Australian Grand Prix bosses have played down the significance of Bernie Ecclestone's decision not to attend this year's Formula 1 season opener.
With contract talks looming amid ever increasing questions from local media and race sceptics about the benefits of holding the race, the Albert Park promoters do not believe Ecclestone's absence has any link to the future of the event.
Speaking to media in Melbourne on Tuesday, Australian GP CEO Andrew Westacott said that Ecclestone's absence was no concern, and that talks to frame a fresh deal were not scheduled to begin until later this year.
"Bernie Ecclestone runs a business that spans 19 or 20 races, and he is simply unable to come this weekend," explained Westacott. "But he knows the event gets delivered here to the standards of F1.
"The government has always said that the negotiations are going to take place early next year or later this year, so it changes nothing from our point of view.
"The contract finishes in 2015, so there is no need to rush it. Our job this weekend is simply to put on an event that every Melbournian can be proud of."
Ecclestone said recently that he hoped F1 would stay for good in Australia.
"Everybody loves Australia, and it's good to be there," Ecclestone said in an interview with the Australian GP's official podcast. "I understand we do get a little bit of criticism but I don't know why. We're happy with Melbourne and I'd be happy to sign a 50-year contract.
"We don't have a problem with Melbourne; we hope we're going to be [there] forever."