Australian Grand Prix
Melbourne is now home to the Australian Grand Prix, and is the first race of the Formula One Championship. Racers have to endure fifty-eight laps of the circuit, which is just over three miles long.
Now held at Albert Park, the Australian Grand Prix has been in existence since 1928, but did not become part of the Formula One Championship until 1985, when it replaced the Portuguese Grand Prix.
There have been many venues for the race. The race moved from Adelaide, where it was held between 1985 and 1995, to Melbourne in 1996. During its time in Adelaide, the Australian Grand Prix was the final round of the Formula One Championship.
Many Formula One fans will remember the great Adelaide races in 1986 and 1994, when the driver’s championship title was decided.
In recent years, Michael Schumacher dominated this Grand Prix, winning the event in four consecutive years from 2000 to 2004. In terms of constructors though, McLaren are the most successful team, with nine victories since the Grand Prix moved to Adelaide. ING became the sponsor of the Australian Grand Prix in 2006, after signing a three-year deal.
Although the Australian Grand Prix didn’t become part of the F1 world championship until 1985, similar style races were still held across Australia for many years beforehand. Open-wheeler racing vehicles raced across many circuits across Australia in the early 20th century and Albert Park, the current venue, hosted the race in the 1950s, attracting many of the top drivers of the time.
Australian Grand Prix
The Australian Grand Prix has been a great addition to the F1 circuit since its introduction in 1985. Many drivers put it on par, in terms of difficulty, with the notoriously challenging Monaco Grand Prix. Although not as tight as the French circuit, the Melbourne track is still demanding for the drivers and their gearboxes.
The event was brought to Melbourne thanks to the work of well-known businessman Ron Walker, who is now the Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix. Much controversy surrounded the decision to host the event in this particular Australian state. This was because many local residents, many of whom were members of the “Save Albert Park” group, felt that the race turned the public park into a tourist attraction for one week in the year.
They felt that the money should have been spent on a permanent circuit somewhere else. However, the race organisers considered the cost of building a new circuit less important than the eventual financial benefits to the state.
The Australian government have not yet discussed the plan for a permanent racing track, and there have been many suggestions why this has not occurred yet. Rumours suggest that the main reason for a street circuit is because it provides a unique setting that appeals to the television medium.
This is why they are against having a permanent venue, as that would be unrecognisable and could lead to Formula One organisers moving the race to Europe for a much lower cost. Nevertheless, the Australian Grand Prix at the Melbourne circuit has always been well attended, with over 300,000 people turning up for the race in 2007.
However, crowd attendances have diminished since 1996, when there was a record crowd of 401,000. Many of the Australian public are also now wondering whether the race is providing the economic benefits that were first promised to them when the Grand Prix moved to Melbourne.
Memorable Melbourne Grands Prix
In 1996, Melbourne staged its first Australian Grand Prix, and immediately gripped the Formula One world. On only the third corner of the race, Martin Brundle (racing for Jordan) had a huge accident, with his car becoming airborne after the impact, and England’s Damon Hill was the eventual winner of the inaugural race in Melbourne. The Australian Grand Prix had landed, and the world was watching.
The 2001 event was marred by the death of volunteer marshal Graham Beveridge. A flying tyre from a collision between Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve found its way through the barrier fence and killed the 52 year old. That year, Michael Schumacher won his second consecutive Australian Grand Prix as the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen all made their Formula One debuts.
There was another massive accident in the Grand Prix the following year, as half the cars were eliminated before the end of the first lap. Ralf Schumacher was again involved, as his Williams car collided with Rubens Barichello (who started the race in pole position). The pair came together at Turn One, forcing 11 of the 22 cars off the track and out of the race.
Although Michael Schumacher went on to claim a third consecutive Melbourne win, it was the performance of Australian Mark Webber that drew all the plaudits. He was making his Formula One debut in a low budget Minardi car, which was much slower than his competitors. Despite a late challenge from Toyota’s Mika Salo, Webber held on to secure a fifth place finish, earning himself celebrity status in his homeland.
There was a change to the system in 2006, as Melbourne hosted the third round of the championship, instead of the first round, because Melbourne was hosting the Commonwealth Games during the time it would usually hold the Grand Prix. In the race, Renault’s Fernando Alonso came from third on the grid to take the chequered flag, securing his first win at the Australian Grand Prix in the process.
A year later saw Lewis Hamilton make his Formula One debut, and he delighted the British public with a great performance after finishing third. His achievement was eclipsed by Finland’s Kimi Räikkönen, who made history by becoming the first man since Nigel Mansell in 1989 to win on their Ferrari debut. His success didn’t end there, as he also completed the triple of pole position, a win and also the fastest lap.
Despite the controversy that surrounds the Australian Grand Prix, the Melbourne circuit continues to challenge and excite both racers and spectators. Whether or not the Australian Government do in fact decide to change locations, nothing can change the great memories that Formula One fans share when thinking back on some great races at this truly beautiful street circuit.
Getting to Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit is easy by all means of transport, whether it’s by car, bus, tram, train or a helicopter. The Melbourne Airport is located just over 20 km to the north, providing fantastic transfer options to international visitors.
|Circuit Length||5.303 km (3.295 mi)|
|Race Length||307.574 km (191.110 mi)|
|Most Wins (drivers)||Lex Davison (non championship reces) (4)||Michael Schumacher (4)|
|Most Wins (constructors)||(Championship races) McLaren (9)|