Australian Grand Prix: when the starters are as good as the main course

Australian Grand Prix: when the starters are as good as the main course

Whetting the appetite
Childhood memories of visiting your first grands prix are made up of many things, depending entirely on how old you are. For a privileged (and older) few, it may have been the chance to wander round the pits and chat to the heroes – back in the days when you could equally have spotted them enjoying a cigarette at the bar during the evening as well. 
For other (more recent) fans it might have been seemingly endless kilometres of speed-walking in a frantic attempt to reach the track before lights went out – family car abandoned by the roadside –  in the height of Schumi-mania for instance. 
There’s the intensity of the race of course – an hour and half that passes in the blink of an enraptured child’s eye – but on the whole it’s the peripheral experiences that shape atmosphere and create seminal memories. The taste of the mayonnaise on your frites at Spa, or the bright red of your first Ferrari cap, chosen carefully from the merchandise stall at Monza.
An intrinsic part of the day was the whole build-up, thanks to the support races, which were were often better than the actual grand prix – and only added to the excitement. By the time the Formula 1 cars took to the track, we had already been entertained by Renault 5s, Alfa GTVs, Formula 3000s or even historic grand prix cars, according to your era. 
In the case of the BMW Procar support series of 1980s, you could actually see the F1 heroes in competitive action before the grand prix – as it was contested by most of the F1 drivers in identical equipment: imagine that now. 
And then there was always the Formula 1 warm-up on Sunday morning: at that point the butterflies in the stomach really started fluttering…

Australian Grand Prix: when the starters are as good as the main course 02

From V8 to GT to F1
The warm-up has been gone since the early 2000s, but just to remind you that what happens before the grand prix is almost as much fun as the actual race, the Australian Grand Prix organisers have organised a huge smorgasbord of varied entertainment.
Australia is about the only grand prix of the year where you get to see V8 cars in full-throated action – unless the United States Grand Prix organisers have got plans to add NASCAR to their billing (they haven’t, but it’s a nice idea). Aussie V8s are well worth watching (and whatever happens, you’ll certainly hear them) – as is the Pirelli-supplied Australian GT championship. 
Some drivers compete in both, such as local hero Shane van Gijsbergen, a former winner of the Bathurst 12 Hours (and also the GT lap record holder on Mount Panorama). On top of that there’s the Porsche Carrera Cup and the Ferrari Challenge, not to mention a historic display, a Lamborghini parade, and the ear-splitting Formula 1 two-seater. 
Ironically, from a track that’s hardly used at all during the year, during the grand prix weekend, there’s literally not a single gap in the schedule at Albert Park. And that’s without even having Formula 2 or GP3 on the menu, with F2 beginning at the next race in Bahrain.

Aussie rules
One of the special things about Melbourne as a venue is that it keeps people entertained. A priority of enhancing the global appeal of Formula 1 is making it a complete festival; with initiatives such as fan events and street parties, allowing the race to take over the whole city. Expect to see much more of that kind of thing this year, with a fan run in Marseille planned before the grand prix, as well as other fresh initiatives from F1’s promoters, Liberty Media, throughout the season. Plus a few from Pirelli…
It’s an in-your-face approach to fan engagement starting in Australia, with stuff to look at in the sky as well as on the ground. There are no fewer than two separate air displays courtesy of the Australian Air Force, as well as aerobatics, plus one of the most enthusiastically belted-out national anthems of the year. In terms of build-up, it doesn’t get much better. And for the first time, the race will start at 4.10pm, meaning that even TV channels that deal only in hour-long slots will be able to soak up at least 10 minutes of that all-important pre-race atmosphere: the stuff of which memories are made. 
At the end of it, there’s a 58-lap grand prix as well, which nobody really has any clue who will win. But if it turns out to be Daniel Ricciardo, you’ll definitely hear about it.

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