The 2016 F1 calendar kicks off once again in Melbourne, the 21st race held at the circuit in the track’s 20-year history. Melbourne has long held significance for drivers: the winner of the race going on to be crowned World Champion for that year eight times since 2002 and 12 out of a total 20 times altogether. Lewis Hamilton foreshadowed his own championship victory at the Australian Grand Prix last year, which makes it a pivotal race in the calendar.
Its significance doesn’t begin and end there. For a venue that was only officially added to the line-up as a permanent track in the Formula One World Championship in 1985, the Australian GP has already racked up an impressive history within the sport, witnessing record breaking races and sparking a barrel of controversies.
As an official F1 venue, the Australian Grand Prix started life in Adelaide on a challenging street circuit that often drew comparisons to the twisting roads of the Monaco track.
In its 10 year run, the track played host to a number of momentous races. Niki Lauda finished his three-time world championship career there, with an anti-climactic finish that saw him crash into a wall mid-race, after his brakes failed.
It was also the setting for the three-way race for the driver’s championship title between Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet in 1986. Unluckily for Mansell (who only needed to finish third to win), his Williams suffered a rear tyre puncture, causing the car to lose control as it dragged itself along, before veering to a safe halt.
And let’s not forget the spectacular and utterly controversial crash between Mansell and Senna in 1992 that will go down in Australia’s history. Senna later scored his last ever F1 win at this track in 1993 too, six months before his tragic death.
The announcement that the race was to be moved to the Albert Park circuit in 1996 meant that Australia’s GP made the history books once again, taking the title as the only country to hold back to back Grand Prixs. It kicked things off in style as, since then, the circuit hasn’t stopped making headlines.
McLaren came under fire there in 1998, when it was revealed David Coulthard had deliberately backed off during the race to let teammate Mika Hakkinen take the lead. This ultimately led to the ban on team orders.
Then tragedy struck in 2001 during a freak accident when a crash between Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve left a tyre spinning off the track, hitting and killing marshal Graham Beveridge. Wheel tethers were later introduced to increase safety.
The following year, however, saw a happier turn of events as Australian Mark Webber finished fifth in his debut race, coming home to a standing ovation from the crowd who promptly went wild: a reaction that could be due in part to the fact that an Australian has yet to win there.
And this year, it’s anyone’s guess what the track’s got in store.