Australian Grand Prix History 02 Mar 2004
The Australian Grand Prix became part of the FIA Formula One World Championship back in 1985 and has since developed into one of the most popular events on the calendar. Hosted in Adelaide until 1995, before switching to its current Melbourne home, it has also provided some of the most entertaining races of the modern era.
Keke Rosberg took victory in the inaugural Australian Grand Prix, staged on the temporary Adelaide track, which combined long, fast straights with tight, right-angled turns, and even included some of the city's public roads. As the season finale the race often delivered major excitement. In 1986 title favourite Nigel Mansell saw his championship hopes disappear when the rear tyre of his Williams spectacularly exploded on the main straight, effectively handing the crown to rival Alain Prost.
Thierry Boutsen took a memorable win in 1989 after monsoon-like conditions descended on Adelaide. The rain was so bad that the race was initially stopped after just two laps and Alain Prost refused to take the restart. His decision was vindicated when numerous drivers, even those as skilful as Ayrton Senna fell prey to the slippery circuit, leaving Williams driver Boutsen to take the flag.
In 1991 rain again helped the Australian Grand Prix to make history. Stopped after just 14 laps due to unsafe conditions, the race was the shortest-ever World Championship round, with victory going to Senna. Only half points were awarded as the field failed to complete 60 per cent of the planned race distance.
The 1994 event provided the infamous title showdown between Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. With Hill trailing the German by just a single point heading into the race it was always going to be close. And so it proved as the two rivals collided while fighting for the lead. Hill managed to limp back to the pits, but was unable to continue, handing the championship to Schumacher, and a surprise race win to Williams' Nigel Mansell.
In 1996 Adelaide's season finale become Melbourne's season opener as the raced switched to the initially controversial Albert Park circuit. Environmental protesters had threatened to disrupt the inaugural event but in the end it proved memorable purely for racing reasons.
Formula1 rookie Jacques Villeneuve made a sensational debut, out-qualifying team mate Damon Hill to put his Williams on pole position. He would have won the race as well had mechanical problems not forced him to slow in the final laps. Hill went on to take the win, but only after surviving a spectacular start-line pile-up which saw Martin Brundle's Jordan barrel-roll off the circuit at the very first corner.
The 1997 race saw David Coulthard take McLaren's first victory in over three years. He would have made it two in a row in 1998 had he not honoured a pre-race agreement with team-mate Mika Hakkinen that whoever was ahead at the first corner should be allowed to win the race. The move proved controversial, but gave Hakkinen his first Australian Grand Prix victory.
The race provided another first-time winner in 1999 in the shape of Ferrari's Eddie Irvine, who picked up the pieces after the leading McLarens fell by the wayside. His team mate Michael Schumacher went on to make it three in a row for Ferrari with victories in 2000 and 2001, again at the expense of McLaren. The German did it yet again in 2002, though the race was marred by the death of a race marshal who was struck by a loose wheel after an accident involving the Williams of Ralf Schumacher and the BAR of Jacques Villeneuve.
The revised 2003 regulations plus some very unpredictable weather made for a thrilling race last year. A wet but drying track left everyone guessing on tyres as the grid formed - and most guessed wrong. McLaren pulled both their drivers in early and this, combined with two safety car periods, lifted them from their relatively low grid positions to the sharp end of the field. Kimi Raikkonen held off Michael Schumacher in dramatic fashion, duping the champion into damaging his Ferrari, but lost out on almost certain victory thanks to a pit-lane speeding penalty. Juan Pablo Montoya also spun away a chance of the win, handing ten points to a surprised but grateful David Coulthard.
For 2004, Melbourne's Albert Park circuit will again host the opening round of the season. With its combination of its fast, flowing corners and slow tight bends the track remains a popular one with the drivers, although overtaking is limited, with the end of the pit straight the only obvious opportunity. The circuit may not be too technically demanding, but it is hard on brakes and the bumpy approaches to several of the corners make a well-balanced set-up essential. It is the ideal venue for showing who really has done their homework during the winter test sessions.