The Australian Grand Prix is a Formula One race that is part of the annual Formula One championship season. It is held at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit at Albert Park in Melbourne. The event was held annually since 1928 at various venues in Australia, before it became part of the Formula One championship in 1985. The race was held at the Adelaide Street Circuit in Adelaide from 1985 to 1995, before moving to Melbourne in 1996.
The Australian Grand Prix is the first round of the Championship, having been the first race of each year, excluding 2006, since the event moved to Melbourne. During its years in Adelaide, the Australian Grand Prix was the final round of the Championship, replacing the Portuguese Grand Prix in that respect. As the final round of the season, the Grand Prix hosted a handful of memorable Grand Prix, most notably the 1986 and 1994 event which saw those respective titles decided.
In terms of Grand Prix victories, Michael Schumacher and Ferrari are the most successful driver and team respectively. David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella are the only drivers to have started every single Melbourne race.
In November 2006 ING became the naming rights sponsor of the Australian Grand Prix in a three-year deal.
In 1993 prominent Melbourne businessman Mr Ron Walker AC CBE, current Chairman of the Australian Grand Prix began working with the then Kennett government to make Melbourne the host of the event. After the government of Jeff Kennett spent an undisclosed (but speculated to be quite large) amount, it was announced in late 1993 (days after a South Australian election) that the race would be shifted to a rebuilt Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne. The race moved to Melbourne in 1996. The decision to hold the race there was controversial. A series of protests were organised by the "Save Albert Park" group, who claimed that the race turned a public park into a private playground for one week per year. Additionally, they claimed that the race cost a great deal of money that would be better spent, if it were to be spent on motor racing, on a permanent circuit elsewhere. Finally, they said that the claimed economic benefits of the race were false or exaggerated. The race organisers and the government claimed that the economic benefits to the state outweighed the costs, and highlighted that the park's public amenities have been greatly improved from the World War II vintage facilities previously located at Albert Park; the Melbourne Sports and Aquatc Centre (scene of many Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games events) being the centre piece and best known of the revitalised facilities.
The idea of a permanent racing circuit has never really been addressed, but there is much speculation that the real reason for a street circuit is to provide a distinctive backdrop for television - a permanent race circuit would be unidentifiable and, from the perspective of the Formula One organisers, may as well be held in Europe at much lesser cost and inconvenience to them. In any case, a substantial number of people do embrace (and attend) the race at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit.
The Melbourne era
Bernie Ecclestone, the president of Formula One Management, the group that runs modern-day Formula One in conjunction with the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), once famously said that it took 10 minutes to do the deal with Melbourne that would see the Victorian capital host the Australian Grand Prix from 1996. It is thought that Melbourne’s unsuccessful quest to stage the 1996 Olympic Games, and the subsequently successful bid by northern rival city Sydney to host the 2000 Olympics, was a driving force behind Melbourne’s motivation to wrest the Australian Grand Prix away from Adelaide.
Albert Park, within easy reach of the Melbourne central business district, became home to the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. A 16-turn circuit, which measures 5.3 kilometres in its current guise, was built utilising a combination of public roads within the park. The circuit is renowned as being a smooth and high-speed test for Formula One teams and drivers, and its characteristics are similar to the only other street circuit set in a public park currently used for a race in the Formula One World Championship, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada.
The promotional theme for the first race in Melbourne was “Melbourne – What a Great Place for the Race”. Some 401,000 people turned out for the first race in 1996, which remains a record for the event. The logistics of creating a temporary circuit and hosting an event of the magnitude of a Formula One Grand Prix from scratch weren’t lost on the international visitors, with Melbourne winning the F1 Constructors’ Association Award for the best organised Grand Prix of the year in its first two years of 1996 and 1997.
The move of the Australian Grand Prix to Melbourne saw a change in the time of year that the F1 teams and personnel made their annual voyage Down Under. Adelaide, for each of its 11 years, was the final race of the F1 season, usually in October or November, while Melbourne has been the first race of the season in every year since 1996 with the exception of 2006, when it was the third race of the year to allow for the Commonwealth Games to take place in the city. As such, the Albert Park circuit has seen the Formula One debuts of every prominent driver in the last decade. 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve made his race debut in Melbourne’s first year of 1996, and became one of three men to secure pole position in his maiden Grand Prix. Other prominent names to debut in Melbourne are two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Räikkönen in 2001, and Australia’s current F1 driver, Mark Webber, in 2002.
As part of celebrations for the 10th running of the event at Albert Park in 2005, Webber drove his Williams F1 car over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a promotional event, and the Melbourne city streets hosted a parade of F1 machinery and V8 Supercars, Australia’s highest-profile domestic motor sport category.
Races in Melbourne
It took just three corners for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park to gain worldwide attention. On the first lap of the first race in 1996, Jordan’s Martin Brundle was launched into the air in an enormous accident. Footage of the crash, and Brundle’s subsequent rush back to the pits to take the spare car for the re-start, ensured the first race in Melbourne gained widespread coverage. The race was won by Williams’ Damon Hill. The 1997 race saw McLaren, through David Coulthard, break a drought of 50 races without a victory. The next year was a McLaren benefit, with Mika Häkkinen and Coulthard lapping the entire field en route to a dominant 1-2 finish. The result was clouded by controversy when Coulthard pulled over with two laps remaining to allow Häkkinen to win, honouring a pre-race agreement between the pair that whoever made it to the first corner in the lead on lap one would be allowed to win. Ferrari won its first Grand Prix in Melbourne in 1999, but it wasn’t with team number one Michael Schumacher. Irishman Eddie Irvine took his maiden victory after the all-conquering McLarens of Häkkinen and Coulthard retired before half-distance. Schumacher broke his Melbourne drought the following year when he headed a dominant Ferrari 1-2 with new teammate Rubens Barrichello.
The 2001 event, won by Michael Schumacher, was marked by tragedy when volunteer marshal Graham Beveridge was killed after a high-speed accident involving Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve on lap five. Villeneuve’s B.A.R rode up across the back of Schumacher’s Williams and crashed into the fence, behind which Beveridge was standing.
The start of the 2002 race saw pole-sitter Barrichello and Williams’ Schumacher come together at Turn One in a spectacular accident that saw 11 of the 22 cars eliminated before the end of the opening lap. Michael Schumacher dominated thereafter to post a third straight Melbourne win, but his achievements were overshadowed by the fifth place of Australian Mark Webber on his Formula One debut. Webber, in an underpowered and underfunded Minardi, had to recover from a botched late pit stop and resist the challenges of Toyota’s Mika Salo in the closing stages, and took to the podium after the race with Australian team owner Paul Stoddart in one of Melbourne’s more memorable Grand Prix moments.
The next year, 2003, saw Coulthard again win for McLaren in a race held in variable conditions. Normal service was resumed in 2004 with the Ferraris of Schumacher and Barrichello running rampant – within two laps of Friday practice, Schumacher had obliterated the Albert Park lap record, and sailed to a crushing win.
In 2005, the race was won by Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella after a storm during Saturday qualifying produced a topsy-turvy grid. Barrichello and Fisichella’s teammate Fernando Alonso came through the field from 11th and 13th on the grid respectively to join pole-sitter Fisichella on the podium. In 2006, Alonso took his first Australian win in an accident-marred race that featured four safety car periods.
|Number of wins||Driver||Years Won|
|4||Lex Davison||1954, 1957, 1958, 1961|
|Michael Schumacher||2000, 2001, 2002, 2004|
|3||Bill Thompson||1930, 1932, 1933|
|Doug Whiteford||1950, 1952, 1953|
|Jack Brabham||1955, 1963, 1964|
|Graham McRae||1972, 1973, 1978|
|Roberto Moreno||1981, 1983, 1984|
|Alain Prost||1982,||1986, 1988|
|2||Les Murphy||1935, 1937|
|Bruce McLaren||1962, 1965|
|Frank Matich||1970, 1971|
|Max Stewart||1974, 1975|
|Gerhard Berger||1987, 1992|
|Ayrton Senna||1991, 1993|
|Damon Hill||1995, 1996|
|David Coulthard||1997, 2003|
|Number of wins||Constructor||Years Won|
|10||Ferrari||1957, 1958, 1969, 1987, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2007|
|McLaren||1970, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2003, 2008|
|6||Williams||1980, 1985, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1996|
|5||Cooper||1955, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965|
|4||Bugatti||1929, 1930, 1931, 1932|
|MG||1935, 1937, 1939, 1947|
|Lola||1974, 1975, 1977, 1979|
|Ralt||1981, 1982, 1983, 1984|
|1978||Graham McRae||McRae-Chevrolet||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1977||Warwick Brown||Lola-Chevrolet||Oran Park Raceway||Report|
|1976||John Goss||Matich-Repco||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1975||Max Stewart||Lola-Chevrolet||Surfers Paradise||Report|
|1974||Max Stewart||Lola-Chevrolet||Oran Park Raceway||Report|
|1973||Graham McRae||McRae-Chevrolet||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1972||Graham McRae||Leda-Chevrolet||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1971||Frank Matich||Matich-Repco||Warwick Farm||Report|
|1970||Frank Matich||McLaren-Repco||Warwick Farm||Report|
|1968||Jim Clark||Lotus-Cosworth||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1967||Jackie Stewart||BRM||Warwick Farm||Report|
|1964||Jack Brabham||Brabham-Climax||Sandown Raceway||Report|
|1963||Jack Brabham||Brabham-Climax||Warwick Farm||Report|
|1957|| Lex Davison |
|1956||Stirling Moss||Maserati||Albert Park||Report|
|1955||Jack Brabham||Cooper-Bristol||Port Wakefield||Report|
|1953||Doug Whiteford||Talbot-Lago||Albert Park||Report|
|1951||Warwick Pratley||George Reed Special||Narrogin||Report|
|1948||Frank Pratt||BMW||Point Cook||Report|
|1937||Les Murphy||MG||Victor Harbor||Report|
|1935||Les Murphy||MG||Phillip Island||Report|
|1934||Bob Lea-Wright||Singer||Phillip Island||Report|
|1933||Bill Thompson||Riley||Phillip Island||Report|
|1932||Bill Thompson||Bugatti||Phillip Island||Report|
|1931||Carl Junker||Bugatti||Phillip Island||Report|
|1930||Bill Thompson||Bugatti||Phillip Island||Report|
|1929||Arthur Terdich||Bugatti||Phillip Island||Report|
|1928||Arthur Waite||Austin||Phillip Island||Report|