Monday 31 October 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore VI - Adelaide Grand Prix

As a cricket enthusiast, South Australia reminds me of the Test cricket ground Adelaide. In the last few years, whenever I have mentioned my little knowledge of Adelaide to the Aussies I have met, they ask me do you follow cricket? And there you go; it is easy for them to fathom why I know few things about Adelaide.

My exposure to Adelaide in my childhood days was strictly restricted to the Channel Nine coverage of the Australian cricket. Adelaide Oval, home to the South Australian State team boasts many champions, none more famous than the legendary Sir Donald Bradman who adopted Adelaide to be his home since 1933. In the sixth part of the ‘Lost Track’ series, I write about Adelaide and my knowledge of it beyond cricket.

Few years and at the turn of this millennium, when I started researching about Formula 1; I got to know Adelaide hosted Australian Grand Prix prior to Melbourne. Called Adelaide Street circuit also known as Adelaide Parklands Circuit, this 3.78 km track brought Formula One Down Under for the first time. Although, there have been many racing activities that took place prior to the Adelaide Grand Prix such as Tasman Formula, Formula 5000 and other non-championship races; Formula One arrived a good thirty five years after it was started.

The race was part of the 1985 calendar and was slated as the last race of the F1 World Championships. Nikki Lauda after a remarkable career winning three World Championships retired after this race. Keke Rosberg, the 1982 World Champion won the race which turned out to be the last of his career.

Nigel Mansell on his way to win his maiden title in 1986 blew a tyre which destroyed his World Championship and was won by Alain Prost (second in a row) winning in a TAG Porsche powered Mc Laren. It was one such epic three way battle to the title that Prost had an outside chance against Mansell and Nelson Piquet of the Williams quite similar to the one Kimi Raikkonen had in the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix against the two McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Season of 1987 was somewhat a consolation for the Ferrari, winning 1-2 in spite struggling to come to grips with the power houses of McLaren and Williams. In 1988, Ayrton Senna in his first season after having moved to McLaren won the championships in spite of Prost having more points. Since the best 11 results counted to the World Championships, Senna won his maiden title by 3 points over Prost. In 1989, the race with showers was won by Thierry Boutsen after a re-start.

In 1991, there was a torrential outpour which forced the organizers to stop the race at the end of 14 laps. This race, till date happens to be the shortest race in the history of Formula One, 24 minutes all it took. Ayrton Senna won the race by which he had collected his third and last World Championships. Nelson Piquet, after having a successful F1 career winning three world championships, called it a day in 1991 and Adelaide was his last appearance.

Amongst others, Prost was fired by Ferrari before this event, for criticizing the work environment of Ferrari. He took a sabbatical in 1992 before appearing again with Williams in 1993.

1992 Adelaide marked the end of a successful partnership of McLaren and Honda. Gerhard Berger won the race for McLaren in what was a season dominated by Williams and in particular by Nigel Mansell who had already won the driver’s championships.
Williams continuing their strong form of 1992 dominated the championships with Alain Prost winning the driver’s title and retired at the end of the season. His retirement was partly due to his unwillingness to have Senna as his team-mate. Senna after having spent six successful years with the McLaren, which saw him win three World Championship titles, was to move to Williams in the following season. Senna ended on a high note when he took McLaren-Ford to the top step of the podium on his last race with McLaren. If you have watched the movie ‘Senna’, this section is beautifully captured with friendly emotions being exchanged between the McLaren boss Ron Dennis and Senna.

With the loss of Ayrton Senna early in the season, the fight for the championships was between Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. With a point apart, Michael and Hill collided and both had retirements which ensured Schumacher to be the first German World Champion. The verdict was divided as to whose fault it was and it remained in that way till the final race of 1997 season at Jerez, Spain. After the 1997 season, Michael’s reputation tarnished and although he has been able to overcome with some splendid drives over the years, the incident at Adelaide will remain in the minds of F1 pundits forever.

After having made an announcement of the Australian GP being shifted to Melbourne the following season, the season of 1995 was the last Adelaide would host a Grand Prix.
The street circuit which included the famous racecourse Victoria Park as the pit lane;  Damon Hill won the final race and after 11 years of hosting the race on a street, the baton was passed on to Melbourne’s Albert Park. Adelaide also is one of the four circuits that has a corner named dedicated in the circuit 'Magny Cours', which hosted French Grand Prix several times.