known to shift away from the on-track action in Melbourne, speculating instead on what track the action will take place on in the future. Either for want of political attention, or out of genuine interest, focus for the hosting of the grand prix (held every year in Australia since 1985), has emerged from the posturing of the NSW Government. In recent years, this posturing has taken the form of proposals to host the race around the Olympic Park precinct in Homebush, or at a re-developed Eastern Creek, locations that could be updated to accommodate the ever-growing demand by Bernie Ecclestone for the race to be held at night. “If Sydney had the event Jack, where do you think the race should be?”, is a question I am frequently asked by friends. Before I propose where the Grand Prix should be run were it to be held in Sydney, I should provide justification for it’s layout as while it is ambitious, there is every reason for the NSW government to go to great lengths in securing the rights to the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2016 onwards.
What Sporting Events are Open for Sydney to Host?
There are few sporting events in the world that can profess to be the most watched in the world. Of these sports, fewer still are held every year, at different venues, while still retaining their appeal. If you were to mention the biggest sporting competitions in the world, attention would shift to the Summer Olympic Games, the Winter Olympics, The Football World Cup, The Rugby World Cup and The Cricket World Cup. While there may well be other competitions that fit into this category, I am not aware of other competitions of this size that Australia actively competes in and, as such, would be suitable for Sydney to host. When considering the hosting of these events, the options for Sydney diminish quickly. Firstly the Summer Olympics was achieved in 2000 with supreme success. Climactic conditions mean that the Winter Olympics is impossible to host. Australia made the mistake of bidding rather than buying the hosting rights to the Football World Cup in 2022. Sydney hosted the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup and will host a semi-final for the 2015 Cricket World Cup. The events mentioned above, while certainly bringing the world’s attention to a city, have many limiting factors. Firstly, different countries host these events on each occasion they are staged. Secondly, they only occur every four years. Thirdly, with the exception of the Summer and Winter Olympics, the events are hosted by a nation and not a city. While these events may at present be out of reach of Sydney, these are not the only sporting events that would be considered by any international city.
The next category of events to be considered don’t make the first list because they are sports that participate in the Olympics, which attains a level of prestige, over and above there own competitions. These events are the relevant world championships in athletics, cycling, aquatics and gymnastics, which usually occur on an annual or bi-annual occasion. These events are good for a city in that they are usually undertaken over the course of a week, have strong international support, and are hosted solely by a city rather than a country. However, as with the events above, some do not occur every year and when they do, are hosted in different cities around the world. Of these events it is Melbourne, despite not having the benefit of modern facilities built specifically for the Olympic Games, that have time and again beaten Sydney to the hosting rights. These events include the 2007 FINA World Aquatics Championships, the 2010 UCI Road World Championships and the 2004 and 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships. Yes, Melbourne have hosted an international cycling event twice in eight years!!
The next category of events are arguably some of the largest in the world however, their obvious disadvantage is that while they are hosted by a city, occur every year, and attract an enormous global attention, the strength of their appeal is surrounded in their presence in the same country or city every year. Events like the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the Masters, the Superbowl (United States of America), the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500, the Isle of Man TT, the Champions League Final (Europe), The Kentucky Derby and The FA Cup to name a few. The simple reason for this is that the success of these events depends largely upon the venue in which they are held. What can be taken from these events is the immense value that can be attained by a city hosting a sporting event and what qualities are needed to create such an event.
What Makes a Sporting Event Prestigious?
I have been very fortunate to have witnessed some of the events above first-hand and almost every year I make a concerted effort to watch all of the events mentioned above on television. One argument against the suggestion that a Formula 1 race in Sydney could attain the status as one of the greatest annual sporting events in the world is that, with the exception of the Superbowl, they posses an extensive history built up over a great deal of time. While history is important, the ability for these events to create this history is largely because the events share at least two qualities; they provide unique challenges within their sport, and they are aesthetically beautiful. Further I would suggest that Formula 1, unlike other sports, take a lot less time to develop a rich history and prestige among the sporting landscape.
Firstly, it is not hard to point out the unique challenges posed by some of the greatest sporting events. Wimbledon provides the challenge of grass court tennis, the Tour De France provides riders with the immense challenges of the Pyrenees and the Alps, the Monaco Grand Prix places the worlds most advanced racing cars in the confines of the narrown streets of Monte Carlo for almost two hours straight, the Isle of Man TT is arguably the most dangerous sporting event in the world with 1000cc motorcycles reaching speeds of 300km/h on closed public roads, the Masters presents competitors with the challenging Augusta National Golf Course and The FA Cup provides an annual knockout competition that pits all FA registered football teams in England against each other.
From a spectacle point of view it is hard to argue with these events. Be it the glamour and beauty of the French Riviera backdrop that only the principality of Monaco can provide, the immaculate beauty of the Augusta National golf course and Wimbledon tennis facilities, the sheer scale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the sheer beauty of France itself, these events entice the audience to not only watch the event on television but to experience it first hand.
Using the examples of some of the biggest annual sporting events in the world, it is apparent that were Sydney to choose Homebush or Eastern Creek as the venue to stage the Australian Grand Prix it would immediately fail to provide either a unique challenge to the drivers or a unique spectacle to television audiences. In fact Formula 1 has shown on numerous occasions that any event lacking character or appeal will quickly find itself struggling for renewal on the Grand Prix circus. Korea looks set to join Istanbul on this list, why Hungary didn’t join it years ago is a mystery to most Formula 1 fans. The right to host a Formula 1 race is not cheap, some say in the region of $50 million dollars a year, so it’s the old saying that you have to spend money to make money that is never more appropriate in this situation. But how does an event like Formula 1 justify such expense in comparison with other sports?
Why Formula 1?
Because the contract to host the Australian Grand Prix is up for renewal and there is increasing angst within the ranks of the current hosts to continue is not a good enough reason for Sydney to take the reigns of what is a very costly event. Formula 1 does provide the host city with some very appealing aspects. The primary advantage is that the playing field can be the city that you are promoting. Unlike most sports where the event is confined to an arena, a street race provides the coverage of a race to be part sport, part comercial to the features of the host city. However, the only way this can be taken full advantage of is by hosting the event in and around the greatest qualities of the host city, and while there is certainly nothing offensive about the Homebush Olympic precinct, it simply doesn’t compare to what is arguably the most picturesque city in the world.
As the locality of the race will reveal, the event would serve to highlight the ongoing re-development of the enormous Barangaroo precinct which would be under constant transformation throughout the hosting of the race.
A constant threat to the host of any event of this kind is the damage that Formula 1 has on the environment. However, by 2016 the sports ambition to have the main source of the cars power derived from renewable forms of energy will have come into full effect, making an event through the streets of Sydney, highly desirable to the image of Formula 1. In recent years Bernie Ecclestone has not concealed his preference to have Formula 1 events in close proximity to large population bases. When asked about the French Grand Prix being held near Paris, Ecclestone stated that he would sign an agreement today if he could arrange such a venue. Recent years have shown an increasing preference to daring street-track venues with Singapore debuting in 2008, a New Jersey street circuit to debut in 2013 and a further street track in Argentina has also been proposed.
One thing should be made clear however, the image of Sydney as a harbour city with beautiful weather, lends itself to the race only being held in the city provided their is a guarantee that it be held in the afternoon and not at night as requested by Bernie Ecclestone.
The Track Layout
Starting on Hickson Road alongside the current Barangaroo construction site, the cars would head north heading towards turn 1 and the flying right hand kink before the finger wharfs at Millers Point. The cars would go under the dual bridges, keeping to the inside to ensure the optimal entrance into the first breaking point on the circuit. The enclosed nature of the opening turn would enhance the sound of the cars as the approach turn 2.
Turn 2 sees the cars turn left onto Towns Place and commence the climb up alongside the harbour front. The turn is wide and newly laid with adequate run-off to be accommodated for down Hickson Road. The newly constructed apartments and public sculpture together with the close proximity of the theatre district would make this a very lively area during the day and night of the race weekend.
Turn 3 sees the cars continue up the hill, taking the tight left hander onto Dalgety Road. As the photo below shows, this beautiful turn provides the spectator with the first opportunity to see the close proximity of the harbour. Again, the road is very wide and it’s gradient would pose no difficulty to a modern Formula 1 car.
Winding up Dalgety Road, the cars would approach turn 4, being the double apex left-hander onto Windmill Street. The road provides the first of a unique two cross-over layout, with the opening turn 1 below. Windmill is a narrower road but would still be in excess of three cars wide. Some work would be needed to reduce the undulation of the road but this would only bring a benefit to the businesses located on the road.
Turn 5 sees the cars turn left onto Lower Fort Street and commence the descent into the Rocks area of the circuit. The corner is quite complex with the entry being uphill and the exit being downhill. From an aesthetic perspective, the presence of the Hero of Waterloo hotel on the outside of the turn is distinctive of the area of Sydney and is the first of a number of heritage-listed sandstone hotels/pubs that overlook the circuit. It would be essential that these establishments be able to operate during the course of the race weekend and for the owners to be able to profit by having the ability to sell exclusive ticketing opportunities to maximum amount of patrons, thus ensuring the control of spectators and safety around the venue. Lower Fort Street is wide enough but would need to be resurfaced, hopefully while still maintaining the character of the road, distinguished by the lines of sandstone on either side of the road.
The view down Lower Fort Street brings the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge into view on the circuit for the first time. The cars then take the tight right hand turn at turn 6 with the Harbour View Hotel located on the inside and proceed to go under the Harbour Bridge itself. The cars then turn right again at turn 7 to progress along Cumberland Street. The braking area at turn 6 has room for adequate run off area proceeding down Lower Fort Street. It is important to note that for such a large lay out, Lower Fort Street is one of only a few parts of the circuit that travels past residential properties and it is these home owners that would need to be catered for.
The blast up and along Cumberland St takes the drivers past some more iconic establishments including the Glenmore Hotel, The Australian Hotel, the Shangri-Lah Hotel and the newly built Sydney Harbour YHA. It also provides for the second cross-over on the circuit as the cars go over Argyle Street. The breaking point at turn 8 poses the greatest difficulty in terms of run-off as there is a newly constructed park area in front of the Stamford apartments however with the removal of light poles this could be made safe.
Turn 8 is a tight downhill left hand corner into Essex Street and it is here where the most road work would have to be done. As the photo below shows, there is a great deal of room to take away the railing and footpath on the left, move the road further to the left and reinstall the railing closer to the building. This would not be unwelcome as it would greater improve the access to the Shangri-La Hotel and the road surface itself is due for repair anyway.The road runs past Hart’s pub, shown on the right of the photo below.
Turn 9 is the immediate right into Gloucester Street and one of the prettiest sections of the track. The quick downhill change of direction at turns 8 and 9 following the Cumberland Street Straight would be very impressive. Down Gloucester street and through the trees with the sandstone Lawson-Menzies building to one side and Lang Park directly ahead, the track emerges into the city section.
Turn 10 is the left hand bend onto Grosvenor Street which leads down to the intersection with George Street and turns 11 and 12. Utilising the extensive width of the roads, the circuit could be shaped to ensure that turn 11 onto George and then turn 12 onto Bridge Street is not taken as a flat out chicane. This is the furthest part of George Street, away from the harbour, that would be affected by the race track.
Heading down Bridge Street, the cars would approach turn 13 onto Gresham Street, with the heritage-listed land departments building on the outside of the turn.
Next is the Left hand turn 14 onto Bent Street which leads the cars uphill and through the right hand sweep past the some of the newly built buildings in the city including the carbon neutral 1 Bligh Street building, the Governor Phillip and Macquarie Tower, Chifley Tower, and the Renzo Piano designed RBS Building and residential apartments, before arriving at the top of Bent Street at the intersection with Macquarie Street.
Turn 15 is the very wide left hand turn into Macquarie Street. The corner is the furthest point up Macquarie Street that the track occupies and provides the Eastern boundary of the circuit. The corner is notable for the backdrop of the Mitchell Library and the proximity of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Turn 16 is the left hand bend onto Bridge Street. The corner takes into view the Conservatorium of Music, the Inter-Continental Hotel, and the Industrial Relations Commission Building. Again the road is very wide.
Turn 17 is the right hand turn onto Loftus Street which leads the cars down towards Circular Quay. It is at this point that a connecting road could be accommodated to allow for track officials to short-cut the circuit, much in the same way as is done in Singapore.
Turn 18 is the left hand bend onto Alfred Street. It is this point of the track which is closest to the Opera House precinct and could be incorporated into any wide angle shot. It is also the closest that the track gets to Sydney Harbour.
Turn 19 is the left hand bend back on to George Street at the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel. The cars intentionally do not go right into The Rocks area as this will serve to provide a social precinct at night and during the day, straddling the track at turns 6, 19 and 22. This will ensure all businesses in the entertainment precinct of the Rocks are able to fully benefit from the Grand Prix by being close to the circuit and benefiting from the creation of the Rocks and Circular Quay areas into pedestrian precincts.
Turn 20 and 21 are the uphill right hand turn at Essex Street and the right hand turn onto Harrington Street. While steep, the gradient of the turn would need to be addressed. However, the street is wide enough to accommodate Formula 1 cars.
Harrington straight is perhaps the most narrow of the roads used on the circuit layout but by no means any narrower than streets used in Monaco and Singapore. The straight leads to the left hand turn 22 at Argyle Street which leads through the tunnel back underneath Cumberland Street and back into Millers Point and down to turn 23.
Turn 23 is a beautiful left hand turn onto Kent Street with Observatory Hill on the inside and with the heritage-listed Lord Nelson Hotel overlooking the track on the outside.
Down Kent Street Straight and the blast all the way down to the right hand turn 24 at Napoleon Street which is a beautifully wide and flowing corner which leads downhill onto Hickson Road, but not before there is a little tricky left right flick onto the start/finish straight to start a new lap. Kent street poses some difficulties including the removal of some pedestrian islands where the Harbour Bridge turn off is but with some temporary fixtures installed it provides a very fast conclusion to the lap, with adequate run-off area and a good opportunity to overtake.
So that is one lap around the Sydney Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit. Hope you enjoyed the track guide and let’s hope that a multi-purpose facility can be constructed in Barrangaroo or that the building plans leave the possibility for Sydney to embrace this world-class event in a manner that portrays Sydney in the best possible light and the Grand Prix as a sporting fans must.