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The Australian Grand Prix is the first round of the Championship, having been the first race of each year, excluding 2006 and 2010, since the event moved to Melbourne. During its years in Adelaide, the Australian Grand Prix was the final round of the Championship, replacing the Portuguese Grand Prix in that respect. As the final round of the season, the Grand Prix hosted a handful of memorable races, most notably the 1986 and 1994 events which saw those respective titles decided.
Australian driver Lex Davison and German driver Michael Schumacher are the most successful drivers in the 83 year history of the event taking four wins each; while McLaren have been the most successful constructors with twelve victories, their success stretching back into the pre-Formula One history of the race, their first win being in 1970.
The current naming rights sponsor of the event is Australian airline Qantas. The 2012 Australian Grand Prix was won by British former World Champion Jenson Button driving a McLaren-Mercedes. The Australian Grand Prix is contracted to remain in Melbourne until at least 2015.
History in Melbourne
In 1993 prominent Melbourne businessman Ron Walker began working with the Kennett government to make Melbourne the host of the event. After the government of Jeff Kennett spent an undisclosed amount, it was announced in late 1993 (days after the South Australian election) that the race would be shifted to a rebuilt Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne. The race moved to Melbourne in 1996. The decision to hold the race there was controversial. A series of protests were organised by the "Save Albert Park" group, which claimed that the race turned a public park into a private playground for one week per year. Additionally, they claimed that the race cost a great deal of money that would be better spent, if it were to be spent on motor racing, on a permanent circuit elsewhere. Finally, they said that the claimed economic benefits of the race were false or exaggerated. The race organisers and the government claimed that the economic benefits to the state, although unquantifiable, outweighed the costs, and highlighted that the park's public amenities have been greatly improved from the World War II vintage facilities previously located at Albert Park; the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (scene of many Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games events) being the centre piece and best known of the revitalised facilities. Opponents of holding the race in the park point out that the Aquatic Centre adds nothing to the Grand Prix, is effectively closed for weeks surrounding the event and could have been built independent of the car race.
Bernie Ecclestone, the president of Formula One Management, the group that runs modern-day Formula One in conjunction with the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), once famously said that it took 10 minutes to do the deal with Melbourne that would see the Victorian capital host the Australian Grand Prix from 1996. It is thought that Melbourne's unsuccessful quest to stage the 1996 Olympic Games, and the subsequently successful bid by northern rival city Sydney to host the 2000 Olympics, was a driving force behind Melbourne's motivation to wrest the Australian Grand Prix away from Adelaide.
Albert Park, within easy reach of the Melbourne central business district, became home to the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. A 16-turn circuit, which measures 5.3 kilometres in its current guise, was built utilising a combination of public roads and a car park within the park. The circuit is renowned as being a smooth and high-speed test for Formula One teams and drivers. Its characteristics are similar to the only other street circuit set in a public park used in the Formula One World Championship, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal which hosts the Canadian Grand Prix.
The promotional theme for the first race in Melbourne was "Melbourne – What a Great Place for the Race". Some 401,000 people turned out for the first race in 1996, which remains a record for the event. The logistics of creating a temporary circuit and hosting an event of the magnitude of a Formula One Grand Prix from scratch weren't lost on the international visitors, with Melbourne winning the F1 Constructors' Association Award for the best organised Grand Prix of the year in its first two years of 1996 and 1997.
The move of the Australian Grand Prix to Melbourne saw a change in the time of year that the F1 teams and personnel made their annual voyage Down Under. Adelaide, for each of its 11 years, was the final race of the F1 season, usually in October or November, while Melbourne has been the first race of the season in every year since 1996 with the exception of 2006, when it was the third race of the year to allow for the Commonwealth Games to take place in the city, and 2010. As such, the Albert Park circuit has seen the Formula One debuts of many drivers in the last decade. 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve made his race debut in Melbourne's first year of 1996, and became one of three men to secure pole position in his maiden Grand Prix. Other prominent names to debut in Melbourne are two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and one-time champions Kimi Räikkönen (both in 2001) and Lewis Hamilton (2007), Australia's only current F1 driver at the time Mark Webber, also made his debut there in 2002.
As part of celebrations for the 10th running of the event at Albert Park in 2005, Webber drove his Williams F1 car over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a promotional event, and the Melbourne city streets hosted a parade of F1 machinery and V8 Supercars, Australia's highest-profile domestic motor sport category.