A long winter of testing and development will be on show this weekend as the 2018 Formula One season kicks off in Melbourne.
After not seeing the paddock since December when the season wrapped up under the lights of Abu Dhabi, the circus returns to Albert Park as the traditional season curtain raiser.
In the Grand Prix’s 22-year history as a World Championship event, there have been some spectacular moments over its time in Adelaide and then Melbourne.
Here are our top five moments in the history of the Australian Grand Prix:
1986: Adelaide – Williams loses the unlosable championship
Back when Adelaide hosted the Grand Prix and it served as the last race of the season, the Williams drivers of Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell entered the race as favourites to win the title.
Despite securing pole position, Mansell’s title hopes evaporated in the second half of the race when his tyre exploded, taking him out of the race.
The team brought in Piquet to change his tyres as a precaution, giving the lead to McLaren’s Alain Prost who remained there until the chequered flag, winning his second championship in succession despite having a fuel gauge telling him he was running on empty for the last few laps.
1991: Adelaide – The Shortest Race Ever
The 1991 season was well and truly wrapped up before the final round with Ayrton Senna winning his third and final World Championship title in Japan.
At the final race in Adelaide, a downpour saw the track become water-logged, leaving officials no choice but to declare the finish after only 16 laps of racing (although the red flag countback rules meant the standings at the end of Lap 14 were final). It stands as the shortest race in history after only running for 24 minutes.
1996: Melbourne – Fresh Faces, New Places
For 1996 the Australian Grand Prix was not only moved from being the last race of the season to the first, but also to Melbourne from Adelaide. Rookie Jacques Villeneuve starred in qualifying, putting his Williams on pole in his first Formula One race after making the move from the American CART championship (which he had won in 1995).
His teammate Damon Hill went on to win the race after Villeneuve’s gearbox developed an oil leak which would make the Exxon Valdez blush. Hill became the first and only driver to win two races in a row to be held in the same country.
The race was also marred by a spectacular accident for Martin Brundle at Turn 3, from which the British driver was famously able to walk away unhurt.
2002: Melbourne – The Local Hero and Ralf the pilot
After success in sports cars, Australian Mark Webber made his F1 debut in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix for Minardi. The start of the race was marred by a crash which took out eight cars, triggered by Ralf Schumacher making a blistering start only to make contact with Rubens Barrichello, launching over the Brazilian’s Ferrari.
The large number of retirements created one of the greatest fairytale stories in F1 history as Webber finished fifth on debut, becoming the first Australian to score points in a Grand Prix since Alan Jones.
2009: Melbourne – Brawn Show Their Brains
In the off-season between 2008 and 2009, Honda announced their withdrawal from Formula One, leaving the team to be bought out by former Ferrari whiz Ross Brawn. With a good chassis and a last-minute deal to run Mercedes engines, Brawn GP came to Melbourne with no yardstick of what was achievable.
They stunned the paddock when Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello not only locked out the front row but took the first two steps on the podium. The result was unexpected but was a sign of the year to come as Button and Brawn won the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships respectively.
Will there be another magic moment in Melbourne this weekend? If this year’s event has been anything to go by, it’ll be a tight race at the top of the pecking order to get the best possible start to the season.
Images via Daily Motion, Mark Webber, McLaren, Red Bull, Williams
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