The Australian Grand Prix has been roaring into Melbourne since 1996, delighting car fans and deafening everyone within 10 kilometres of the picturesque Albert Park Lake track. Successive state governments keep shaking out the welcome mat – so long-suffering locals might as well get used to it. Mary Bolling takes a look at who talks the torque, ahead of the 2014 event.
These aren’t Melbourne Cup, top-hat-and-tails types – but the Australian Grand Prix comes with an illustrious history. First held at Phillip Island in 1928, Melbourne controversially stole it from South Australia – listen for industry folk regularly muttering “thank Christ we’re not in Adelaide”. Racing illuminati hang in the “Paddock Club” and corporate pavilions, and here’s a helpful spotters’ tip: the sport boasts some of the world’s hottest WAGs.
These are the lads – and very, very occasional lady – who passionately argued the merits of Holden versus Ford in high school. Now it’s Ferrari, Renault or Mercedes – and if you were bored by the debate back then, it hasn’t changed. In jeans, joggers and copious team merch, they can be found thumbs-up, posing for photos next to cars.
Less involved in the finer points of F1, this crowd is focused on the booze – squealing wheels and the haze of burning rubber are just bonus. Another central attraction: grid girl alley. F1’s flesh-heavy advertising has this target market in mind. This contingent often – and oddly – stands shoulder-to-shoulder with another mob: music fans determined to see headliners like KISS, the Who and the Living End. This year Jimmy Barnes is joined by Daryl Braithwaite, James Reyne, Diesel and Johnny Wonderpants. Oi!
The Save Albert Park protest mob was in full swing ahead of the bid to get the GP to Melbourne – they lost, but aren’t giving up. Opponents still turn up with their placards, and insist the lakeside tracks were actually designed for horse and carriage, not F1s. Dwindling crowd numbers, and skyrocketing cost to taxpayers, is further fuel to their as-yet-unsuccessful campaign.
Now in its 18th year at Albert Park, the Grand Prix is probably here to stay. Poor crowds have driven ticket prices down (if you ignore your contribution to the $56 million of taxpayer funds that prop it up every year.) And regardless of your politics, car knowledge, or permanent hearing damage, this is a party of a world-class standard. How many of those do you get to attend? And those grid girls are pretty hot.
The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park Lake, Mar 13-16.