Adelaide reigns as F1 Oz home
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Headlines this month that read “Adelaide interested in return of F1 Australian Grand Prix” made me smile because, to me, Adelaide will forever be the home of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
First, I have to say to those historians already on their clackety clack typewriters that, yes, of course I know that Philip Island boasts the first “Grand Prix” held in 1928 and that title has also been bestowed on many an event at many a track (I think around 18) around that country.
I am talking here about my personal feeling of the Grand Prix home and those feelings began with the announcement, late in 1984, that we (F1) were going to Adelaide.
If there would never be a Formula 1 Grand Prix in my home of New Zealand, surely Adelaide was the next best thing.
The first Australian Grand Prix to be included as part of the Formula One World Championship happened in 1985.
But before that was the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami, an event riven with the politics of the time as some teams boycotted the race. Many Formula 1 team members made themselves unpopular with some of the more privileged locals by daring to talk and socialise with those who the crumbling apartheid system sought to marginalise.
After coming from the heady atmosphere of the normal Formula 1 paddocks, with large American motorhomes and sumptuous trucks being the norm, the paddock at Kyalami was less salubrious, with tiny caravans provided at great cost to each team, large or small.
Individual teams then managed to acquire tents for shade, which meant that the area looked remarkably like a paddock area at Pukekohe or BayPark — but resulted in all the teams mingling and socialising.
It was still in that era when the paddock was something of a family; a travelling band of disparate nationalities who all seemed to enjoy the job and the diversity of customs and traditions.
After the race there was great anticipation about the trip to Adelaide. But first, we all had to experience the Kruger National Park for a few days, a great trip.
On arrival in Adelaide there were more days off while we waited for the freight to arrive so it was off to the zoos, parks and wine country.
The people at Adelaide welcomed the teams with open arms. Wine tours, sailing, karting, clay shooting and so much more was laid on.
That hospitality never changed from the first Grand Prix to the last in 1995 when a crowd of 520,000 attended the event.
The 3.78km circuit was exciting and well laid out with a great temporary pit structure. The layout is similar to today when the Supercars run at the Clipsal event, although they run on a shorter track of just 3.219km.
Adelaide had little in the way of annual international events so the Grand Prix became the event of the year.
In a city roughly the size of Auckland, there was a feeling of inclusion that was never replicated (in my experience) in Melbourne when that city won the rights to host the event.
In fact, it was brought home to me by a good friend who lives in Melbourne when he said, on my first visit to Albert Park, that Melbourne had “all the big sports events”.
That, I think, is the reason the Grand Prix will never be able to reproduce the feel of the event in Adelaide.
In 1986 we travelled to Adelaide from the Mexican Grand Prix and then, in 1987 until the last event in 1995, the race was entrenched as the last of the season after the Japanese Grand Prix.
I loved the race in Japan but I could not wait to get to Adelaide.
Many traditions were established over the 10-year tenure, including the McLaren end-of-year party in the Hilton Hotel, with the no-expense-spared attitude of Ron Dennis. That party became the hottest ticket for the paddock and visiting celebrities in the whole city.
As I seemed to know the “who’s who” of the paddock, it was usually my role to be on the door, backed up by Tats and Forklift, two good friends and McLaren truckies. We had the power to allow, or refuse, entry. Bribes were often offered!
It was a decade of races filled with incidents. The first race was blindingly hot and resulted in only eight cars out of the original 26 finishing.
It was also Niki Lauda’s last race before he retired at the end of the year.
In 1986 there was the famous Mansell tyre blowout, which resulted in Prost and McLaren winning the title.
In 1989 came the infamous wet race when Prost pulled out after just one lap believing the conditions were too dangerous.
No other driver pulled out, and later in the race came the dramatic TV footage of Senna crashing into the rear of Brundle on the straight while driving blind.
In 1991 we saw the shortest race in Formula 1 history when the race was abandoned after just 14 laps due to the heavy rain. And in 1992 came the last race for the Honda/McLaren partnership, until this current era.
In 1993 the race was won, once again, by Senna in a McLaren. It was to be his last victory for in 1994 he was killed while driving a Williams at Imola in Italy.
At the final race in 1995, McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen was critically injured and almost lost his life after a tyre failure on his McLaren pitched him into a wall in practice. His was in hospital for two months.
That race was won by Damon Hill and, in doing so, he andhis father Graham emulated the achievement of Stan and Alan Jones as the only fathers and sons to win the Australian Grand Prix.
McLaren has won the Australian Grand Prix 12 times, more than any other team, and five of those wins came in Adelaide. I guess it is a forlorn hope that another win will come anytime soon.
I think it is also a forlorn hope that the city council of Adelaide will wrest the event from the grasp of Melbourne. However, if they ever do I will be the first to buy a ticket.