Australian Grand Prix To Open Formula One Season

Following the cancelation of the Bahrain Grand Prix due to policial unrest in the region, the Australian Grand Prix has taken on the role of opening up the Formula One season.

Formula One is taking a page out of history this year, as the Australian Grand Prix will be the opening salvo to the 2011 season. Despite the historical aspects of this event, the Melbourne Park race was never intended to be the first race of the season.

The Bahrain Grand Prix was scheduled to be the opening race of the 2011 season, as it was for 2010 and all the years before. Yet, following political unrest in the region, the event was canceled.

Obviously, one less race in a season is a real downer for any Formula One fan, but to be honest, last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was about as exciting as watching the Cooking Channel when one isn’t hungry.

So, pack up the trailers and load the cars up, Australia is the new Bahrain for this season. Little do most people know, but the race has been held in the land down under 75 times, with the first ever Grand Prix taking place in 1928. Yet, it wasn’t until 1985 that the Australian Grand Prix has been a part of the Formula One calendar.

The Australian Grand Prix has usually opened up the season, except of course in 2006 and 2010. The event was previously held in Adelaide on the street circuit, which saw its share of epic moments. Back in 1995, Mika Hakkinen suffered a tire failure in free practice at the high speed Brewery Bend between Jones and Brabham Straights. The following crash resulted in an emergency tracheotomy, which was performed by the side of the track.

One year later, the race was moved to Melbourne, which quickly became one of the most exciting events of the Formula One year. Albert Park is within easy reach from downtown Melbourne, which is part of the reason for the massive fan turnout, because it surely isn’t for home town driver Mark Webber, who can barely finish at his own home town race.

Albert Park is a 16-turn, 5.3-kilometer circuit that features numerous high-speed corners and some fantastic slow ones. The track is renowned for being a smooth, high-speed test for drivers and their million-dollar equipment. The track is very similar to the other street circuit held in Montreal, Canada.

In 1996, some 401,000 people came to see the inaugural Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park and it’s hard to imagine the crowd diminishing over the years.

Due to the Australian Grand Prix being an early season event, the Grand Prix has seen the debuts of many famous drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber debuted at the event, as did 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso.

Beyond 2010, the Victorian Government announced that Melbourne would continue to host the Grand Prix until at least 2015. The starting time for the event will be moved to 5pm in order to meet Bernie Ecclestone's ultimatum earlier this year. The F1 boss stated to the Sunday Mail that the only way Melbourne would retain the race is to move it to later in the evening in order to increase European television audiences.

[Photo - jon_lin]

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