Featured image: superlicense.com.au
It’s that time of year again. As Formula 1 heads to Albert Park once more, our excitement is building. Since we can’t make Sunday come any quicker, let’s roll back the clock and look at what’s made the Australian Grand Prix one of the most anticipated on the calendar.
1996 Melbourne: Martin Brundle
Amid protests from Melbourne residents unhappy at losing their public park to the best machines on the planet, and with the usual worldwide media circus that comes with an F1 event, the first Australian Grand Prix since its move from Adelaide was feeling enough pressure. There was also the small matter of 400,000 spectators to deal with. With that in mind, Martin Brundle decided to take some of the heat off the city of Melbourne, and propel himself into the headlines. Brundle’s Jordan-Peugeot took a tumble on the third corner, bringing major concern to everyone watching. On review, it has all the hallmarks of an ugly high-speed crash – it could have been pretty bad. But Mr Brundle emerged seconds later literally running to the pits for another vehicle. Give that man a medal! Or, as requested, another car.
2002 Melbourne: Ralf Schumacher
“It’s a good start from the second row with Ralf Schumacher”, the commentator says. Seconds later, he adds that “it’s a disastrous start to the Australian Grand Prix.” It seems that anything good involving Ralf Schumacher is pretty bad news for everyone else. Even when Ralf does something right, it ends in catastrophe. The instigator of a crash at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix, the man known internationally as Michael Schumacher’s brother made it two-in-a-row with textbook selfish driving in 2002. Smashing into the back of Rubens Barrichello – his brother Michael’s Ferrari teammate – an eight-car mess-up killed a lot of the excitement for the rest of the race. Before the race had really begun, many potential frontrunners were sitting in the pits.
2002 Melbourne: Mark Webber
What Ralf Schumacher’s mistimed braking did achieve was a shock fifth place finish for Australian new boy Mark Webber. Now an established and respected F1 name, Webber made his debut way back in 2002 for Minardi with utterly nothing expected of him. A dream finish for Webber brought a lot of emotion to the Minardi team, Webber and the home crowd, and more than made up for the loss of competitors early in the race. His finish won him a season-long deal with Minardi, instead of the three-race contract he was signed up to. You could say Ralf Schumacher paved the road to success for an Australian racing legend. But maybe Mark would have other ideas about that.
1986 Adelaide: Final Day
Adelaide has been home to its fair share of talking points during its time on the F1 calendar. Few come more memorable than the 1986 final day. Three drivers arrived at the Adelaide Street Circuit with their eyes on the Drivers Championship: Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, and Nelson Piquet. Despite starting in pole, Mansell had fallen to fourth by the second lap. Yet after a retirement from Keke Rosberg pushed Mansell into third, the Englishman was on course for a title party down under. As luck would have it, one of his tyres would explode with 19 laps left, breaking the hearts of many English motorsport fans. This left Prost and Piquet to battle out the remainder, and England’s loss was France’s gain. Prost won. Just.
1994 Adelaide: Schumacher/Hill
While Prost’s win was fiercely contested, the 1994 Australian Grand Prix was home to one of the most controversial and hotly-debated final day incidents in the history of F1. In Adelaide, Michael Schumacher sat one race from his first ever Drivers’ Championship. A single point ahead of Damon Hill, the two had been at loggerheads all season long, with neither giving an inch. As it was always the final race of the F1 season in its Adelaide days, the Australian Grand Prix was the perfect setting for what would be the eruption of a year of intense rivalry. After 35 laps, Schumacher led Hill. When Hill approached Schumacher on lap 36, his overtake was denied by the German, who turned in to deny Hill any space. Schumacher came off the road, immediately eliminated. The worst part is that, although Hill made an attempt to continue, the clash forced the Englishman to retire soon afterwards due to suspension damage. Zero points for both drivers, then. That meant Schumacher took the title without having to finish, and also meant a huge media witch hunt would ensue in England, with Schumacher the villain. Schumacher protested his innocence, and, equally, many suspected foul play. We may never know, but it would be hard work finding a more controversial first championship win than this – that much we do know.
The Australian Grand Prix has brought us years and years of emotion, controversy, intense rivalry, and downright good fun. We at Spares Box hope, as much as you do, that this weekend will bring edge-of-the-seat drama to compete with the most talked-about races of the last three decades. See you there!