Who's who at this season's opener in Melbourne
Ron Walker AC CBE, chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, is not a man who does things by halves. That's why the Foster's Grand Prix is not just the first race of the Formula One season but a superb social event which includes a ball and publicity activities that take the race on to the streets of Melbourne.
Every year the paddock is heaving with famous faces. From motor racing, Bernie Ecclestone made a welcome return after a three-year absence, and his wife Slavica made her first trip to the race; Sir Jackie and Lady Helen Stewart were at Jaguar; Jacques Laffite was working with French television; Christian Danner for German television. Martin Brundle (accompanied by his wife Liz), and Mark Blundell were working as usual for Britains ITV channel, and JJ Lehto for Finnish television. Tim Schenken was, as usual, clerk of the course, and Frank Gardner was in charge of course cars. Sir Jack Brabham and Sir Stirling and Lady Suzie Moss were popular visitors involved with the display of historic cars.
As if this were not sufficient for autograph hunters, there was a plethora of other home-grown heroes: motorcycle racing stars Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner; talent spotter extraordinaire Greg 'PeeWee' Siddle; touring car stars Peter Brock (part of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation); Allan Moffat and Allan Grice; British racer Tony Gaze and his wife Diana, formerly married to one of the greatest Australian stars of them all, the late Lex 'Davo' Davison, whose remarkable career was celebrated with the launch over race weekend of Graham Howard's biography, 'Lex Davison: Larger than Life.'
Melbourne is also famed for the quality of its support races, and this year was no exception. Davison's son Alex was one of the competitors in the Porsche Carrera Cup race, while the BMW Celebrity Challenge brimmed with celebs from all walks of Aussie life. Racing in the 318t Sport Compacts were names such as Sydney-Hobart yacht race winner Grant Wharington, who had trained with Sir Jack's racing son Geoff Brabham; football legend Paul Salmon; commentators Kerry O'Keefe and Tony Squires; actors Samuel Johnson, Blair McDonough, Libbi Gore and Catherine McClements; champion boxer Anthony Mundine; Olympic gold medallist Andrew Hoy; tv personalities Sandra Sully and Lauren Newton; and models Alyssa Kealy and Chloe Maxwell.
Small wonder that both Thursday and Friday kicked off a weekend of record crowd attendance here in Melbourne.