With the new season looming, Rach F1's Matthew Gannon takes a look at some of the best season-openers in recent F1 history.
6. 1996 Australian Grand Prix
The hype entering the opening round of 1996 was clear and understandable. Michael Schumacher was beginning a new chapter of his career, with the reigning double champion opting to move from Benetton to Italian stalwarts Ferrari.
While Schumacher began a rebuilding process at Scuderia, it was Williams who took all the spoils. Damon Hill was pushed to the limit by Canadian rookie Jacques Villeneuve who looked odds on to win the race until a late oil leak allowed his British teammate to blast past and break the hearts of many Canadians dreaming of a rookie win. Jacques had to settle for a second place finish with Eddie Irvine scoring a podium for Ferrari in third.
Despite the thrilling late change in the lead, the poster shot for the race came at the start when a first lap crash split Martin Brundle's Jordan in half after it barrel-rolled into the gravel after launching off the back of David Coulthard's McLaren. This caused a chain reaction with drivers having to stamp on the brakes and take evasive action. The dramatic crash caused a restart, with Brundle amazingly rejoining in a spare car, although his performance second time around was thankfully much more ordinary.
5. 2002 Australian Grand Prix
Yet another Australian outing here. 2002 gave the debut to one of F1's most loved characters, Mark Webber. It was another race of dramatic opening lap crashes, and as 12 months earlier Ralf Schumacher was involved once again.
Thankfully, unlike his 2001 accident, there were no rogue tyres flying around and no track marshals perished. This year Schumacher misjudged his turn 1 braking point and launched over the back of Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari with the aftermath resulting in six further retirements.
The drama continued when both Arrows were disqualified within a lap of each other, Frentzen for leaving the pit lane under a red light and Bernoldi for changing into the spare car after the race was underway.
After all the chaos unfolded and the chequered flag unfurled only eight cars made the finish, including both Minardi's, who thanks to new boy Webber scored points with an impressive fifth place in a wounded car. Not only was the race one of attrition, it was also one of fast driving with only three cars on the lead lap, eventual winner Michael Schumacher and the rest of the podium in Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen.
4. 1982 South African Grand Prix
It's fair to say that this race is a classic more for its off track antics than what happened on it. With proposed new superlicence rules that the drivers were very much against, in fact to the point where they were threatening strike action before the race begun, thankfully a compromise was reached and the famous Kyalami Raceway treated us to a classic Alain Prost drive.
The Frenchman overhauled his teammate René Arnoux who started on pole and took a commanding victory, even more so when you find out he suffered a mid-race puncture which dropped him outside the points positions and yet he still climbed to claim the top spot by the time the race ended.
3. 2008 Australian Grand Prix
Yes, we head back down under for the next instalment with 2008 serving up a classic. Lewis Hamilton started his campaign in style with a dominant win in his McLaren. It was more what happened behind him that made this race a classic.
In a toasty 37 degrees Celsius it was yet another Australian race of attrition as many cars couldn't handle the heat. While the McLaren boys led the whole race (with Kovalainen having brief spells in front after Lewis made his stops), the rest of the grid was less fortunate. Five cars were out before the opening lap was complete as turns 1 and 3 each claimed victims.
Ferrari struggled on engines with three failures, firstly for works driver Felipe Massa, then both his team mate Raikkonen and customer team Toro Rosso driver Sebastien Bourdais suffered the same fate before the race's conclusion. Despite the latter suffering retirements, they both scored points due to the lack of finishers in the race.
While only six cars finished the race, seven made the line however; Rubens Barrichello was disqualified post-race for leaving the pit lane under a red light. The other shock about this race in particular was the close nature of the race with the top 5 all within 20 seconds of one another. Poor Kazuki Nakajima however languished a lap down compared to the lead cars, although his sixth place did give him a nice three point haul.
2. 2009 Australian Grand Prix
The 2009 Australian GP was preceded by the crowning of a new British Champion, the demise of Honda and the birth of the famous Brawn GP that would go on to dominate their opening chapters of F1 history.
The Brawn team achieved a memorable 1-2 in Australia, which made the race a classic already. This was before everything that unfolded behind them. The new 2009 regulations also appeared to look strong for Toyota who took a stunning 3-4 finish. It was also hard to believe Red Bull, who would later challenge for the constructors title failed to even finish in the points; hometown hero Mark Webber as the solitary lapped car in 11th and Vettel colliding in the final stages with BMW driver Robert Kubica taking both of them off the podium and onto the retirement list.
The drama didn't end with the race however as the controversy surrounding Hamilton and Trulli's overtake under safety car took centre stage. Lewis Hamilton passed Jarno Trulli under safety car while the Toyota was off circuit. The FIA deemed McLaren and Hamilton to have manipulated the facts during an investigation post race and subsequently disqualified the British driver, allowing Trulli to take his deserved Podium.
1. 1999 Australian Grand Prix
The top spot could only come from Australia really; this time 1999 which was truly a tale of a giant killing. The McLaren pair of Hakkinen and Coulthard led the field with Schumacher as best of the rest. The start was a wash with stalling cars. While Hakkinen survived and got going before the last car, Schumacher was less lucky. This meant Hakkinen started from pole and Schumi from the back. Come the actual race start (second time around) it was surprisingly clean, certainly up the front.
On lap 13. however. Coulthard retired with transmission issues, and only 6 laps later, throttle issues took Hakkinen out of the race. Despite all the raw speed McLaren's reliability woes prevented their success in Melbourne. This left Eddie Irvine to take the win, his first in F1, with Heinz Harald Frentzen in second as he started what would be his best season in the Jordan.
The Podium was rounded out by a Schumacher; not Michael as you may expect though as he finished a lap down and the only car not to be classified on the lead lap. Instead third fell to his brother Ralf who secured one of Williams's best results in what would be a torrid 1999 for the British team.
So with less than one week left until lights out will this year’s season-opener be another electrifying classic or a damp squid? Only one way to find out...
by Matthew Gannon