The promotional posters for the 1996 Australian Formula 1® Grand Prix were spot-on. 'What a great place for the race', they spruiked, and in the ensuing decades, Melbourne and Albert Park has become synonymous with the excitement, intrigue and anticipation that goes hand-in-hand with F1®.
The greatest moments at that 'great place'? Star rookies, wheel-to-wheel races, incidents and accidents, success by dominant forces and rank outsiders alike … F1® in Melbourne has had it all.
The 10 most magical? Let's count them down.
5 1998: McLaren drivers flick the switch
There were two races at Albert Park in 1998; one involving Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, and one involving everyone else. Such was the advantage held by the McLaren duo in qualifying that a silver 1-2 looked a certainty. The quinella came, but not without enormous controversy.
On lap 36, with Hakkinen in control, the Finn dived into the pits … but his team wasn't ready for him. Hakkinen misheard a call over the radio; team principal Ron Dennis later claimed McLaren's radio had been hacked. Regardless, Coulthard now had a commanding lead, and even after both drivers took their final (planned) stops, the Scot was in the ascendancy.
Hakkinen tore chunks out of Coulthard's advantage late, and then came the moment – with two laps to go, 'DC' slowed on the start-finish straight and allowed Hakkinen to sail through. Later, we found out why: Hakkinen and Coulthard had made a pre-race agreement that whoever got to Turn 1 first from the front row would be allowed to keep the victory. Had Hakkinen not made his erroneous visit to the pits, their plan might have remained private.
McLaren's margin to the rest was enormous – third-placed Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Williams was a lap down – but the manner of their 1-2 upset the fans, event organisers and the FIA, which issued a stern edict about team orders.
4 2014: Ricciardo's second that wasn't
There was plenty of excitement when Daniel Ricciardo arrived in Melbourne for the 2014 season-opener, but any expectation of what he could do in race one as Mark Webber's successor at Red Bull Racing was tempered by the arrival of the V6 turbo hybrid era. Disastrous reliability in pre-season testing meant that even finishing in Australia would be akin to a victory, given the RB10 hadn't completed a full race distance in Barcelona. But Ricciardo bucked the odds, qualifying second in a Saturday deluge, and then stunningly converting it to an assured second-place finish behind Mercedes' Nico Rosberg the next day. The unbridled jubilation – of Ricciardo and the fans – made it one of Albert Park's most memorable days.
It seemed almost too good to be true; as it turned out, it was. Soon after the podium ceremony, murmurs that Red Bull were being investigated over a fuel flow irregularity left Ricciardo bracing himself for the worst. And then, in the shadows of midnight, came the hammer blow from the race stewards; he'd been disqualified.
"Driving back to the hotel, I decided I needed to have a beer – do something – to enjoy that memory of standing up on the podium for the first time," Ricciardo said. "I didn't leave the track with my trophy – I never saw it again."
3 2002: Ralf reaches for the stars
Accidents on the first lap of the first race, as Melbourne has been for all but two times in its history, aren't unusual. But in 2002, Ralf Schumacher took first-lap shunts to a new level.
Starting third, the German got a brilliant getaway and was on the heels of pole-sitter Rubens Barrichello in a flash, the Brazilian forced to defend into the braking zone of Turn 1. What caused what happened next – did Barrichello brake too soon or did Schumacher not brake at all? – was a point of conjecture, but what wasn't was the result – Schumacher's Williams ploughed into the back of Barrichello's Ferrari, flew through the air, somehow landed wheels-down and careered into the first-corner fence. "It felt frightening, I can tell you," Schumacher said of the incident that produced the most famous photo in Melbourne's F1® history. "Going airborne in an aircraft is nicer than in any Formula One car …".
Behind them? Chaos. Nick Heidfeld (Sauber) cut across the grass to avoid the carnage, but succeeded only in taking out Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan. In the resultant mayhem, Felipe Massa (Sauber), Allan McNish (Toyota), Olivier Panis (BAR) and Jenson Button (Renault) were out on the spot. In a matter of seconds, eight of the 22 cars were eliminated; more remarkably, the race wasn't red-flagged or re-started, which had consequences …
2 1996: Brundle's big impact
It took all of three corners before Melbourne, a new Grand Prix destination in 1996, had its first signature moment.
Martin Brundle is more familiar to us these days as the voice of F1®'s TV coverage, but back then Brundle was starting his 12th F1® season at the controls of a Jordan from 19th on the Albert Park grid. Within a matter of moments, he became Melbourne's first F1® hero.
As the field thundered into Turn 3 on the opening lap, Brundle was on the outside eyeing an overtake when David Coulthard (McLaren) slewed straight into his path. They collided and the Jordan was sent skywards, landed, rolled, tore itself to bits ("it was broken like an egg", Brundle recalled later), and came to a rest upside down, gearbox missing, half the engine snapped off. Brundle slithered out, the 154,000-strong crowd gasped, and with the race red-flagged, he high-tailed it back to the pits for the restart.
As he ran back to the Jordan garage, Brundle responded to a marshal's enquiry as to his well-being with a raised thumb; the fans, glued to the drama on the trackside screens, erupted.
The Briton took the re-start, spun – at the same corner – two laps in, and that was that. Brundle never raced at Albert Park again – but his place in Melbourne's history was assured.
1 2002: Webber's Minardi miracle
Those consequences we spoke of earlier? Eight cars eliminated after one corner in 2002 meant that just 14 remained; one of them was driven by debutant Mark Webber, the 25-year-old on a three-race contract with Paul Stoddart's Minardi team. It was the first time the Albert Park faithful had been able to cheer for a home-grown driver, and fortunately for Webber, he was able to pick his way through the carbon fibre detritus after starting from 18th on the grid.
By the time David Coulthard (McLaren) retired with 24 laps remaining, there were just nine cars left in the race, Webber's one of them. With points allocated to the top six finishers, could the Aussie do the unthinkable?