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Gone But Not Forgotten: Best Moments from The Adelaide Grand Prix

Written by Jasmin Low, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina

Image Credit: Adelaide Grand Prix/ Facebook

2023 marks 30 years since it was announced that the annual Formula One Australian Grand Prix would move from Adelaide to Melbourne. Adelaide welcomed the Formula One circus to its streets for the first time in 1985, with the iconic Adelaide Street Circuit set to host the season finale which it would run until the end of the 1995 season, as Melbourne’s Albert Park hosted the Australian Grand Prix from 1996 onwards.

Whilst featuring on the F1 calendar only for a short time, Adelaide has played host to some of the most defining moments in Formula One’s history, setting the small city alight with ‘Grand Prix Fever’, and making drivers such as Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, and Nelson Piquet household names even for those who weren’t Formula One fans. So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and take a look at some of the key moments from F1's Adelaide Grand Prix. 

1985 - Niki Lauda’s Final F1 race

Alongside Adelaide’s debut on the calendar, Formula One legend Niki Lauda raced his final Grand Prix in 1985. One of the sport’s most highly decorated drivers said goodbye to a career in which he won three world titles from 171 race starts.

After Lauda crashed out of the race with a brake failure on lap 57, the 1985 Adelaide Grand Prix was won by 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, which was his final win before his retirement in the 1986 edition of the same race. Only eight of the 26 drivers who started the race made it to the checkered flag in the 35-degree heat. 

1986 - Adelaide’s First Championship Showdown

Out of the 11 races held in Adelaide, only two World Championship titles were decided during the season finale, but those two races are arguably some of the most memorable in the history of Formula 1, with the first taking place in 1986.

Nigel Mansell went into the race leading the championship with 70 points, while Alain Prost sat on 64 points and Nelson Piquet behind Prost by just one point. With just a few laps to go, Mansell blew a tyre and subsequently handed the championship to Prost, making the Frenchman the first to successfully defend a championship title since Jack Brabham in 1959-60.

Adelaide’s second Formula 1 race was the last hurrah for 1980 World Champion Alan Jones, as well as Keke Rosberg and Patrick Tambay.

1989 - Chaos in the Wet 

1989 was the first of two races in Adelaide that took place in the rain. An extra 30-minute practice session took place for the drivers to review the track conditions, where multiple cars struggled in the torrential downpour, and the session was red flagged twice.

More chaos ensued as many drivers were not ready for the formation lap. As a result, there were still teams and drivers standing on the grid as the rest of the field started their warm-up lap. The conditions caused great concern for most of the grid, however the race was not delayed and Alain Prost pulled out of the race after just one lap, protesting the conditions.

A red flag saw a repeat of the chaos on the grid, however, after the restart, Ayrton Senna’s car was rapid as he pulled a 20-second gap over the rest of the field in just three laps. But sadly, his chance for victory was short-lived, as he drove into the back of Martin Brundle’s Brabham which forced him to retire. The Adelaide Grand Prix of 1989 became a second instance of just eight cars finishing the 81-lap race. 

Image Credit: Adelaide Grand Prix/ Twitter

1990 - The 500th Grand Prix

The 500th World Championship Grand Prix took place in Adelaide, where the searing heat saw Nelson Piquet take the win. Being the 500th Grand Prix, former world champions were invited to the event, headlined by Juan-Manuel Fangio, as the five-time world champion drove the iconic Mercedes W196. The event was also attended by Jack Brabham, James Hunt, Jackie Stewart, Denny Hulme, and Alan Jones. 

1991 - The Rain Strikes Again

The rain returned to the streets of Adelaide for a second time in 1991, and the race was stopped after sixteen laps, whilst the final classifications came from each driver’s placings at the end of the fourteenth lap, as per the regulations.

Before the race, Alain Prost’s contract was terminated by Ferrari for his public criticisms of the team. Ayrton Senna achieved his 60th career pole position in Adelaide. It was also the final race for five drivers: Nelson Piquet, Satoru Nakajima, Naoki Hattori, Alex Caffi, and Emanuele Pirro.

The race was considered to be the shortest Grand Prix in F1 history until 2021, where the Belgian Grand Prix was red flagged after three laps, and the results were taken from the end of lap one. 

1993 - Senna’s Final Grand Prix Victory

Along with his 62nd pole position of his career, Brazilian motorsport icon Ayrton Senna achieved his 41st and final victory in his last race for McLaren. It was also Prost’s final race in Formula One, finishing second. It was a bittersweet ending as Senna embraced his biggest rival on the podium.

By the end of the 1993 season, it was announced that the Australian Grand Prix would be held in Melbourne from 1996 onwards. 

1994 - A Controversial First Championship

In 1994, a second title showdown took place between championship lead Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill. Going into the race, Hill stood just one point behind Schumacher.

On lap 36, Schumacher led the race but momentarily lost control, damaging his car. Almost immediately after the damage, the two title rivals collided, and Schumacher retired as soon as his car slammed into a barrier.

Hill just needed to finish in the points to be crowned champion but the suspension of his car was damaged and irreparable, thus handing the championship to Schumacher. The question of whether or not Schumacher intentionally caused the collision that would win him his first of seven championships still stands today. 

Ayrton Senna’s death earlier in 1994 sent shockwaves through the entire motorsport community, and was felt deeply by the Adelaide Grand Prix attendees, where he was a crowd favourite.

By the time of his passing, it was already known that the Adelaide Grand Prix had been lost to Melbourne. So, during the 1994 season, a generational shift occurred in the world of Formula One with the loss of the Brazilian racing legend which coincided with the move away from Adelaide. 

Image Credit: Adelaide Grand Prix/ Facebook

1995 - Adelaide’s Final Goodbye

Adelaide’s final Grand Prix was nothing short of spectacular, as it was the third time that the city had won the Formula One Race Promoters’ trophy for being the best run Formula One Grand Prix of the season, as it had also done in 1985 and 1990.

Mika Häkkinen required an emergency tracheotomy after a tyre failure sent him hurtling into a wall during the first qualifying session on Friday. Damon Hill was the final victor to be crowned in Adelaide, lapping each car that finished the race by at least two laps, in front of a record-breaking attendance of 210,000 on race day, still the biggest one-day crowd for a sporting event in Australia.

Although Gerhard Berger failed to finish the race, he was the only driver to have competed in all 11 Grands Prix held in Adelaide. 

The Adelaide Grand Prix was South Australia’s pièce de résistance for tourism during the 11 years that Formula One graced Adelaide’s Victoria Park and surrounding city streets.

The races held there have become some of the most iconic races in the history of the sport as well as being an overnight sensation, and a favourite for the drivers. Motorsport is embedded in the heart of the city, as Victoria Park still hosts the final round of the Supercars Championship, known as the Adelaide 500, as well as the Adelaide Motorsport Festival each year.

Adelaide also recently made an attempt at bidding to host the Australian Grand Prix, but with the changing structure of Formula One cars, and Albert Park extending their contract with Formula One until 2037, it looks unlikely to happen in the near future. Would you like to see Formula One return to the Festival City? One thing is for sure though, although the Adelaide Grand Prix is now gone, it certainly has not been forgotten. 

1 comment



Bring back the Adelaide Grand Prix!

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