The first so-called Grand Prix in Australia was held in 1928, on Phillip Island. In the 1960s, the country staged the Tasman series, which briefly featured Formula 1 cars along with other specification cars. Some regular Formula One drivers of the period participated, including Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham, a world champion from Australia.
But it was not until 1985 that the first true Formula 1 race was held in Australia, after Adelaide sought to enhance its image with a Grand Prix.
The race was held 11 times in Adelaide, as the Formula 1 season-ending finale. As such, it became a favorite among fans and the racing community. It was run on a temporary street circuit, and the city and its event became a huge party marking the end of the season. But it was also a crucial race on several occasions, with the title decided there.
The 1986 Adelaide race involved a three-way battle for the world title, involving Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in Williams cars and Alain Prost in a McLaren. Mansell had only to finish among the top three to win the title, but a few laps from the end one of his rear tires blew out, he crashed, and Prost went on to win the race and the title.
One of the most controversial title finishes in Adelaide was in 1994, when Michael Schumacher led by one point over Damon Hill heading into the race. Schumacher was leading when he apparently made a mistake and went wide. As Hill came around the corner, Schumacher drove into him, went up on two wheels, then came down hard and had to quit the race. The front wishbone of Hill's car was damaged, and he, too, dropped out. Hill's fans claimed that the move by Schumacher - who had been disqualified or banned from four races that year - was intentional. But the German won the title, the first of his seven championships.
In 1991, the race was cut short after only 14 laps when torrential rain made it impossible to race, and it became the shortest race in Formula One history, lasting only 24 minutes.
In 1993, after Melbourne failed in a bid to stage the Olympics, a Melbourne businessman, Ron Walker, convinced the local government to bring the Grand Prix to Melbourne after Adelaide's contract ended in 1995.
In 1996, Melbourne thus held its first Grand Prix, with what would be its own record of 401,000 spectators attending. That first year - and in some subsequent years - environmental groups protested against the race, saying that it should not be run in a public park - which becomes a private venue for the duration of the race - and that it had negative effects on the environment.
In recent years, some Melbourne politicians have criticized the race on financial grounds, but Walker said that what the race loses in its $50 million annual fee paid to Formula One, it gains in revenue injected into the local economy by the Formula 1 teams, sponsors, media and out-of-town spectators. Other figures have shown that such an injection brings in less than what taxpayers must pay for the event.
Instead of being a season-ending show in Adelaide, in Melbourne the race assumed an equally exciting role as the season-opening Grand Prix. Since 1996, this has been the case, except in 2006, when Melbourne held the Commonwealth Games, and in 2010, when Bahrain held the first race.
The race is run on a circuit around a man-made lake in Albert Park, next to the St. Kilda beach area and a few kilometers from the business center of the city. The Australian Grand Prix weekend remains a favorite among fans and participants, buoyed by the Melbourne nightlife, the cosmopolitan nature of the city and the generally pleasant weather.
The track has provided some exciting races through the years, but also some tragedy, as in 2001, when Jacques Villeneuve and Ralf Schumacher collided and a wheel from Villeneuve's car shot through the protective fencing, killing a track marshal.
Melbourne has seen the Formula 1 debut of a number of drivers, including Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Villeneuve and Mark Webber. Webber, an Australian, first raced in Formula One at the track in 2002, driving for the perennially underperforming Minardi team. He finished the race in fifth place, and then with the team's owner, his compatriot Paul Stoddart, Webber celebrated on the podium, the two Australians generally receiving more headlines than the race winner, Michael Schumacher.
Webber said it remained his best memory of his home race, where he has never finished higher.