FORMER formula one world champion Alan Jones says the Australian Grand Prix has the support of the sport around the world and should not be forced to become a night race for it to have a future in Melbourne.
At a time when the race's long-term future is uncertain given spiralling costs and pressure from abroad, Jones on Wednesday said the Albert Park event, which currently has a late afternoon start and twilight finish, was a favourite on the F1 calendar.
He was confident it would stay in Melbourne so long as the Victorian government wanted it. The government's contract with formula one's governing body to stage the race at Albert Park expires after the 2015 race, and the government and organisers have come under increasing pressure from the sport's supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, to stage the race at night for the benefit of television viewers in Europe.
The massive costs involved - this year's race cost Victorian taxpayers $56.65 million - and a groundswell of local opposition to the race have also cast doubt over its future beyond 2015, although the Baillieu government has said it wants to retain the event. It has also said it opposes a night race.
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation insists the twilight race is useful in showcasing Melbourne to viewers in Asia, and Jones said organisers had struck a fair compromise with Ecclestone and deserved to keep the race beyond 2015. ''From my point of view, as Australians, we've been getting up in the middle of the night to watch European grands prix for the last 25 years,'' said Jones, who on Wednesday marked the anniversary of the first grand prix held at Albert Park by driving the Maybach car his late father, Stan, drove in the 1953 race. ''They [European viewers] can get up to watch one. What we're doing now is a good compromise, starting it later in the day.''
Jones, who claimed the world title in 1980 and ended his F1 career in Adelaide in 1986, said provided the state government was keen, Melbourne's race had plenty of global support despite the eagerness of emerging nations to secure a race.
''All the people involved in formula one just love coming here and so if there had to be a vote taken they'd all put their hand up and say, 'We want to go to Australia','' he said. ''They love coming here, they like the circuit, it's probably one of the best-run grands prix in the world. So on that aspect alone, I think we've got a really good chance of retaining it.''
The Australian Grand Prix Corporation will mark the anniversary of the first race at Albert Park by declaring the first practice day in next year's event ''Heritage Day'' and granting free entry to general admission fans.
Critics have previously accused the corporation of inflating attendance numbers, but chief executive Andrew Westacott denied free entry was designed to boost numbers.
■October's South Korean Grand Prix was hosted at a loss of $US36 million ($A34.85 million), organisers said on Wednesday, raising questions over the future of an event that has been in the red since its inception in 2010.
The only positive sign for organisers was that the 2012 race haemorrhaged less cash - 39.4 billion won ($A35.1 million) - than the previous two. The first race in 2010 ran at an operating loss of 72.6 billion won, while last year's event showed a 61 billion won deficit.
Although the event receives some central funding, the bill is largely born by the taxpayers of South Jeolla province in the country's south-west, where the annual race is held at the Yeongam circuit.
''Just because the loss was reduced … I am not sure we can call this year's race a success,'' Seo Dong-wook, a member of the South Jeolla council, told Yonhap news agency. ''We will need to take some fundamental steps to change it.''
After the 2011 Korean GP, the organising committee warned it could be forced to drop the event because of losses, although formula one boss Ecclestone at the time ruled out a cheaper contract. Negotiations did eventually lead to some concessions, but not enough to bring the event into the black.