The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, or the Melbourne Grand Prix as it’s often referred to (the GP has been held in the State of Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne, in the inner-city suburb of Albert Park since 1996) lays claim to being the first Grand Prix of the Formula One Championship Season.
First staged at Phillip Island in 1928, the Australian GP went on to be raced right across the country, but a variety of factors saw it move up and down the scale of importance in the eyes of both motor racing fans and participants. However, when the Australian GP was officially included as a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship in 1988, it again began to rise in prominence, finding a fixture as a street circuit event in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.
For ten years Adelaide held the event – back then the final of the Grand Prix calendar – and the event was regarded highly by both fans and competitors alike. But Adelaide was not to retain this jewel in the Formula One racing circuit crown as businessman Ron Walker began jockeying to have the event moved to Melbourne. The move was marked by controversy, both in terms of the undisclosed amount the State Government under Jeff Kennett offered to have the race moved, and from local residents of the surrounding suburbs who did not want the race parked on their door stops.
Despite such, the move occurred and 1996 saw the first Melbourne Grand Prix. Moved to March, the race became the first Grand Prix on the FIA Formula One World Championship calendar. The Melbourne GP track is currently comprised of a 16-turn circuit around a lake, measuring 5.3 kilometres in its current guise, and was built utilising a combination of public roads and a car park within the famous Albert Park.
Melbourne GP competitors circle a man-made lake and have to contend with a lack of true straight sections accompanied by sharp, slow corners. With a reputation as being a smooth and high-speed test for Formula One teams and drivers, the Albert Park Lake circuit has characteristics similar to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal where the Canadian Grand Prix is hosted.
Due to its positioning at the head of the Formula One racing year, racegoers at the Melbourne GP have witnessed the debuts of many Formula One drivers, including 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve (who also became one of only three men to secure pole position in a maiden Grand Prix), two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and one-time champions Kimi Räikkönen (both in 2001) and Lewis Hamilton (2007). Australia’s own Mark Webber also made his debut on the Albert Park circuit in 2002.
In the nearly nine decades of the staging of the Australian GP, the two most successful winners are Lex Davidson and Michael Schumacher, taking four apiece, with McLaren being the most successful team. In recent times, Jenson Button has looked ready to eclipse these records, taking out the 2009, 2010 and 2012 Melbourne Grand Prix.
Similar to more general Formula One Betting, Melbourne Grand Prix betting is intense during the four massive days of motor racing. Although the action on the Betfair Exchange is not as rampant as the crowds, who flock to get an adrenalin-induced thrill watching the best in the world compete for the first title of the Formula One Championship year.
The Melbourne GP is a must-see for racing enthusiasts as it offers a breathtaking extra-long weekend in the Australian (and world) sporting calendar. With the roar of race cars rocketing around the Albert Park circuit at speeds of up to 300km/h, causing the streets of Melbourne to thrum with their vibrations, and the city buzzing with motor racing fans who have ascended on the city for the event eager to see who will take out the first title of the year, it’s a great time to be in Melbourne!