Originally published in Motorsport Monday. Visit www.motorsportmonday.com and click to subscribe for free. Follow @motorsportmonday on Formulr, download from the App Store and Google Play.
Flashback to 1985 and the very first FIA Australian Grand Prix was taking place as the final race of the season at Adelaide Street Circuit. The likes of Nelson Piquet (Brabham-BMW), Aytron Senna (Lotus-Renault), Nigel Mansell (Williams-Honda), Keke Rosberg (Williams-Honda) and Niki Lauda (McLaren-TAG) were among 25 drivers to line up on the start grid in searing 35 degree heat.
Alan Jones in his Lola-Hart was the only Australian driver and the event marked his 100th World Championship start. He proudly drove the glory lap as the first to put rubber to tarmac around the South Australian circuit. The maiden Australian GP took many casualties due to technical failure, with only eight drivers finishing the race and Keke Rosberg being crowned the winner.
The 500th World Championship Grand Prix was celebrated at the 1990 Australian GP and in 1996 Albert Park in Melbourne became the event’s new home. That year still holds the record for the most number of attendees at over 400,000.
The race’s first year in Melbourne is also well-known for Martin Brundle’s spectacular crash where he became airborne in his Jordan. An unfortunate incident for the GP to make worldwide headlines but it certainly put the race on the map none the less.
A long list of iconic drivers have made their F1 debuts at this race, being the first of the season, and so it’s held in the brilliant minds of racers far and wide, and cemented within a special place in their hearts.
2002 saw a young Mark Webber turn heads when he placed fifth in his F1 debut driving a less-then-impressive Minardi. The front of the grid was dominated by the Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. The audience watched on in horror as Ralf Schumacher smashed into the rear of Barrichello at the first corner. His Williams-BWM launched over the Ferrari and into the gravel trap, resulting in the race ending for eight other competitors who crashed out as a result of the incident.
Michael Schumacher took the win but Webber, the underdog, made a guest appearance on the podium with team boss Paul Stoddart to celebrate his incredible achievement.
Another unforgettable Australian Grand Prix came in 2007 with the likes of Lewis Hamilton stealing a podium on his F1 debut. It was the first time in 11 years this achievement had been claimed.
The legendary Michael Schumacher still holds the lap record for the challenging Melbourne City circuit, which he well and truly annihilated after two ruthless laps in the Friday practise in 2004. With the faster new spec cars can we expect this record to be broken in 2017?
“I think this year we could see some records being broken and I think it would be a pretty cool start to start with a new lap record in Melbourne,” stated Valtteri Bottas. “But we will have to see if it’s possible and what are the conditions. If it’s going to be the case, hopefully it’s me [who breaks the record].”
This year marks 22 years of Australian Grand Prix action and we add some more brilliant debutants to the list in Lance Stroll for Williams and Esteban Ocon for Force India.
During testing in Barcelona this year you’d struggle to find a driver who wasn’t praising the new cars for increasing “fun” levels for the pilots. Everyone I spoke with was eager to get their machines to the land down under and see what they’re really made of.
Having been stripped of what would have been his first ever F1 podium at the 2014 Australian GP, then just missing out again last year, the only Aussie on the grid, Daniel Ricciardo, shared his feelings with only a week to go.
“Since then (2014) every year I’ve been wanting to get that feeling again, so we’re a chance this year,” he commented determinedly. “We’re a chance to get that back that’s certainly what I’m aiming for. I’d love to be on the podium that’s certainly my aim but I’m not going to go there with too many hopes and dreams. I’ll just go there prepared and do what I can.”
He revealed his favourite part of the track is the fast left-right of turns 11 and 12, something he’s very much looking forward to.
“That’s going to be seriously quick,” he explained. “We could see the weather throw a curve ball at us, even the run to turn one (could be interesting) since we haven’t raced for so long.”
In only his second season as an F1 driver, you could almost see Jolyon Palmer’s heart start beating faster in his chest at the mention of Melbourne and his chance to fight for precious points once more.
“I really like the Australian Grand Prix anyway, I think it’s just a cool way to open the year,” said Jolyon, eyes lighting up. “It’s a fun track, good crowd but also it’s nice because we haven’t raced for three or four months by then so everyone is really itching to get going and now this year as well with these cars I think it should be fun.”
He may look like he hails from the white sandy beaches of Bondi but Swede Marcus Ericsson’s heart is certainly at the race track. He gave an insight into what we can expect from him at the long-awaited first race of the season.
“This years Formula 1 cars are a lot more fun to drive,” Ericsson explains smiling. “It’s a lot faster in the corners and you can attack a lot more in your driving, really throw the car into the corners, brake super late and it’s definitely more like a Formula 1 car should be like. I enjoy every second, I think it’s more fun to be on the attack then be precise and get good exits.”
The 2017 Australian Grand Prix is certainly shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated season kick-offs in recent history and there’s no doubt the combination of new cars and new grid line-up will be set to impress.
What’s on the menu at Williams?
I spoke with Williams’ Executive Chef Adam Dixon to see what they’ve got cooking for the race down under.
You can look forward to fine dining and fine racing. As part of William’s exquisite menu in their trackside hospitality you can expect Rarebridge pork from South Melbourne market, plenty of local fish, clams, muscles, quails eggs, a special take on a Peach Melbournish (vanilla mouse with fresh poached peaches, raspberry puree and little biscuits) and of course a few shrimps on the barbie. Martini carry a huge range of drinks for cocktails and mixes for every taste so there’s no chance you’ll go thirsty. Delicious local wines from Oakdene have been specially brought in to supply the perfect drop to pair with the food. Australian chef Scott Law had even been brought in just to add the final touch to their Australian theme.
From the Chef’s mouth:
"Australia is great because I go and shop at south Melbourne market. There’s also a supplier that comes in, a local guy who supplies fruit, veg, meat, so when we arrive on Monday in Australia I will have a delivery to the door in the paddock. I've been using the same fishmonger up there, using same fruit and veg supplier up there. I love Melbourne because it's the first race of the year anyhow, but it is great. I always put kangaroo on for the boys. The first Friday we’re there we always do a BBQ for the boys and it gives any new chefs or staff we’ve got to meet the team.”