Martin Brundle and Damon Hill will return to Albert Park for the season-opening 2016 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix with very fond memories as the event celebrates its 21st birthday.
For Brundle, now a respected commentator with Sky Sports, talk of the Albert Park race’s ‘coming of age’ is sure to remind him of his near-miraculous escape from a spectacular airborne accident, at more than 200 kph, and a pointless weekend of disappointments.
His big accident happened on the opening lap of the inaugural event on March 10, 1996, the first big step into a new era for Melbourne after the race had transferred to Victoria from Adelaide.
It destroyed his Peugeot-powered Jordan car and left spectators gaping open-mouthed when he emerged, after his machine had struck fellow-Briton Johnny Herbert’s Sauber car, taken off and then rolled into a gravel trap.
To universal amazement, Brundle emerged unhurt and, after running the length of the pit lane for a medical examination by Professor Sid Watkins, he was passed fit to race in his team’s spare car.
The race, of course, had been stopped.
When it re-started, Brundle did little better, retiring on lap two after a tangle with Pedro Diniz’s Ligier at Turn Three.
"I remember it all,” said Brundle, now 56. “I had just started to brake at Turn Three when all of a sudden three cars seemed to tangle and came over my way. The closing speed was just too much.
“As soon as I hit the back of Johnny (Herbert) and David (Coulthard) I was launched straight into the air and I was in trouble.
"When I came down, upside down, and started hitting the gravel I thought: 'Hmmm, I don't like this very much.'
“I pulled my head down a bit -- and there was gravel rash on my helmet -- but that's all… The fact that the engine nearly prevented me getting out of the cockpit was alarming, but I didn't feel wobbly.
"The only time I panicked a little bit, just for half a second, was when I felt fluid running over me and I was upside down… I thought it was fuel.
“I just wanted to get the hell out of there, but it was just my drinks bottle…”
Hill, who also works with Sky Sports, has a very different reason to recall Melbourne’s 1996 debut event with a smile – he won the race and went on to win the drivers’ championship for the Williams Renault team.
Understandably, like Brundle, Herbert and Coulthard, who retired his McLaren Mercedes after 24 laps, Hill and the other British survivors of that memorable incident 20 years ago remain fans of Melbourne and Australia.
“It’s always great to come to Melbourne,” said Brundle. “I loved going to Adelaide, too, and Melbourne has just carried it on from there. Everyone looks forward to the trip to Australia and the start of the season.”