MOTOR SPORT FLASHBACK W
Can it really be 30 years since Formula 1 came Down Under — and 20 since racing enthusiasts last ventured to South Australia’s magnificent capital for the 11th and last Grand Prix there?
hen it was first proposed that the Formula 1 (F1) world championship come to Australia, the logical assumption was that Melbourne or Sydney would host the event — or perhaps somewhere like the Gold Coast would sneak in with a glitzy bid that would complement the razzmatazz of F1.
Sleepy Adelaide — the ‘City of Churches’ — was about as far removed from the glamour of international sport as it was possible to get.
I well recall the comment of a Sydneybased journo I had befriended on my annual pilgrimage to Adelaide, as we dined at one of the city’s wonderful seafood restaurants on the eve of the event’s final hurrah in 1995: “You know, Clarkie, the only state capital less significant than this place is Hobart — no one took this place seriously for F1 yet you and I have been to every one of them, and it’s still as good as ever.” He was right! Bob Mcmurray has said, “It was the best place for a Grand Prix (GP) ever, ever — we always went there after Japan, and it was a two-week affair. The organizers put on sailing, karting competitions, wine tours — and that was even before the freight arrived. These days, every circuit puts on a concert after the race — but who was first? Best of all, you could just walk back to your hotel afterwards.”
I still remember the Qantas captain, back in 1985, dipping the plane so that passengers on the left-hand side could get a view of the track.
‘Adelaide Alive!’ posters filled the terminal, as locals struggled to believe that they had captured such a prestigious event. Shops along Rundle Mall bought into the F1 circus with posters and themed displays, while a bakery showed off its GP car– shaped cake. This enthusiasm wasn’t confined to 1985 when it was all new and novel, either — the public buy-in lasted right until last race in 1995.
Arguably, part of F1’s love of Adelaide came about because it was always the final race on the calendar.
As Mcmurray said, “It had that end of term feeling” and, while the championship was all sewn up when we arrived for that first race in ’85, there were the years when the Adelaide round determined who would be crowned world champion.
Adelaide — and, to be fair, Melbourne as well — followed the British GP’S lead of having an action-packed programme. At some GPS, the F1 race is the only event of the day, but that was not the case at Adelaide — and, as with the shop displays on Rundle Mall, there was never any let up in the quality and quantity of track action. On the circuit were Historic Touring Cars, races for Australian open-wheeler categories in the days when they had such thing, old racing car demonstrations, plus the obligatory celebrity race.
In 1985, the celebs were in Mitsubishis and featured — wait for it — actual racing drivers rather than footie players or inmates. Denny Hulme represented New Zealand — I’d sat behind him on the flight over to Australia, and economy class was good enough for a world champion back then!
Not that the action was confined to the track — a Pitt Special dazzled, but that wasn’t the only airborne feature. You’ll have heard people say, ‘I nearly leapt out of my skin’? Well, I’ve seen it happen: first came the ‘BOOM’ — much as you’d imagine the end of the world might sound. Then, as the people around us returned to their skins, we caught sight of it — whether it was an F-111 or an F/A-18, I can’t recall; it really didn’t matter — it was F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I- C! This became a regular feature, but, a few years later the sonic boom caused someone to have a heart attack and thereafter they always announced its impending arrival.
That first year, on the Friday afternoon, we snuck out early — during the Group A qualifying. I know what you’re thinking: why go all that way and not take in every second of action available? What could possibly be attractive enough to drag an F1 tragic away from a GP weekend? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the Barossa Valley. In subsequent years, we became smart enough to get to Adelaide a day earlier so as to spend all of the four days at the track and make the leisurely trip to the Barossa. If you like wine, especially Shiraz, there cannot be anywhere else on the planet where so much, within such a confined area, is just waiting for your taste buds.
In 1985, the heat never gave up. As we walked towards the train station after Saturday qualifying, it seemed hotter at 6pm than it had been at noon. Race day — November 3 — was no different, as we watched the formation lap from our grandstand just before the last corner that led onto the front straight. Did I mention it was hot?
It was to be Niki Lauda’s last GP and, while one superstar was leaving, another superstar had emerged loud and clear during the course of the year — Ayrton Senna. It was the Brazilian’s black and gold Lotus on pole, with Nigel Mansell alongside for the Williams team. The Englishman had won his first GP a month earlier and followed it up with victory in the next round in South Africa, so he was looking for a hattrick. The name most familiar to all the Kiwis who’d made the trip was next in line — Keke Rosberg, the winner of the 1977 and 1978 New Zealand GPS, with Mclaren’s new world champion, Alain Prost, alongside him. Then came the Ferraris and the rest, including World Champions Nelson Piquet, Lauda, and Alan Jones.
The race had its moments — Mansell grabbed the lead but collided with Senna and was out. The Brazilian then scrapped away with Rosberg in the other Williams Honda after the Finn took an early advantage. The heat was destroying tyres — unless you were Niki Lauda, who had looked after his and was moving up to the point at which a fairy-tale end to an extraordinary career looked like capping off Adelaide’s introduction to world-class sport, until he found a wall in the way just after two-thirds distance. That put Senna back in the lead, but he was soon out. Rosberg retook the lead and held on to win Adelaide’s first, and his last, GP.
At the maximum two-hour length, Adelaide had guaranteed everyone got their money’s worth. Drivers collapsed