As the first race of the season in Melbourne approaches, we take a look at three of the most famous races to occur at Albert Park since its introduction to the calendar in 1996.
1996 – Melbourne – 1st Hill, 2nd Villeneuve, 3rd Irvine
In it’s now regular spot as first race of the season, the 1996 Australian Grand Prix is remembered for being the race which showcased the emergence of young rookie Jacques Villeneuve. The inaugural race to take place in Melbourne, following the departure from former home of the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide.
The Williams driver was competing in his first race, and he achieved pole position at his first ever attempt. The start was marred by a spectacular incident involving the Jordan of Martin Brundle. He barrel rolled over David Coulthard’s McLaren and Johnny Herbert’s Sauber and into the gravel trap.
Villeneuve went on to dominate the race, and looked like becoming the first man since Giancarlo Baghetti in 1961 to win his debut race. However an oil leak soon put an end to his hopes. Williams team mate, and eventual 1996 World Champion Damon Hill overtook the Canadian rookie to win the 14th race of his career.
1st – Hill, 2nd Villeneuve, 3rd Irvine, 4th Berger, 5th Hakkinen, 6th Salo, 7th Panis, 8th Frentzen, 9th Rosset, 10th Diniz.
2002 – Melbourne – 1st Schumacher, 2nd Montoya, 3rd Raikkonen
A race which was arguably one of the most chaotic seen in a long time, only eight drivers finished and eight drivers were eliminated on the first lap.
In the curtain raiser for the 2002 season, Ferrari were in the height of their dominance, and Rubens Barrichello managed to grab pole position. Minnows Arrows had both cars disqualified from the race in what would prove to be their final season in Formula One after nearly 30 years in the sport.
In the lead up to turn one, Ralf Schumacher in the Williams mistimed his braking and was launched over the back of Barrichello, sending both drivers out of the race. Giancarlo Fisichella, Felipe Massa, Nick Heidfeld, Jenson Button, Olivier Panis and Allan McNish were all involved in the ensuing mêlée.
Towards the end of the race the big question was whether home born debutant Mark Webber could hold on to 5th place. In a Minardi which was already poor, he lost top gear and limped to the line. He soon came under pressure from the Toyota of Mika Salo, but just as he got near the Australian, Salo span out, meaning he had to settle for sixth.
Webber made it to fifth and he and team boss Paul Stoddart were allowed on the podium to celebrate, which is now a famous image. Michael Schumacher won the race, and went on to dominate the season, winning the title in dominant fashion.
1st Schumacher, 2nd Montoya, 3rd Raikkonen, 4th Irvine, 5th Webber, 6th Salo, 7th Yoong, 8th De La Rosa, Ret Coulthard, Ret Villeneuve.
2009 – Melbourne – 1st Button, 2nd Barrichello, 3rd Trulli
Going into the 2009 season Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were out of a drive, the Honda team folded at the end of 2008 and meant their futures were in the air. However former Honda team principal Ross Brawn stepped in and bought the team, renaming it Brawn GP.
To everyone’s surprise, Brawn were the fastest team in Practice. Button was nearly half a second up on the nearest competitor. This race was significant for a few reasons, but with Brawn winning their first race, as well as managing a one-two finish, was somewhat remarkable.
After the race Button claimed it was ‘a fairy tale ending’ and it certainly looked that way as they went from bust to boom within weeks. Brawn became the first team since Mercedes in 1954 to qualify on pole and win their debut race.
Also the race became only the second to end in Safety Car conditions. BMW’s Robert Kubica and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel were running second and third respectively before crashing three laps from the end. There was also some slight controversy, as Jarno Trulli supposedly passed Lewis Hamilton under the Safety Car, which of course is illegal, Trulli was given a penalty and dropped to 12th, however it was found that Hamilton had misled the stewards. This resulted in Hamilton being disqualified and Trulli re-instated to third.
1st Button, 2nd Barrichello, 3rd Trulli, 4th Glock, 5th Alonso, 6th Rosberg, 7th Buemi, 8th Bourdais, 9th Sutil, 10th Heidfeld.