I was there for the first Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide

Thirty-one years ago this month, Adelaide welcomed Formula 1 to its brand new street circuit for the first time. This was an experience not to be missed for Noel Macwhirter, who tells us about his trip to the inaugural Australian Grand Prix in 1985.

All photos © Noel Macwhirter

“I had never seen F1 live, so when I heard that Adelaide was going to host a race, I knew I had to go. I bought a four-day ticket, booked some accommodation via the TAA home hosting service, packed my Saab and off I went on the fairly straight 700km drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. The circuit was built around the Victoria Park Racecourse, right on the edge of the Adelaide CBD. With the paddock & pits on the infield of the racecourse and a series of corners and straights around the streets of the city’s East End, the circuit held the promise of some fantastic racing. This was the era of turbocharged 1.5 liter engines, 900+hp, Prost, Lauda, Rosberg, Mansell, Senna, Piquet, Jones & cigarette sponsorship. Thirty years later my memory of the weekend is a little fuzzy; so are some of the photos! No auto focus and very, very fast cars.”

“I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and walked around the track, taking some photos along the way. Racing started on Thursday with the F1s allowed a practice run to familiarize themselves with the new and very dusty circuit. I grabbed a seat opposite the pits on both Thursday and Friday.”

“On Saturday and Sunday, I was in my ‘proper’ seat on the corner of Rundle Road and Dequetteville Terrace. Here the view was quite restricted by the fence but we got a good look at the rear of the cars trying to negotiate the corner.”

The moonlighting Austrian

Gerhard Berger (pictured below on the pitwall), who finished sixth for Arrows, had a busy weekend in Adelaide. He also drove a BMW 635CSi in the Group A touring car race on Saturday. He needed to obtain special permission for this extra drive, as competing in another racing series within 24 hours of a Grand Prix was against F1’s rules.

The local hero

After winning the World Championship for Williams in 1980, Australian driver Alan Jones retired from the sport on a high the following year with a win in the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. A one-race comeback for Arrows in 1983 whetted his appetite for a full return with the new American-owned Haas Lola team in the second half of the 1985 season, just in time to give a local flavor to Adelaide’s first race. In his 100th F1 start, Jones was given the honor of being the first driver on the new street circuit. The Haas was not the quickest car and Jones, pushing 40 and not in the best physical shape, only managed nineteenth on the grid. After stalling at the start, Jones wound back the years with a spirited charge through the field to sixth before his Hart engine gave up the ghost on lap 20 (see pictures below).

1985 Australian Grand Prix: Did you know?

  • Ayrton Senna took his seventh pole of the season for Lotus, a massive 0.704 seconds ahead of second-placed Nigel Mansell. Senna was leading the race on lap 62 when the Renault turbo engine in his Lotus blew.
  • Keke Rosberg won the 1985 Australian Grand Prix for Williams, his fifth and final F1 victory.
  • Three-time World Champion Niki Lauda went close to winning his swansong race. He crashed out from the lead on lap 57 after the brakes on his McLaren failed.
  • The rest of the podium was an all-French affair, with Jacques Laffite in second and Phillipe Streiff in third. It almost ended badly for the Ligier teammates when Streiff tried to overtake Laffite on the second to last lap at the Dequetteville hairpin. They made contact and Streiff came off the worse, having to complete the last lap with one wheel barely attached to his car.
  • It was Philippe Streiff’s best career result and only F1 podium. Just over 3 years later, his F1 career was over after a pre-season testing accident left him a quadriplegic.
  • Only the top 3 cars finished the full 82 laps in the scorching 35-degree heat. The last classified finisher was Pierluigi Martini in a Minardi, four laps down in eighth place.
  • The track was so positively received and the race so well organized that it was awarded the 1985 Formula One Promotional Trophy.


3 thoughts on “I was there for the first Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide”

  1. After Jack Braham won this first two World Championships there were regular rumours of a F1 AGP. None had eventualted until 1985.I was quite cynical that it would ever happen. Nevertheless my wife and I set out to drive from Sydney. After all my brother in law lived in adjacent Kentown. We arrived on the Wednesday and walked straight to the track. Within 5 min of arriving we had seen the amount of work on the track, plus seen Murray Walker, Keke Robert and Elio DeAngelis.
    All cynicism gone. I knew it was definitely ON.

  2. Looking at the quality or otherwise of the entertainment at the Melbourne gp last week, I recall it was fantastic in Adelaide 85, was it Aussie crawl or men at work?

    1. Before my time Scott, I went to my first race in Adelaide in 1987. But there was often good concerts after the race in Adelaide. I know that Ayrton Senna got up on stage with Tina Turner one year to sing “Simply the best”

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