Eight unforgettable moments from the Australian F1 Grand Prix

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 07 March 2020

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Melbourne's F1 grand prix at Albert Park.

White-knuckled finishes, spectacular crashes, triumphs and a very unlucky accident – the Australian Grand Prix has provided countless highs and lows during its time in Melbourne.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the grand prix at its lakeside track in Albert Park. Some recall with delight, others with bitterness, ‘The Great Heist’ when Victoria snatched the motor-racing jewel from South Australia where it had been held since 1985.

After a series of backroom deals, then Victorian premier Jeff Kennett “stole” the Formula 1 world championship and the race came to Melbourne in 1996.

Whether you love it or hate it, the high-octane event has had numerous memorable incidents over the past quarter of a century. These are eight of the most memorable.


Eight unforgettable moments from 25 years of F1 Grand Prix

A death-defying crash

A high-speed, seemingly life-threatening multiple car crash on the first lap of the first race in 1996 made it memorable, but what made it unforgettable was what happened next.

On the tricky third turn of the track, two cars tangled in front of British driver Martin Brundle. He ploughed into the back of one, flipping his yellow Jordan-Peugeot over and hurtling it through the air at high speed, finally skidding through the dirt to hit a safety wall.

Emergency crews and marshals raced to the sagging, upside-down wreckage fearing the worst.

The Voice of Formula One TV commentator Murray Walker yelled: "Wow, that's one of the Jordans!"

"This is what we feared at this corner and that looks very nasty indeed. A Jordan goes flying through the air into the wall."

Incredibly, Brundle emerged from the wreckage unscathed then surprised everyone even more by running to the pits to get a replacement car to restart the race.

"It’s Martin Brundle and, miracle of miracles, this is well-nigh unbelievable," yelled an incredulous Walker.

The race was red-flagged, re-started and eventually won by Williams’ Damon Hill.

A freak accident kills a volunteer

It was an accident so amazing it made worldwide headlines in 2001. Volunteer marshal Graham Beveridge was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a wheel flew off a racing car after a high-speed accident. It flew through a narrow gap in the trackside barrier Graham was standing behind, hitting him in the chest at more than 160kmh and killing him. 

The sport’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), investigated the incident, which followed a collision between Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher, and ruled it a “freak accident”. But a Victorian coroner said it was “avoidable” because the dangers of gaps in the safety barrier should have been known.

The cover-up

For decades scantily clad models known as grid girls flaunted their stuff at motor races. When the grid girls signed up for Melbourne’s first race, they reportedly had to have their breast size checked to ensure they measured up.

Plunging necklines, bare midriffs, short shorts and skin-tight gear were their trademark attire.

The walking billboards sporting sponsor logos were doused with champagne by winners on the podium, but their official function was to walk onto the track before the race, stand in front of the drivers and hold up the driver’s number.

All that changed in Melbourne in 2018, the first race held after Formula One authorities banned grid girls because they were out of touch with today’s sensibilities. Both grid girls and some drivers disagreed.

Ferrari’s first Grand Prix win 

The Italian Stallion, Ferrari, won its first Grand Prix in Melbourne in 1999 but not with its No. 1 driver, Michael Schumacher. Northern Irishman Eddie Irvine took his maiden victory after the dominating McLaren drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard who retired about half-way into the race.

F1 Grid Girls pose for a photo with Daniel Ricciardo

The gentlemen’s agreement 

The McLaren team created controversy in 1998 over a deal struck between drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard before the Melbourne race. The pair dominated the field and were vying for first and second place when Coulthard pulled over with two laps remaining, allowing Hakkinen to win. The pair had earlier agreed that whoever led on the first corner on lap one would be allowed to win, and Coulthard honoured the deal.

Who's counting? 

Former head of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the late Ron Walker, once claimed the race had a global audience of 54 billion. That’s about seven times the world’s current population. No one corrected him.

An accident gives Ozzie a chance  

An Australian has never won the Australian Grand Prix but homegrown favourite Mark Webber made his Formula One debut in Melbourne’s 2002 race with a chance.

The 2002 race started with a bang – literally. In the opening corner, eight cars were wiped out when Ralf Schumacher's vehicle went flying over Rubens Barrichello’s. Mark swerved around the on-track carnage and came home in fifth position for Minardi, sealing a long-term career. 

Protests but the race went on 

Even before the race started protesters tried to stop it in its tracks. They argued it was taking over a public park, that the financials didn’t add up and that it hurt the locals.

The first rally in 1994 attracted a few thousand, then a year later 20,000 people swarmed over the then City Square in Swanston Street led by actor John Dietrich.

Save Albert Park protesters estimate more than 700 of their clan were arrested during a series of standoffs.

The group filed Freedom of Information requests for the race’s financial details, blockaded construction trucks, set up a vigil in the park and even protested in London outside the office of then Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone. 

At first there were thousands of supporters, including opposition Labor party leaders who dropped away once the race was run.

Still, the race went ahead as planned in 1995 and SAP set up a seven-day-a-week vigil at the park which continued for a decade, gradually reducing its hours. But 25 years later there are a handful of protesters left, including stalwart Peter Goad, a Mornington Peninsula farmer who continues his opposition because he’s a member of an Albert Park sports club.

“No one was listening,” says Peter of SAP’s decline. Although SAP still has a website, it is purely a “public information” site that continues to question the race.

Road safety explained: what RACV is doing to keep you safe on Victorian roads.