Only part of the Formula 1 World Championship calendar as recently as 1985, the Australian GP has in fact taken place since the late-1920s, at a number of different venues – some you’ll never have heard of…
MAR 24th 2017
The history of the Australian Grand Prix
Strewth! It’s been 21 years since Damon Hill’s oil-streaked Williams FW18-Renault won the first Australian Grand Prix held in Albert Park. Its first world championship GP, that is.
For the Melbourne venue hosted its country’s most important race twice during the 1950s, on a layout similar to today’s, albeit run anti-clockwise. On the second occasion, 1956 – as part of the city’s Olympic Games celebrations – the victory was taken by the Maserati 250F of Stirling Moss.
However, for much of its early existence – it was first run in 1928 (some say 1929) – the event went walkabout, with all states bar Northern Territory awarded patronage on a roughly rotational basis.
After eight consecutive runnings at Victoria’s Phillip Island – a six-mile rectangular road course rather than Australia’s current home of MotoGP – it called in at Lobethal, Point Cook, Leyburn, Nuriootpa, Narrogin, Port Wakefield, Caversham and Mornington Crescent. It even crossed the sea to Tasmania.
These were mainly road circuits although, after WWII, Australia followed Britain’s example of accessing airfields.
By the 1960s things began to settle. The success of Sydney’s Jack Brabham on the world stage had flooded his country with customer Coopers, and later Brabhams, and led to the creation and popularisation of the Tasman Series.
Purpose-built facilities sprung up, and Warwick Farm in New South Wales and Victoria’s Sandown hosted the race on multiple occasions during the 1960s and ’70s.
The latter, 16 miles south-east of Melbourne, even made a tentative bid for Formula 1 world championship status, but got no further than two finales of the World Sportscar Championship, the first of which, in 1984, was won by Derek Bell and Stefan Bellof in a works Porsche 956.
Melbourne’s Calder Park, 13 miles north-west of the city, also had big dreams and its entrepreneurial owner Bob Jane, a four-time national touring car champion, went to the trouble and cost of coaxing Melbourne’s newly crowned world champion Alan Jones and his Williams FW07 over to contest the 1980 race.
Despite a determined effort by Alfa Romeo’s Bruno Giacomelli to spoil the party – the Italian led briefly after the pair touched wheels in the early stages – Jones won comfortably. This success, however, did not clinch the F1 deal for Jane. Instead, he had to make do with a round of the 1987 World Touring Car Championship, which was won by the Ford Sierra RS500 of Steve Soper and Pierre Dieudonné.
It is perhaps strange that a country so keen on the sport and so effective at it should have had to wait until 1985 to be granted a world championship GP. Any future absence is unimaginable.
Picturesque Adelaide and its challenging street circuit did its country proud – but Melbourne was determined and finally got its wish after an 11-year wait.
Hill, mentally rebooted and physically refreshed after a problematic 1995, met stern opposition from new team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, who started his maiden GP from pole position and led until five laps from the finish. An oil pipe kinked by a trip across a kerb, however, cost the French-Canadian dear.
This not only allowed Hill to match his father’s achievement of 14 world championship GP victories but also better his Australian GP record, this being Damon’s second consecutive win.
Graham Hill had won the Australian GP for BRM 30 years before, at Lakeside, a small circuit 18 miles north of Brisbane in Queensland – just 2230 miles as the wallaby hops from Western Australia’s Wanneroo Park, scene of the 1979 Australian GP. Strewth!
List image courtesy of LAT
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