The Albert Park circuit has been the traditional season opener since 1996. Here are four classic races from Melbourne’s impressive catalogue.
1996- Brundle Crashes as Villeneuve arrives in F1.
The 1996 season opened with the brand new Australian venue. The event was won by Damon Hill, but is mostly remembered for Martin Brundle’s miraculous escape from his lap one shunt.
This Grand Prix is also remembered for being the first race appearance of Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian, and son of 70s F1 legend Gilles Villeneuve, impressed on his debut, scoring a 2nd place finish; a feat which would not be emulated for 18 years. It was no surprise to most that Villeneuve performed so well. Switching to Formula One following an impressive Indy Car Series stint, Jacques had already achieved an Indy 500 win. The second place he scored in this race cemented his place as a future F1 star.
2008– Hamilton Begins his March to 2008 Title.
The 2008 season opened with a high attrition rate and a commanding win from Lewis Hamilton.
Only seven drivers saw the chequered flag in this frantic Australian Grand Prix. Retirements were the order of the day, through collisions -Coulthard and Glock each involved in their own spectacular accidents- and through car failures, most heartbreakingly for Sebastien Bourdais, who came close to a top five finish on his debut for Toro Rosso. Even Reubens Barrichello, a stalwart of Formula one and one of the seven finishers, was disqualified for exiting the pitlane under a red light.
At the front, Lewis Hamilton took a victory which would prove be the foundation for his first title, which he would win in the same year. Robert Kubica was a close runner up.
2009- Brawn GP’s Rise from the Ashes.
An unlikely fairytale start to the season for Jenson Button and controversy for Lewis Hamilton were the main talking points in 2009.
Jenson Button’s Formula 1 career was in tatters by the end of 2008. After two uncompetitive seasons, Button found himself without a drive as Honda pulled out of the sport. But the embers left from Honda’s exit were still burning, and Ross Brawn reignited them. From the burning embers emerged a phoenix in the shape of Brawn GP, which would become more successful than Honda had ever been able to manage in their works team. On race day they didn’t have it all their own way. A turn one incident for Barrichello put him on the back foot and a mistake in the pits caught Jenson Button’s pit crew unaware. Nevertheless, Jenson Button managed to lead home a Brawn one-two on the team’s debut. It was a weekend to remember for Brackley’s Brawn GP.
But 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton had a weekend to forget. He could only manage to get his under-performing McLaren to 15th on the grid, and was later dropped to 18th following a change of gearbox. By Sunday night, that was the least of Hamilton’s worries. During the final safety car stint, Hamilton had overtaken Jarno Trulli following an off track adventure from the Italian driver. Hamilton was entitled to overtake. However, Lewis then let Jarno back through and this is where a series of lies from the McLaren team led to Sporting Director Dave Ryan’s sacking and Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from the Grand Prix.
There was controversy for the race winners too. The legality of the double diffuser used on the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars was the subject of much debate between the other teams, especially Red Bull, and the FIA. However, it was deemed legal, the result stood and the rest of the teams made hurried plans for double diffusers of their own.
2014- A New Era.
Formula One stepped into new hybrid territory with the opening Grand Prix of the 2014 season.
The new age of Formula 1 arrived in Melbourne in 2014. The first race of a highly anticipated season was expected to have a high attrition rate, due to the new technologies and regulations. In reality, 13 drivers managed to the race, but champions Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel retired due to engine troubles. Despite Hamilton’s retirement, the dawn of Mercedes’ domination was clear.
Nico Rosberg won the race by 27 seconds, ending Sebastian Vettel’s dominant streak of nine race wins. Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen also impressed on their débuts for new teams. However, Ricciardo was later disqualified due to a fuel flow irregularity, much to the disappointment of the home crowd. Other young stars- Valtteri Bottas, despite making light contact with a wall, and Daniil Kvyat, on his debut for Toro Rosso- managed to take points from the race. 2014’s Australian Grand Prix certainly felt like a new age of Formula One.
What are your favourite memories of the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park? Let me know in the comments below!