Grand Prix Melbourne –
The Australian Grand Prix

The Grand Prix Melbourne,the Australian Grand Prix, is held around Albert Park Lake, near the city. It continues to be controversial - dividing Melburnians into motor enthusiasts and opponents.

‘Grand Prix’ is French and literally means the ‘grandiose prize’.

It nowadays is any of the series of Formula One motor races held to determine the annual Drivers' World Championship.

Grand Prix motor racing has its roots from a simple road race in 1894 France. Because high speeds caused frequent accidents and fatalities for both drivers and spectators, these races eventually evolved into Formula One racing.

Formula One Melbourne

Formula One is the highest class of single seater auto racing. The word Formula means a set of rules with which all participants' cars must comply. The F1 season consists of a series of Grands Prix that are held on purpose-built circuits and public roads around the world. Formula One cars are the fastest circuit-racing cars in the world, racing at high speeds of up to 360 km/h (220 mph)

The Grand Prix Melbourne, held in March, is the pinnacle of Australian motor racing. It moved from Adelaide to the inner Melbourne street circuit in 1996 after it had been used twice for the Grand Prix in the 1950s.

It is hailed as one of the big Melbourne events.

It’s loud, so you need to bring ear plugs - or buy them there. We’re not sure what the Albert Park ducks and swans do – perhaps they hide on the island.

Celebrated Australian Grand Prix Drivers

The Australian driver Lex Davison and the German driver Michael Schumacher are the most successful drivers in the 83 year history of the event, each taking four wins.

There is also a prize for the Constructors, the person or group who builds the chassis of an auto racing car. McLaren has been the most successful constructor with eleven victories. Both the 2009 and 2010 Grand Prix Melbourne were won by British driver Jenson Button.

Australian Grand Prix History

While there had been an Australian Grand Prix in 1927 near Sydney, the Grand Prix Australia really began in 1928 as the 100 Miles Road Race. This was held on the Phillip Island dirt road circuit – in an era of mechanical concoctions and ingenuity - until 1935.

After that, there was a centennial South Australian Grand Prix in 1936 at Victor Harbor. It then moved to one of the world's most famous race tracks, Mount Panorama just outside of Bathurst in 1938.

After the interruptions of the war, it returned to Bathurst as the first post-war Grand Prix in 1947. It then rotated as a travelling race amongst the temporary converted airfields and street circuits of Point Cook, Leyburn, Nuriootpa and Narrogin before returning to Mount Panorama in 1952. It was held on the Melbourne Albert Park track in 1954 and 1956, giving Australia a strong taste of the grandeur surrounding European Grand Prix racing.

From 1985-95, the F1 world championships where held in Adelaide, on what often has been stated as being one of, if not, the greatest street circuits in the world!

The F1 Melbourne - Glory or Disgrace?

In 1993, the then Melbourne Kennett government spent an undisclosed sum affecting the shift of the race to the rebuilt Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne. At that point, Victoria had been the rust-bucket state for years, with the city in the doldrums.

His decision brought glamour, excitement and controversy – some thought this to be genius, many others felt deceived.

A series of fervent protests were organised by the "Save Albert Park" group, who claimed that the Grand Prix Melbourne turned a public park into a private playground for one week per year. They also argued that this great amount of money would have better been spent on a permanent circuit elsewhere.

The race organisers and the government claimed that the economic benefits to the State were outweighing its costs – which protesters claimed as false or exaggerated. There have been regular demonstrations against the Melbourne Grand Prix since.

It appears that real reason for the Melbourne street circuit has been in providing a romantic city backdrop for television. From the perspective of the Formula One organisers, it’s almost like Europe, but at much lesser cost and inconvenience to them.

The Albert Park Grand Prix circuit was built around Albert Park Lake, utilising a combination of public roads and a car parks. The first race, promoted as “Melbourne – What a Great Place for the Race”, attracted over 400,000 people viewers in 1996.

This is still the record crowd for the event and attendance has been dropping – although it bounced back somewhat in 2010. It never reached the level seen in Adelaide in 1995. Perhaps not really a ‘Melbourne’ event at all!

The Future of the Melbourne Grand Prix

The current State Government no longer guarantees the future of Melbourne's Formula 1 Grand Prix after 2015. According to Lord Mayor Robert Doyle the race has outlived its welcome, causing growing annual losses. The setup cost alone were $28 million in 2010 and required nine jumbo jets packed with equipment flying in from Europe. In 2010, $50 million had to be carried by the tax payers.

On the other side, you have the Grand Prix Corporation chairman Ron Walker insisting that it offers almost $180 million in economic benefits for Victoria…

It looks like ‘Time’s up’ for the Albert Park race! A recent poll showed 62% in favour of having the race axed, 38% wanting to keep it.

Nevertheless, over the years, the Australian Grand Prix has become a staple in the packed events calendar for March. As a world event, it has a band of faithful followers and draws a crowd of 100,000 on race day.

What will happen to the Grand Prix Melbourne after 2015 remains an unknown!

Australian Grand Prix

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