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Drivers give backing to Australian GP

Drivers at the press conference in AustraliaFormula One drivers have given their backing for the Australian Grand Prix to be retained on the Formula One calendar.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has threatened to ditch the race from the schedule after 2010 unless organisers agree to stage it at night to suit European television.

But the drivers, many of whom made their race debuts at the season-opening event at Melbourne's Albert Park, say they hope it survives.

"I really like this country. There is a fantastic atmosphere around the town," Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella told a news conference on Friday.

"I have great memories of Melbourne. I had my first race here in 1996 and I won here in 2005.

"It's a special place for me and it would be nice to keep coming here in the future."

Mark Webber, the only current Australian driver in Formula One, has been a strong supporter of the race and said everything should be done to keep it.

"The Australian Grand Prix has been going for over 20 years so there is a lot of history here," Webber said.

"There have been a lot of historic moments and special drivers that have come here to race and we should really keep that in mind and embrace it.

"I think we need to work hard to try and continue to keep the event here, irrespective of whether there's an Australian on the grid or not."

He added: "I know it's a long way to come from Europe in terms of logistics ...but once everyone gets here and settles in, it's a great event.

"It's a safe city as well which is useful because not all the cities we go to are safe so we can relax and enjoy it."

Finland's Heikki Kovalainen only made his debut at Melbourne last year but said he was already warming to the event.

"For me it's great. Coming from Finland, I get a bit of a sun tan over here," he joked.

"I don't mind where they start the season but this is a great country and I hope we keep the race in Australia."

Ecclestone's threat to cancel the race has been front page news in the local media in the build-up to the race but local politicians are tiring of the newspaper speculation and say they have no intentions of staging the event at night.

Victoria state premier John Brumby said he planned to meet with Ecclestone later in the year to discuss the matter privately but would not engage in a public slanging match.

"I'm not in the business really of wanting to run a public debate with Bernie Ecclestone about the Grand Prix," Brumby told reporters on Friday.

"There are ways of negotiating these issues and we'll sit down with him at the appropriate time and negotiate the issues, but I don't intend to do it publicly."

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