Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Track Back - Adelaide Street Circuit // The history and appeal of the Australian racing circuit

Published by Adam Burn

Ricardo Patrese leads Nigel Mansell in Adelaide '88
Ricardo Patrese leads Nigel Mansell in Adelaide '88Credit: LAT Photographic/Williams F1

If Bathurst was the track that got me into motorsport, Adelaide was the track that got me into Formula 1 - somewhere in the early 90's as I recall.

Australian TV viewers were in this period graced by the presence of F1 royalty in the commentary box - Sir Jackie Stewart and Alan Jones. Not to mention the legendary Australian sports commentator Darryl "Big Daz" Eastlake. If I could describe his style to non-Australians, I'd place him in a similar category to Murray Walker - "trousers on fire". Youtube his work and you'll get a blast out of his big Aussie voice and infectious enthusiasm - oh it brings back such memories!

I can only imagine the excitement among Aussie motorsport fans in the mid 80's when the World Championship made its way to the streets of the South Australian capital. No doubt it greatly pleased the South Australian Government of the time to beat a deal on the table from Victoria given the fierce interstate rivalry. They'd won the rights against a bid spearheaded by Australian tyre entrepreneur and former touring car driver Bob Jane to run the race at his Calder Park Raceway.

The 3.78km circuit adjacent to Adelaide's CBD and running through the famous parklands featured a mix of tight hairpins, 90 degree corners, a spectacular opening chicane and the long Brabham Straight running down Dequetteville Terrace. Unusually, part of the track is a permanent road section inside Victoria Park racecourse. All the grandstands and pit buildings are temporary so as not to obstruct the view for followers of equine horsepower.

It quickly became a favourite in the sport for its party atmosphere - certainly the status of season finale didn't hurt that. I think part of Adelaide and Australia's enthusiasm for the race was down to the simple fact that until then, we wouldn't have hosted too many world championship events in any sport, let alone the crown jewel of motorsport. In international sport, the only major event we'd hosted was the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. We were still a minor player on the global stage, but now forging our own identity and starting to punch above our weight - the America's Cup success in 1983 was evidence of that.

In 11 years between '85 & '95, the race punched above its weight as well.

1985 saw Niki Lauda's last grand prix, which could have easily been a fitting finale - he retired with brake problems while in the lead.

1986 gave us an iconic three way title decider between Mansell, Prost and Piquet plus the infamous footage of Mansell's Williams slewing along Brabham Straight after blowing a tyre. Somehow, he kept the car under control and finished safely in the run-off area at the hairpin, but at the same time it was his goodbye to the title chase. His Williams teammate, Piquet, made a precautionary stop for fresh tyres, handing an unassailable race and championship win to the Frenchman.

Ayrton Senna, the race leader, furiously waved to the marshals in a successful attempt to get them to stop the race

The shortest race in F1 history was the 1991 event, lasting only 14 laps after heavy rain drenched the circuit. Ayrton Senna, the race leader, furiously waved to the marshals in a successful attempt to get them to stop the race. Efforts were made to re-start, but eventually the race was declared with half points awarded. At the post-race press conference, Senna said "I don’t think that was a race, it was just a matter of staying on the circuit, and there was no point to try to go quick at all". One of the drivers caught out by the downpour was Nigel Mansell - he quipped that "Everything was OK other than it was a complete joke, I mean there was debris all over the place".

In 1993, Senna finished his final full season with his last race win, while Prost ended his final season with a fourth world title. The podium ceremony included an emotional embrace between the two fierce rivals.

1994, like '86, produced another eventful title decider. The two combatants, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, infamously clashed on track sending both cars into retirement and clinching Schumacher's first world title by a single point. It was also Nigel Mansell's last race win.

1995 threw up more unusual events. It was the scene of Mika Hakkinen's massive practice accident, where he only survived thanks to an emergency trackside tracheotomy. On race day, David Coulthard led until he unbelievably crashed into the pit wall while preparing for his first stop. The race result was also one of the more bizarre ever seen: Damon Hill's Williams winning by two laps from Olivier Panis in his Ligier with Footwork driver Gianni Morbidelli coming home third. Fittingly for the last Adelaide race, it claimed the record for F1's biggest ever race day crowd, a monumental 210,000 (although the figures were inflated by the pre-race Bon Jovi concert inside the track).

I finally got to visit the circuit in 1999 for the first ever V8 Supercar Adelaide 500 - although that is held on a slightly different version of the street circuit, it also quickly assumed a position as one of the category's premier races. So much so that it's now a part of the series' "Grand Slam" - if anybody wins all four of the big events, their prize is a cool $2 million. Murray Walker has hailed it as the greatest touring car event anywhere in the world - he loves it so much that he makes the trip Down Under every year.

There is no doubt that when big time motorsport comes to town, Adelaide does it better than most. SA doesn't just stand for South Australia, it also stands for Sensational Adelaide.