The Australian GP – Our Closest Contact To Formula One
It wasn’t until 1985 that the FIA Formula 1 World Championship would come to Australia, reviving the Australian Grand Prix. The Adelaide street circuit was the chosen location, and it was often called a race of attrition. The first-ever Australian Grand Prix as part of the Formula 1 World Championship also happened to fall on the 50th anniversary of the Australian race. The race ran in almost unbearably hot conditions and went to its two-hour time limit even though all 82 laps happened. The final race of that year’s championship, saw Finland’s Keke Rosberg prevailed over main rival Ayrton Senna, who finished second but was then disqualified post-race due to technical irregularities in his Lotus. The 1985 race was also the final Grand Prix for three-time World Champion Niki Lauda, who unfortunately crashed into a wall due to a lack of brakes – a sad end to his career.
The 1985 race was also the final Grand Prix for three-time World Champion Niki Lauda, who unfortunately crashed into a wall due to a lack of brakes – a sad end to his career.
Eleven years later the race moved back to a redeveloped Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne. The move was met with opposition and controversy, with a series of protests organised by the Save Albert Park group. They claimed that the park was turned into a private playground for a week per year, and that the economic benefits to the state cost money that would be better spent elsewhere. Other amenities at Albert Park were improved from the World War 2-era facilities, with the Melbourne Sports and Aquatics Centre the party piece. Opponents of the Grand Prix assert the Aquatic Centre adds nothing to the race and could have been upgraded separately.
The Adelaide race was traditionally the last on the calendar, but since the Grand Prix was held in Melbourne, the race has been the first event, or early in the season.
On the first lap of the 1996 race, the first at Albert Park, it took but three turns for the new Australian Grand Prix to gain global coverage. On the first lap, Jordan’s Martin Brundle was catapulted into the air, and the footage of the crash and Brundle’s sprint for the his second car waiting in the pits went around the world. About 401,000 people turned out for that 1996 race in Melbourne, which remains a record for the event. Evidently, creating the temporary circuit and hosting an event the size and gravitas of a Formula 1 Grand Prix, did not faze the organisers, as Melbourne won the F1 Constructors’ Association Award for the best-organised Grand Prix of the Year in both 1996 and 1997.
In the years following, a number of racing stars have executed beautiful races, won hearts and cemented championships. Michael Schumacher recorded three straight wins at the track from 2000 until 2002. McLaren broke a 50-race drought with a victory in 1997. Fernando Alonso took his first Australian win in a 2006 race that featured no less than four safety cars. Alonso again made headlines in 2016 when he ran into the rear tyre of Esteban Gutierrez, crashing at 305km/h and experienced forces up to 46-G.
Probably the most memorable moment of the Melbourne Grand Prix in all its years was the fifth-place finish of Australian Mark Webber on his 2002 Formula 1 debut. To tumultuous applause, he took to the podium following the prize-giving ceremony with team owner Paul Stoddart. Since that year, Webber gradually became known as “the unluckiest man in modern Formula 1”, due to strings of underperforming cars and accidents out of his control, resulting in having the second-highest number of race starts with no wins – until the 2009 German Grand Prix. Fans have often put his Melbourne debut high on lists of his best moments though.
Since 1996, the Melbourne Grand Prix has been a favourite for both spectators and teams alike. The teams have traditionally enjoyed the party atmosphere of the event, and it’s a gorgeous location for the fans and spectators flocking in. It’s also New Zealand’s closest Formula 1 race, so offers Kiwis our only real chance to see the fastest race cars on the planet at reasonable prices.
In 2017, the Melbourne Grand Prix will be held from March 23 to 26.