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How Aus F1 round isn't about selling cars

Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo will take to the track at the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

As the F1 machines thrill the fans trackside at Albert Park next weekend, the big-name marques will make tactical moves on potential buyers in the hospitality precinct.

The Australian Grand Prix brings out the heavyweights of the car business but they won't all be involved on the track.

As Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Honda, McLaren and Renault compete in the race, other prestige marques will be doing their best to bathe in the reflected limelight.

Bentley has timed the local launch of its Bentayga to coincide with the event, while Porsche has commandeered the Albert Park track for a customer romp in the lead-up to the first race of the 2016 season.

Outside the Formula One paddock, customers and supporters will dip into five-star hospitality as the brands work to ensure the rub-off from the race creates fresh sales.

"The grand prix is a great opportunity for us. People who are interested in cars and driving come to the grand prix," says Renault spokeswoman Emily Fadeyev.

"Our Renault Sport models are always popular but we have the full range so people can see everything that we offer. The event works well for us, beyond having a factory Renault team back in the grand prix."

In the past, the AGP has hosted such exotics as the Bugatti Veyron that was never sold here and the $2 million Porsche 918 hybrid road car, taken on track laps last year by Mark Webber and Eric Bana.

Mercedes-Benz spends many millions. It stages the Ultimate Speed Comparison — where a road-going C63 AMG lines up against a Benz GT3 racer and a Formula One car on a one-lap sprint — and has the biggest hospitality precinct at Albert Park.

The reigning F1 champion, and an engine supplier beyond its own factory team with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the German brand has been working the AGP for more than a decade.

"Winning is the preference, of course, but in motorsport you never know if you're going to win," says spokesman David McCarthy.

"So every year we try to do something that's of interest to our customers. Selling cars is not the objective, it's about an opportunity they can't get anywhere else."

That means taking over the Albert Park golf course clubhouse and turning it into the Star Lounge, rolling out celebrities and motorsport champions including Mick Doohan, and adding space and comforts for customers.

"We have 250 people each day," McCarthy says. "Tickets sell out in a matter of minutes."

For several years previously, Benz had allowed customers to drive a fleet of high-speed demonstrators.

Bentley is different. It doesn't need an F1 team to lure the rich and famous to Albert Park. Its Bentayga launch includes helicopter shuttles to the Sandown racetrack for driving.

Marketing manager Silvia Saliti says: "We were involved at the grand prix last year with our Studio program to show customers about the personalisation available in our Bentley cars, and it was quite a success.

"To launch the Bentayga in Melbourne, we will have hospitality at the grand prix and we will let people drive at Sandown.

"The grand prix is a lifestyle event and that works well for us. Grands prix are one of the most sought-after locations to get in touch with high-net-worth individuals."

For Porsche, the Albert Park track is the attraction — about 50 owners will be able to drive their own cars on Wednesday in advance of the GP.

"They can drive at speed, and there are no speed cameras. They are paced to ensure safety but they can see what their cars will do," says Porsche Cars Australia's Paul Ellis.

"It's a money-cannot-buy thing. If you have a Porsche then driving on the GP circuit is probably on your bucket list."

Honda had a difficult return to F1 last year in partnership with McLaren, which will be displaying its road cars at Albert Park. The Japanese brand is gathering momentum.

"It's a brand building event for us. It does help when you win but the days of winning races and selling cars are over," says Honda Australia director Stephen Collins.