Melbourne Grand PrixThe City of Melbourne has hosted the first round of the FIA Formula One World Championship race in March since 1985. Known as the Australian Grand Prix, the event is currently held at the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit at Albert Park. The Australian Grand Prix became part of the Formula One World Championship in 1985 and was held at the Adelaide Street Circuit in Adelaide, South Australia, from that year to 1995, before moving to Melbourne in 1996. During its years in Adelaide, the Australian Grand Prix was the final round of the Championship, replacing the Portuguese Grand Prix in that respect. As the final round of the season, the Grand Prix hosted a handful of memorable races, most notably the 1986 and 1994 races which saw the 1986 and 1994 World Drivers' Championships decided.
The winner of the Australian Grand Prix is presented with a circular plate, recently named the Jack Brabham trophy, named for the Australian born and bred three-time winner in a design based on the steering wheel of one of Brabham's racing cars and a perpetual trophy, the Lex Davison trophy, named for four-time winner and dates back to the 1960s. Australian driver Lex Davison and German driver Michael Schumacher are the most successful drivers in the 86-year history of the event taking four wins each; while McLaren has been the most successful constructor with twelve victories, its success stretching back into the pre-Formula One history of the race its first win being in 1970. Frenchman Alain Prost is the only driver to win the Australian Grand Prix in both non-championship and World Championship formats, having won the race in 1982, 1986, and again in 1988.
Albert Park, within easy reach of the Melbourne central business district, became home to the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. A 16-turn circuit, which measures 5.3 kilometres in its current guise, was built utilising a combination of public roads and a car park within the park. The circuit is renowned as being a smooth and high-speed test for Formula One teams and drivers. Its characteristics are similar to the only other street circuit set in a public park used in the Formula One World Championship, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal which hosts the Canadian Grand Prix.
On 4 July 2008, the official F1 site reported that more than 300,000 people attended the four-day Melbourne Grand Prix, though actual ticket sales were later disputed by the local media. The Grand Prix will continue until at least 2020 after securing a new contract with Formula One Management. There has never been a night race at Albert Park, however, 2009 s event started at 5.00 p.m.
Albert Park has the distinction of being the only venue to host the Australian Grand Prix in both World Championship and non-World Championship formats with an earlier configuration of the current circuit used for the race on two occasions during the 1950s. During this time racing was conducted in an anti-clockwise direction as opposed to the current circuit which runs clockwise. Known as the Albert Park Circuit, the original 3.125 mile (5.03 kilometre) course hosted a total of six race meetings between November 1953 and November 1958.
The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is a street circuit around Albert Park Lake, only a few kilometres south of central Melbourne. It is used annually as a racetrack for the Australian Grand Prix and associated support races. The circuit has FIA Grade 1 license. The circuit uses everyday sections of road that circle Albert Park Lake, a small man-altered lake (originally a large lagoon formed as part of the ancient Yarra River course) just south of the Central Business District of Melbourne. The road sections that are used were rebuilt prior to the inaugural event in 1996 to ensure consistency and smoothness. As a result, compared to other circuits that are held on public roads, the Albert Park track has quite a smooth surface. Before 2007 there existed only a few other places on the Formula 1 calendar with a body of water close to the track. Many of the new tracks, such as Valencia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi have imitated that feature.
The course is considered to be quite fast and relatively easy to drive, drivers having commented that the consistent placement of corners allows them to easily learn the circuit and achieve competitive times. However, the flat terrain around the lake, coupled with a track design that features few true straights, means that the track is not conducive to overtaking or easy spectating unless in possession of a grandstand seat.
Each year, most of the trackside fencing, pedestrian overpasses, grandstands and other motorsport infrastructure are erected approximately two months prior to the Grand Prix weekend and removed within 6 weeks after the event. Land around the circuit (including a large aquatic centre, a golf course, a Lakeside Stadium, some restaurants and rowing boathouses) has restricted access during the grand prix weekend. Dissent is still prevalent among nearby local residents and users of those others facilities, and some still maintain a silent protest against the event. Nevertheless, the event is reasonably popular in Melbourne and Australia (with a large European population and a general interest in motorsport). Middle Park, the home of South Melbourne FC was demolished in 1994 due to expansion at Albert Park.
Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg at Corner 6 of the Albert Park Circuit, Melbourne