While an event labelled the Australian Grand Prix had been staged as far back as 1926, Australia would have to wait until 1985 to be included in the Formula One Calendar. Since then it’s been an ever present on the calendar, enjoying stints as both curtain raiser and season finale that have provided the Australian Grand Prix with more than its fair share of interest down the years.
The streets of Adelaide provided the venue for F1 in its first guise as the final round of the championship, a position it would occupy from 1985 through to 1995. This allowed the Australian Grand Prix to witness both gripping championship showdowns, with Alain Prost stealing the title away from Nigel Mansell in 1986 (read more), while Michael Schumacher barged Damon Hill out of his way to secure his first title in 1994, as well as say farewell to former champions heading into retirement, from Niki Lauda in 1985 (read more) and Keke Rosberg in 1986 through to Nelson Piquet in 1991 and Alain Prost in 1993 (read more).
From 1996 on the venue would move to Albert Park in Melbourne, and a new slot on the calendar. The Australian Grand Prix would now have the honour of being the opening round of the F1 championship (with the exception of 2006 and 2010). This coincidentally meant that there were back to back Australian Grand Prix from the end of 1995 top the start of 1996! This afforded the event the opportunity to both witness podium grabbing debut drives from future champions Jacques Villeneuve (second in 1996) and Lewis Hamilton (third in 2007), as well as being the race that ends the yearly speculation over testing form and shows the real winners of the off-season development race, with the confirmation of Brawn GP’s surprise early dominance in 2009 and Mercedes home run on the regulation change in 2014.
McLaren and Williams would dominate proceedings in Adelaide, winning all bar two of the Grand Prix contested there. From it’s first outing in Adelaide in 1985 the Australian Grand Prix has always provided drama. Keke Rosberg Williams Honda survived the heat to take the 1985 victory, but Williams would suffer heartbreak in 1986, as Nigel Mansell’s hopes of a first driver’s title blew with his rear tyre, and team-mate Nelson Piquet then surrendered a title winning position for a precautionary tyre stop that handed McLaren’s Alain Prost a second consecutive championship.
1987 saw Ferrari pull off a one-two, with pole-sitter Gerhard Berger leading home the Lotus of Ayrton Senna on the road, with the second Ferrari of Michele Alboreto promoted to second place after Ayrton Senna’s Lotus failed scrutineering. 1988 would see the final race of the original turbo era, with McLaren’s Alain Prost taking the win from his newly crowned champion team-mate Senna.
In 1989 the title had again been decided the previous round, this time in Prosts favour. The race was held in treacherous conditions, so much so that Prost pulled in on the opening lap and refused to race. That lap saw a crash, restart and then a litany of further crashes, with Senna crashing out of the lead after slamming unsighted in the spray into the back of Martin Brundle’s Brabham. The race was eventually stopped early on lap 70 of 81, with Williams Thierry Boutsen taking the win.
In 1990 Nelson Piquet took advantage when mechanical trouble saw McLaren’s Ayrton Senna crash out of a certain victory, Piquet bringing his Benetton home after seeing off a challenge from the Ferrari of Nigel Mansell.
In 1991, the rain returned, and again the race was stopped early, this time only lasting 14 of the planned 81 laps. Ayrton Senna managed to keep it on the road to record victory for McLaren.
In 1992 Gerhard Berger took victory for McLaren in the final race of their original partnership with Honda after the second McLaren of Ayrton Senna crashed with Nigel Mansell while disputing the lead, forcing both cars out on the spot and giving Mansell an unhappy end to his championship year in his last race for Williams before departing F1 for America and success in CART.
1993 saw another dry race won by McLaren, Senna denying his old nemesis Prost a farewell victory in Prost’s last Grand Prix, in what would turn out to be the final career victory for Senna before his untimely death in 1994.
1994 would witness Nigel Mansell returning to claim pole position and the win for Williams (the last of Mansell’s career), but the race was all about Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, who entered the race separated by a single championship point. Schumacher led from Hill, but went off under pressure from Hill, smacking his Benetton off the wall, and as Hill went to sweep by Schumacher slammed the door shut, the resulting collision taking Schumacher out on the spot, but the damage to the Williams suspension was terminal, and so Schumacher secured his first driver’s title.
1995 would see the final Grand Prix in Adelaide, Hill claiming the victory for Williams in a race that saw Williams David Coulthard throw away first place by crashing on his way into the pit lane and Michael Schumacher and Jean Alesi, who would be swapping seats the following race, take each other out of contention.
Melbourne 1996 – 2016
While Adelaide was dominated by Williams and McLaren, since the shift to Melbourne Williams has won only one more Australian Grand Prix, the first Melbourne Grand Prix in 1996 taken by Damon Hill. Hill would only win after rookie team-mate Jacques Villeneuve hit trouble late on after dominating proceedings, a late oil leak dropping him back behind Hill, in a race that saw two starts after Martin Brundle had a spectacular smash in his Jordan at the first start, his car flipped and skidding upside down through the gravel trap, with the image of Brundle running from the wreckage to take the restart in the spare car wonderfully showcasing both the bravery and craziness of F1 drivers!
McLarens David Coulthard would take the win in 1997, opening McLarens victory account at the track, which would see Ferrari and McLaren the dominant forces over the years since its introduction. Coulthard’s McLaren team-mate Mika Hakkinen would win in 1998, although in controversial circumstances as Coulthard let him past to take the win due to a pre-race agreement.
Ferrari would get off the board in 1999, with Eddie Irvine taking a surprise victory after both McLarens retired and lead Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher hit trouble. There would be no such trouble for Schumacher and Ferrari as he would win the next three Australian Grand Prix from 2000-2002.
The 2001 race will sadly be remembered for the death of a marshal following a crash between Jacques Villeneuve (BAR) and Ralf Schumacher (Williams), with Villeneuve smashing into Schumacher from behind and the resulting impact sending a wheel from Villeneuve’s BAR flying.
In 2002 Ralf was again involved in a spectacular accident, his Williams was sent airborne in a first corner pile up. David Coulthard (McLaren) interrupted Schumacher and Ferrari’s winning streak to record his final Grand Prix victory in 2003, before Ferrari and Schumacher restored order with victory in 2004. But the guard was changing in Formula One, and this would prove to be Schumacher’s final Australian Grand Prix victory. Renault would win the next two races, with Giancarlo Fisichella taking victory in 2005 and new champion Fernando Alonso taking the win in 2006 en route to his second consecutive world title.
With Michael Schumacher retired, Kimi Raikkonen established himself as an early favourite at Ferrari with a victory over Alonso (now at McLaren) on his debut replacing the great German in 2007, in a race that saw a young Lewis Hamilton finish on the podium in his Grand Prix debut for McLaren. Hamilton would launch his 2008 world title season with a victory in Melbourne, in a race that saw his future Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg take his first career podium finish by coming home in third for Williams.
2009 saw Brawn GP rise from the ashes of Honda and propel Jenson Button to the world title, starting with a victory over Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello in Melbourne. Having switched to McLaren for 2010, Button confounded his critics with victory in Melbourne again in 2010, his delicate touch proving perfect in the slippy conditions of race day.
2011 was notable as Red Bull’s only Australian Grand Prix victory, with Sebastian Vettel taking his sole Australian Grand Prix win in a race that saw Vitaly Petrov become the first Russian driver to take an F1 podium in third place for Renault. Jenson Button was victorious for McLaren again in 2012. Kimi Raikkonen would shock the F1 world with a deserved victory for Lotus in 2013.
Since the introduction of the new power units in 2014, its been all Mercedes in Australia, with Nico Rosberg winning in 2014 after polesitter Lewis Hamilton found his Mercedes wasn’t firing on all cylinders, in a race that saw Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo disqualified after finishing third following Red Bull’s decision to deliberately ignore the FIA mandated fuel flow meter. Lewis Hamilton gaining revenge with the win in 2015, before Rosberg kicked off his title campaign with a win last year as Lewis struggled to get off the line.
Very nice Marek, the series would be poorer if we ever fully lost the Australian race.