Australian GP was a template for modern F1. But where does it fit on the calendar?


Record crowds and better racing: F1's return to Albert Park was a triumph except for timing. The Australian GP needs more sensible scheduling writes Chris Medland

Podium celebrations after 2022 Australian Grand Prix

It might seem a little bit odd to suggest after the weekend just gone, but heading to Melbourne, there were a few whispers – just a few – that Sydney could be a serious candidate as a future host of the Australian Grand Prix.

It wasn’t really that hard to see the logic, either. For one, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet had highlighted the race as a sporting event Sydney wanted to try and poach just last year, instantly forcing Melbourne to be defensive about the situation. And then there was a small but growing sense that Formula 1 was becoming frustrated with the difficulty in getting the race back on the calendar as the pandemic evolved.

Provisionally on the 2021 calendar in its usual slot as the season-opener, Melbourne then had to be moved until a much later position before it was finally cancelled completely for the second year in a row. Of course, that wasn’t unusual for a race to have such uncertainty given the global climate, but arriving back in Australia this year there was an admission from some locals that they thought they were going to lose the race.

Now, that’s pretty much all I can attest to as I spent most of the time in Melbourne dealing with a few unexpected health issues, but even so there was no way of escaping the enormity of the event that was taking place at Albert Park.

Crowds of fans on track after the 2022 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne

Weekend attendance was a record for Melbourne

Nearly 420,000 people marks the biggest ever weekend attendance for a sporting event in Australian history, according to F1 itself. That appears to overlook a claimed 520,000 for the final four days in Adelaide, but regardless it sets a new record for the race in Melbourne, topping its previous benchmark from the first time it moved from South Australia back in 1996.

It’s a serious figure, and not just in F1 terms but in sporting terms. Melbourne quite rightly claims itself to be the sporting capital of Australia, with the Australian Open taking place every year in the impressive tennis complex that is right next to the hugely iconic (and huge, and iconic) Melbourne Cricket Ground.

If you think of some of the events that those venues host, not to mention the Docklands Stadium that can accommodate AFL, football and cricket, and you see not only that it’s impressive to set such a record but also get a sense of how well set-up as a city Melbourne is for major sporting weekends.

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It’s clearly a city that is proud of that aspect of its offering, and far from viewing the race as something that simply has to fit into the wider picture, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation made a significant investment to try and improve the hardest part of all – the track itself.

Perhaps that eagerness is driven by the knowledge of how quickly the race could disappear from its grasp, given the way Melbourne swooped in back in the mid-1990s itself, but it has to be admired. There has long been one thing missing from Albert Park and that’s great racing, with the event itself and atmosphere never in question.

And the circuit changes did see an improvement in racing. There were moves into Turn 1, others into Turn 3 and cars heading side-by-side at top speed towards the rapid change of direction at what is now Turn 9 and Turn 10, resulting in more than one off-track moment. It appeared to be a less popular spot, but the reprofiled Turn 11 also enticed the odd dive to the inside under braking.

The whole thing was the dream scenario for F1’s owners, because it completely fits the template of what Liberty Media wants to the sport to be. A huge, well-run grand prix in the middle of a major global city. where hundreds of thousands of people flock for their country’s biggest event of the year.

Australian GP Albert Park new strsight

The old Turns 9 and 10 were eliminated, replaced by a fast and flowing section

Australian Grand Prix Corporation

Throw in some good racing and there’s very little that Melbourne is missing. Given the success of this year’s race, it really would seem like a stretch to believe any potential talks with Sydney would be allowed to progress far, as Victoria will surely double down on its investment.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can be learned. While Melbourne might provide a template to other locations in terms of how to be a successful sporting city, it still remains a heck of a long way from any other grand prix on the calendar. To have it as a standalone race – and not the first of the year at the very least – is crazy.

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F1 is in the very early stages of its record-breaking 23-race calendar that has drawn significant amounts of criticism from many who work in the sport due to the demands it is placing on them. And yet in just the third round they are already being physically tested by a journey that is literally halfway across the world (you’ll struggle to find any route that took less than 24 hours in each direction) for just six hours of track action.

“I think Melbourne as a season opener was really cool, because everybody came out here early,” George Russell admitted at the weekend. “And it was a lot of excitement and anticipation, but I think having Melbourne in between races, especially as a standalone is too tough for the teams and everybody. People came out on Saturdays and Sundays to get acclimatised to the conditions, to the time zone change and it’s just too much I think.

“I think it needs to be thought about more. I think there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it back-to-back with one of the Middle Eastern races. But it feels like another double header for all of the teams with the amount of time they spend in this part of the world. And as the season is getting longer and longer, we need to find a better balance.”

It might seem like a small point, but it’s an important one, as F1 looks to continue its growth. The race itself is a massive highlight of which the sport should be proud, but it’s got to help it by being sensible with its scheduling.

There’s not a lot else Melbourne can do, and it shouldn’t have to. If an event like that can’t be a commercial success and a mainstay on the calendar, then the sport has a real problem.