5 Memorable Moments Down Under: Australian Grand Prix Highlights

Melbourne will host the first round on the 2020 Formula 1 calendar
Melbourne will host the first round on the 2020 Formula 1 calendar

The Australian Grand Prix, held first in Adelaide and now at the iconic Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, boasts a rich history dating back to 1986. While victories and podium finishes naturally etch themselves into the record books, the true magic of the race lies in the unforgettable moments that transcend the checkered flag. From heart-stopping crashes to displays of incredible sportsmanship, the Australian Grand Prix has delivered a plethora of such experiences that have captivated fans and cemented the race’s place as a true spectacle. Let’s delve into the archives and relive five such moments that have truly defined the Australian Grand Prix narrative.

Back to Back Button at Australian Grand Prix

The 2009 and 2010 Australian Grand Prix respectively, became pivotal moments in the career of Jenson Button. 2009 saw the grid debut of Brawn GP. Button’s race from pole position to chequered flag was just what we had come to expect from the Brit. This great driver was back in a competitive car and delivered victory with his trademark smoothness and maturity.

Brawn also made history by becoming the second car manufacturer since Mercedes in 1954 to win their maiden event. Brawn GP was of course born from the ashes of the failed Honda programme, so strictly speaking this was not a brand-new team, but for a team that had gone through such turmoil and uncertainty to turn up at the opening race and blow everybody else out of the water was an incredible achievement.

2010 saw Button move to Mclaren, and rain prior to the start of the 2010 Australian Grand Prix meant all the drivers started on intermediate tyres, but with the track drying rapidly, choosing the right moment to pit for slicks would prove vital. Lying in seventh place, Jenson Button was the first to change tyres on lap 6, only for the McLaren driver to slide off the track almost as soon as he had rejoined, illustrating how tricky the conditions were.

However, Button soon found his rhythm and began pumping in quick lap times, prompting other drivers to follow his lead and pit for dry tyres. By the time the rest of the field had made their stops, Button was now in second position, his earlier gamble having paid off handsomely, and when Sebastian Vettel retired with a brake issue, Button assumed the lead and coolly collected his first win for McLaren.

Debut to Remember for Australia

The 2002 Australian Grand Prix featured first-lap drama, scores of retirements and intense on-track battles, and it is remembered for Mark Webber’s dream debut for the Australian-led Minardi team.

Considered a backmarker team, Minardi, owned by Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart, entered the 2002 Formula 1 World Championship with two new drivers, one of which was a fresh-faced 26-year-old Australian, Mark Webber.

Following a wet qualifying session, the race started with a chaotic opening corner, with Ralf Schumacher soaring into the sky over the top of Rubens Barrichello. The incident caused chaos behind, putting an end to Giancarlo Fisichella, Felipe Massa, Nick Heidfeld, Jenson Button, Olivier Panis and Allan McNish’s race, making a total of eight drivers or more than one-third of the field. The closing stages brought drama. With the Australian holding 5th place the local fans were on their feet, and were ecstatic, as Mika Salo lost control of his Toyota while attempting an overtake on Webber into the hard-braking zone of Turn 3. Webber was left to comfortably bring the car over the line, scoring Minardi’s first points since the 1999 European Grand Prix. Webber attended the podium with team boss Stoddart to celebrate his fantastic achievement, fittingly closing another dramatic Australian Grand Prix.

A Title Decider

The 1986 Australian Grand Prix was the setting for a titanic three-way championship battle between the two Williams cars of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, and Alain Prost’s McLaren. With a points advantage over his rivals, Mansell only needed to finish third to be sure of the title, and he drove conservatively in the opening stages of the race to look after his car. Just as it appeared that the championship was destined to fall to the Englishman, a spectacular tyre failure pitched him off the road and out of the race. Piquet was now leading, but the Williams team, wary of what had happened to Mansell, called him in for a precautionary tyre change, allowing a disbelieving Prost through to win the race and take the 1986 title.

Shortest Race

In 1991 the year of his third and final title, Ayrton Senna won the shortest race in Formula 1 history that was stopped after just 14 of the 82 scheduled laps, 24 minutes of treacherous racing conditions. Following the race, the great Senna slammed the conditions by saying “I don’t think that was a race, there was no point to try to go quick at all. It was impossible.” The Brazilian had already clinched his third World Championship with McLaren before heading to Australia. Torrential rain fell at the start of the race and, although an effort was made to complete the event, conditions worsened. The red flag was waved on Lap 16, with the official results declared following the end of Lap 14. The result benefitted Mansell, who crashed into the wall the lap before the race was called, however, it wasn’t enough to stop McLaren from taking home the Constructors’ Championship.

Hugely Hyped Debut

The 1996 Australian Grand Prix was its second in succession, as the race switched from the 1995 finale in Adelaide to the 1996 season opener in Melbourne, in a race that will be remembered for an incredible opening lap crash.

In that memorable Melbourne event, marking the start of Martin Brundle’s first season with the Jordan team, he faced an uphill battle from the outset, having secured only the 19th spot on the grid among 22 competitors. Starting in such a precarious position is always a challenge, particularly at the season’s opening race on a fresh circuit. Brundle successfully navigated the initial corners, but as the pack surged toward Turn 3, seeking to establish their positions, he was met with an unexpected roadblock. David Coulthard’s McLaren veered left, making contact with Johnny Herbert’s Sauber. Caught in the ensuing chaos with no escape route, Brundle’s Jordan collided with the entangled cars, was catapulted into the air, and after a dramatic somersault, the car came to a standstill, severely damaged with its engine torn apart and the gearbox gone.

“I had a lovely clear road ahead of me, and then suddenly there was nothing but cars going slowly.”

“I was flat-out in sixth doing about 290km/h, so the closing speed was too high for me to do anything about it. I was a passenger on a high-speed merry-go-round. The accident seemed to go on for a very long time,” said Brundle.

The race also saw the exciting arrival of Jacques Villeneuve. The son of the mercurial Gilles, Jacques in his baggy Williams overalls and dyed hair proceeded to join the elite club of drivers who scored a pole position on their debut race.

As a historic debut pole and race win was in sight an oil leak on his Williams Renault brought those dreams to an end, as team orders to bring the car home safely saw Villeneuve finish 30 seconds behind teammate Damon Hill, depriving us of witnessing Jacques Villeneuve completing the triple in his first race: pole, fastest lap and the win.

What has been your favourite Australian Grand Prix moment so far?

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