The Melbourne Albert Park Circuit, 2008 race photo by Ben Novakovic
Changing the first race of the season to Bahrain didn’t go down well in 2010 or 2006 and many were pleased when Bahrain was cancelled in 2011 not just because they felt Formula One shouldn’t be going there but because Melbourne has become the traditional first race of the season since it first hosted the opener in 1996. 1996 was the first time the Australian Grand Prix was held at Albert Park, or at least since 1956 when it hosted the then non-championship Australian Grand Prix.
Albert Park Melbourne took over from Victoria Park Adelaide: a similar track in another park but more obviously a street circuit with sharp right angle turns. The Albert Park circuit despite not being a permanent facility is a good track for drivers and fans and always seems to have a great atmosphere. Safety cars are always likely here, partly because of it being the first run out for new unreliable cars and often also unreliable rookies, but also because clearing the track isn’t always easy.
To simply call Albert Park a street circuit wouldn’t be completely accurate, the track is in a park and much of the circuit is used as roads in the park for the rest of the year but only with low levels of traffic compared to somewhere like Monaco. This means rather than oil and other traffic debris there is more leaves, soil and dust on the circuit when Formula One arrives here in late summer; late summer means it can rain here, Button excelled here in a great race in 2010.
Talking of great races 1996 stands out, Jacques Villeneuve’s debut, as well as the circuit’s, where he won despite an oil leak and Damon Hill chasing him all of the way and Villeneuve having had to pass Hill after he came out of the pits ahead.Other great debut drives here include Webber in 2002 and Raikonnen in 2001 who both scored points on their debuts. Button having started second from last would have scored a point on his debut in 2000 had his engine not failed.
2006 saw 4 safety cars after crashes including a big mistake by Michael Schumacher, this was the time he walked into the wrong garage on returning to the pits.
The Track and where to watch
The Track itself at Albert Park is difficult but drivers can get into a really good flow. Getting the right breaking point and apex into turn 6 is tough and it is unsighted; turns 11 and 12 are also where many cars lose time and also spin out if they take in too much speed through this seventh gear high speed corner.Turn one is still a great place to buy your Melbourne tickets for though and so is turn three, both at the end of relatively long straights and both potential overtaking positions. Turn three perhaps sees more overtakes and more mistakes but turn one you get a good view of the first corner action at the start.