Top 10 Australian Grands Prix
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
As Australian’s celebrate their national day, just which Australian Grands Prix are the greatest?
Just as we recover from having thrown a couple of snags on the barbie, opening up a can or two and playing a friendly game of backyard cricket, here at The Qualifying Lap we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate our very own Grand Prix.
Since it first became a World Championship round in 1985, there have been many iconic races, from the championship deciders held at Adelaide right through to the opening races held in Melbourne.
But just what are the ten greatest races ever to be held in the land down under? Read on and find out!
10. 2009 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Jenson Button (Brawn)
Kicking us off at number 10 is the most recent race on this list, the 2009 event around the Albert Park circuit. This race is notable for the dominance of the Brawn Grand Prix team, who only months before the season opening round in Melbourne didn’t even exist and were formed from the ashes of the defunct Honda team.
Both Brawn cars, driven by Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, rocked up to Melbourne after shocking everyone with their pace in the pre-season testing. They had been a second clear of their nearest rivals and everyone was asking whether or not they could continue this form in Australia. A string of technical changes had been introduced into the sport for the start of the season such as the return of slick tyres, major front and rear wing changes as well as the introduction of KERS which drastically altered the order of the teams at the front of the field. The Brawns didn’t show their true pace until qualifying to which they dominated and locked out the front row, with Button claiming his first pole position since the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.
During the race, Button easily led off the start and was never challenged for the victory. However behind him it was a different story. His team-mate Barrichello fluffed the start and dropped from second to ninth, before getting himself involved in separate incidents with home town hero Webber and the BMW of Nick Heidfeld. Incredibly, he fought his way back all race to eventually finish second behind Button. Barrichello’s cause was helped after a crash three laps from the end involving the BMW of Robert Kubica and the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel brought out the safety car and for only the second time in history a Grand Prix finished behind the pace car.
The race is also notable for the infamous ‘liegate’ saga involving Lewis Hamilton, who lied to the stewards about Toyota’s Jarno Trulli passing him behind the safety car. Hamilton was initially awarded the podium position after Trulli was given a 25-second penalty, before eventually being disqualified from the race altogether for deliberately ‘misleading’ the race officials.
9. 1999 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari)
McLaren had dominated the 1998 season and it looked likely things were to remain the same way as the the 1999 season kicked off. Both David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen locked out the front row after dominating the practice sessions, with the reigning World Champion Hakkinen taking pole from his Scottish team-mate just like the year before.
Things in the race however wouldn’t follow the same result from 1998. Before the race began, Hakkinen showed some signs of trouble within the McLaren pit and switched to his spare care just before the pit lane was closed. He even managed to take out some of his pit console with him, causing minor injuries within the McLaren pit area. Prior to the race there were also troubles for both the Stewart cars as they caught fire on the grid, with Rubens Barrichello forced to use the spare car and start from the pit lane and Michael Schumacher suffering a stall and having to start from the rear of the field, just like he did at the previous race in Japan. Due to having no spare car available, Johnny Herbert was forced to retire before the race even began.
As the race began, Hakkinen lead away easily from Coulthard with Irvine in third. At the rear of the field Michael Schumacher forced his way up to eleventh, while former race winners Damon Hill and Jean Alesi both retired from the race. The turning point of the race came when the BAR of Jacques Villeneuve spun out of the race after his rear wing sheared, bringing out the safety car. Just prior to this incident second placed Coulthard had pitted with gearbox issues and retired, promoting Irvine to second. At the restart Hakkinen slowed dramatically on the main straight, dropping down the field and promoting Irving into the lead. Hakkinen would retire on lap 21, leaving both Irvine and Frentzen in the Jordan to battle it out for the lead. The Ulsterman would hold off Frentzen for his first ever victory, winning by just 1.02 seconds. Only eight cars managed to finish the race, with Pedro de la Rosa scoring on debut for the Arrows team.
Irvine would eventually go on to win a further three more races as Schumacher suffered a broken leg at the British Grand Prix and was unable to fight for the title. It came down to the wire at the final race of the season in Japan, with Mika Hakkinen taking his second title from Irvine. Ferrari, however, won their first Constructors’ Championship since 1983.
8. 1990 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Nelson Piquet (Benetton)
The 1990 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide was the 500th World Championship race and was a weekend of controversy. The World Championship had already been decided at the previous race, where Ayrton Senna famously took out his former team-mate Alain Prost at Suzuka to claim his second title. Before the race had even begun, Senna was forced to answer numerous critics including Sir Jackie Stewart, who had said in an interview that Senna ‘caused too many accidents compared to previous World Champions’ which visibly upset Senna. Further controversy arose when Alain Prost refused to take part in a pre-race photo with former World Champions, leading many to question the mental state of the former Champion.
On the track Senna took pole from his team-mate Gerhard Berger but retired on lap 61 with a gearbox issue. Nelson Piquet would win the race from Nigel Mansell after a titanic battle between the two in the closing stages. Mansell tried a last gasp move on the Brazilian at the end of the Brabham straight, nearly taking both cars out on the spot. Mansell just pulled up in time to avoid a collision, continuing on to finish three seconds behind the race winner. In his pursuit of Piquet, Mansell broke the lap record on several occasions, setting a 1.18.203 on the 75th lap. After the race, Piquet admitted he had to ‘drive like hell’ in order to stay ahead of Mansell, and thought that ‘the shit had hit the fan’ when Mansell tried his desperate move to pass him.
The win meant Piquet finished third in the championship. The race is also notable for David Brabham qualifying for his first home race, albeit in 25th place. He would retire from the race on lap 18 after spinning off.
7. 2006 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
The 2006 Australian Grand Prix was unusual as it was not the opening round of the season. Due to the 2006 Commonwealth Games being hosted by Melbourne in March, the race organisers requested it instead be held as the third round of the season, with both the Bahrain and Malaysian Grand Prix being moved ahead in the calendar as a result. It had been a dominant start to the season by the reigning champions, Renault, who won in Bahrain with Fernando Alonso and in Malaysia with Giancarlo Fisichella.
In somewhat of a surprise result in qualifying, Jenson Button claimed pole for Honda, ahead of the two Renault’s and two McLarens. Just prior to the start, Juan Pablo Montoya spun his McLaren, sending him to the rear of the field. He was however able to regain his original fifth place on the grid as Giancarlo Fisichella stalled on the dummy grid.
As the race began, a major pile up involving the Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Christian Klien brought out the safety car, with Button leading from Alonso. Alonso took the lead of the race two laps after the restart but the safety car was once again called for after Klien smashed his Red Bull into the wall. After the restart, Mark Webber was able to lead his home race during the pit stop phase for Williams, before retiring with transmission problems on lap 22. A fairly quiet stint in the race would follow until Michael Schumacher made a rare mistake, putting his Ferrari into the wall on the main straight. This saw the safety car return for a third time, and it would also be needed a fourth time after Vitantonio Liuzzi also crashed out of the race later on.
After the final restart, Alonso cruised to claim the third Renault victory on the trot ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher. Pole sitter Jenson Button retired in dramatic fashion on the last lap of the race, with his engine spectacularly exploding as he entered the main straight.
Alonso would go on to win the 2006 Drivers Championship in a close battle with the retiring (for the first time) Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari.
6. 2008 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
After a close battle in the 2007 season, the 2008 Formula One season kicked off in very exciting fashion. Lewis Hamilton would claim pole position on the Saturday, edging out the surprise performer, the BMW of Robert Kubica. The talking point of the qualifying session however was the failure of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the end of Qualifying 2, seeing the Finn start in 16th place.
Hamilton easily led away from Kubica, with the Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel stalling on the grid. Massa spun his Ferrari coming out of the first corner and forced him to pit with a damaged wing, while other incidents involving the Force India of Giancarlo Fisichella, the Renault of Nelson Piquet Jr as well as a four car incident involving Mark Webber, Anthony Davidson, Jenson Button and Vettel saw the safety car make its first appearance.
At the restart Hamilton once again pulled away from Kubica, but another safety car period occurred after an incident involving Massa collided with David Coulthard on lap 26. On lap 44 it was needed again as Timo Glock had a dramatic accident in his Toyota, and during this phase the Honda of Rubens Barrichello left his pit box with his fuel hose still attached, injuring several of his pit crew. While all this was happening, Hamilton comfortably led the race at the front and cruised to victory ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg, who claimed his first ever podium finish.
Only seven cars finished the race, and only six were classified with the disqualification of Barrichello (for a separate pit lane violation), meant it was the lowest number of finishers at a Grand Prix since the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton would narrowly claim his first and so far only World Championship at the end of the season in a dramatic finale in Brazil.
5. 2002 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
Many Australian fans will have fond memories of the 2002 race due to the sensational performance of home town hero Mark Webber on his Grand Prix debut. Webber finished an incredible fifth in his Minardi after a high race of attrition saw only eight cars see the chequered flag.
Much like they had done so in the previous two seasons, Ferrari came to Australia to kick the 2002 season off in dominant fashion. Rubens Barrichello would upstage his World Champion team-mate Michael Schumacher by leading a Ferrari 1-2 on the Saturday in a rain affected session. Webber qualified an impressive 18th on debut, ahead of both Jaguars.
Come race day, Ralf Schumacher made a fast getaway from third, passing his brother and challenging pole sitter Barrichello as they headed towards Turn 1. Fans will recall what happened next: Schumacher completely missed his braking point and clammed into the back of Barrichello, launching his Williams skyward in sickening flight and directly into the barriers.
Behind him there was chaos as a pile-up ensued in the midfield, with eight cars retiring on the spot. Michael Schumacher avoided all the trouble and dominated the race up front, leaving Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen to stage an entertaining scrap for second place, but it was the battle for fifth that captured the attention of the home fans.
Webber was hanging on to the position but struggling to keep pace after suffering a broken differential early in the race. Leading Toyota’s maiden Grand Prix charge, Mika Salo was closing fast and it looked only a matter of time before the Finn would overhaul the slower Minardi. But with only a lap to go Salo spun his car, causing the crowd to erupt and giving Webber the breather to finish with a precious 2 points on his race debut.
Post-race Webber was allowed onto the podium to celebrate after the official race proceedings, partying the night away with his Aussie team owner Paul Stoddart.
4. 2003 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: David Coulthard (McLaren)
The following season saw another dramatic race around the streets of Albert Park. A fresh batch of rule changes were introduced to the sport to try and bring back exciting racing after the dominance of Ferrari the previous season. Points finishers down to eighth were introduced, and a new one lap qualifying format was also brought in.
It appeared as though the new rules had done nothing to stop the dominance of Ferrari, with Michael Schumacher taking a dominant pole from team-mate Rubens Barrichello. A rain-affected session helped Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Olivier Panis impress for Sauber and Toyota respectively, with the McLarens of David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen both struggling down the field in 11th and 15th.
On race day, more changeable conditions caused drama at the start saw several teams opting to start on intermediate tyres. Barrichello would jump the start as the lights went green, while Schumacher led away and looked set for another dominant race.
With the threat of a certain penalty looming over him, Barrichello crashed heavily into the wall on lap 5, followed moments later by F1 newbie Ralph Firman crashed his Jordan in similar fashion to bring out the safety car. Schumacher’s tyres began to go off and he was forced to pit, leaving the McLarens of Raikkonen and Coulthard at the front of the field ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
Montoya would inherit the lead after the pit stops, while Raikkonen moved back into third after an great wheel-to-wheel battle with Schumacher. Montoya looked set to claim his second career victory until, with eight laps to go, he clumsily outbraked himself at Turn 1 to give the lead to a disbelieving Coulthard.
It would be the Scot’s final F1 career victory, while it was also the first time a Ferrari hadn’t been on the podium since the 1999 European Grand Prix.
3. 1991 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Ayrton Senna (McLaren)
The shortest Grand Prix in history, the 1991 race is remembered for the torrential rain that saw only 14 laps raced in atrocious conditions. Ayrton Senna would cap of his final World Championship with victory, in what would be the last ever Grand Prix for triple World Champion Nelson Piquet.
Qualifying was marred by a heavy accident to Aguri Suzuki, but pole position was taken by Senna from his team-mate Gerhard Berger and the two Williams. Race day saw torrential rain greet the cars for the race start, and it was Senna who led from Berger in the opening laps until Berger ran wide, allowing the Williams of Mansell past.
Mansell began to close upon Senna to set up an exciting battle for the lead. However the incidents soon started to pile up as the conditions worsened, and this affected Manuel’s chase as the numerous yellow flags prevented him from being able to make a proper passing attempt on Senna.
A spate of further incidents and a spin into the wall from Mansell himself led to the stewards calling the race off on lap 17, a lap after Senna furiously waved down the straight that the race should be stopped.
As the rain continued, there were numerous calls by officials to restart the race, however Senna and Riccardo Patrese protested and the race was eventually abandoned. In accordance with the rules, the results were counted back to the standings at the end of the fourteenth lap, with Senna declared the winner from Mansell and Berger.
2. 1986 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Alain Prost (McLaren)
In what would serve as one of the most dramatic championship deciders in history, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost all headed to Adelaide with a chance to win the World Championship. Mansell only needed to finish on the podium, with Piquet and Prost needing the Brit to finish fourth or lower and then win themselves to have any chance at victory. Prost was aiming to become the first driver since Jack Brabham in over 35 years to claim back-to-back Championships.
Mansell got off to the perfect start by taking pole on the Saturday ahead of Piquet, with Prost lining up fourth. Perhaps being a little circumspect at the start, Mansell was overtaken by the Lotus of Senna at Turn 1 before also being passed by Piquet and Keke Rosberg on the same lap.
Piquet moved into the lead from Senna a lap later, before Rosberg took the lead on lap 7 and began to pull away from the Brazilian. Things began to get more exciting on lap 23 as Piquet spun and dropped back into the field. This was followed by a tyre puncture to fellow championship contender Alain Prost a few laps later, who came out in fourth after his pit stop.
Mansell was in second place at this stage and was passed by a resurgent Piquet on lap 44 but still remained in a championship winning position just ahead of Prost in fourth. All three moved up a position as Rosberg retired on lap 63 when his rear tyre delaminated, with Prost also passing Mansell to move into second position. Mansell didn’t resist as he knew he only needed to be in third to be crowned champion.
However, his dreams would be destroyed a lap later, as a spectacular rear tyre explosion at close to 300 km/h on the Brabham Straight caused him to retire in the cruellest of fashions. Fearing the same tyre troubles could his Piquet as well, Williams called in the Brazilian from the lead and handing the race to Prost. Piquet would storm back up to the Frenchman but couldn’t catch him in time, and Prost claimed his second World Championship in the most disbelieving of fashions, with his fuel indicator having long since suggested he was out of petrol.
This would be the last time a Renault engine would appear on the grid until the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix, and the last time a three way battle for the Championship would occur until the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix.
1. 1994 Australian Grand Prix – Winner: Nigel Mansell (Williams)
The greatest Australian Grand Prix of all time is also one of the most talked about races in modern times. The 1994 race would be the penultimate time that Formula 1 would visit the streets of Adelaide, also marking the final time a World Championship would be decided on Australian shores.
Michael Schumacher took his Benetton into the race with a one point advantage over the Williams of Damon Hill, in what had been a controversial and tragic season for the sport.
Williams stand-in Nigel Mansell took pole position on Saturday, but wasn’t able to hold the lead for long on race day, with Schumacher taking the lead and Hill also getting by. Schumacher held a slight advantage of Hill for 36 laps, maintaining a gap that would see him do enough to claim his first World Championship.
However, Schumacher soon suffered an understeer moment at the East Terrace corner, going off track and colliding with the wall before returning to the road. Hill quickly caught Schumacher who covered him as they entered the Flinders Street Corner, Hill having the inside line with Schumacher ahead. The two cars collided, sending Schumacher up on two wheels and into the wall and out of the race. Hill limped back to the pits with damaged suspension, and Schumacher watched from behind the guard fence to see if Hill would return.
Despite the best efforts of his pit crew, Hill was forced to retire and Schumacher claimed his first Championship by a point. Nigel Mansell won the race, but was overshadowed by the incident between Hill and Schumacher. The stewards declared it a racing incident and Schumacher escaped punishment. Many Formula One experts blamed Schumacher for the crash, and it’s still a hotly debated topic to this day as to whether or not the move was a racing incident or whether or not Schumacher deliberately turned in on the Brit.
Schumacher would go on to win the Championship the following year for Benetton and a further five for Ferrari in the early 2000s, while Damon Hill would claim the Championship for Williams in 1996.
On behalf of everyone here at The Qualifying Lap I would like to wish everyone a happy Australia Day and I hope you have enjoyed taking a walk down memory lane with these 10 classic Australian Grand Prix! In less than 2 months we will see another Australian race enter the history books as the 2013 season kicks off! Remember tickets are now available for the first round of the season, for more information head to www.grandprix.com.au and don’t miss your chance to see Formula 1 live when it returns to Australia in March!
This article was originally written for The Qualifying Lap. You can read the published version here