Motorsport

2006, the last time the Australian Formula One Grand Prix was held in April

For only the second time in history, this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne will be the third race of the Formula One season, which previously occurred 16 years ago in 2006, so because I’m bored shitless and haven’t posted anything decent about F1 in a while, here’s what happened way back in the dark old days of 2006:

If your memory stretches back far enough, the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, which had been the F1 season-opener since the move from Adelaide at the end of 1995, had to be pushed back to the first weekend of April due to Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games during March, which meant Australia would be the third race of the 2006 World Championship, behind Bahrain and Malaysia.

– The race was run on what was the 80th birthday for Australia’s 3-time World Champion Sir Jack Brabham – April 2, 2006.

– Noted Australian beer Foster’s sponsored the race for the 13th time… They never sponsored it again.

– Jenson Button, still yet to win a Grand Prix, took pole position for Honda, the Japanese constructor’s first pole position as a factory team since John Surtees at the 1968 Italian Grand Prix, and it would be their last pole before withdrawing from F1 at the end of 2008.

– As it was in 2005, there were 2 formation laps, after the first ended with Juan Pablo Montoya spinning his McLaren at the final corner, forcing the Colombian to the back of the grid, then on the next formation lap, Giancarlo Fisichella stalled his Renault engine from 2nd place, sending Fisi to the pit lane, and allowing Montoya to reclaim his original grid slot.

Even funnier when you remember these cars had traction control

– When the race finally began, there was a Turn 1 pile-up that started when Christian Klien’s Red Bull slewed into the path of Nico Rosberg’s Williams and Felipe Massa’s Ferrari, with Rosberg losing his rear wing, and Massa’s Ferrari, which had been wrecked at Turn 11 during qualifying, smashed into the concrete barrier and went perilously close to catching fire.

A few seconds later, Fisichella spun next to the wreck but continued.

– Further down the road, David Coulthard and Jarno Trulli collided at Turn 9, and Trulli retired on the spot when his Toyota engine cut out.

– In the decisive move of the race, 2005 World Champion Fernando Alonso passed Button on the restart, with Kimi Raikkonen passing Button at the same spot to assume 2nd place a few laps later, with Alonso and Raikkonen running untouched for the remainder of the afternoon.

– Another bizzare incident involving Klien occurred on Lap 4, when his suspension failed on the run down to Turn 9-10, pitching him hard left into the barrier at high speed, and the wrecked Red Bull slid through the gravel trap and came to a rest in the tyre barrier.

– Mark Webber took the lead on Lap 21, becoming the first Australian driver to lead the Australian Grand Prix since it was added to the F1 World Championship…. However, it was Mark Webber in a Williams, so he suffered transmission failure not even 1 lap later.

Webber would also lead a couple of laps in the 2010 race, which remains the only other time an Australian driver has led the Australian Grand Prix, as Daniel Ricciardo has never led a lap at Albert Park.

– In a rare error, Michael Schumacher joined Felipe Massa in retirement when he thumped the Turn 16 exit kerb and destroyed his suspension, which would be the last time Ferrari failed to score points until the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, and it was the last time Ferrari suffered a double retirement until the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix.

– Montoya’s race ended from 4th place thanks to the same kerb on Lap 46, when he went too wide (again), suffered a tank slapper that made the McLaren briefly airborne, and the impact caused an electronics failure and total shutdown of the car on the pit straight.

It would turn out to be Montoya’s last visit to Melbourne, as he left McLaren and F1 for good after the US Grand Prix in July to pursue a career in NASCAR… Ironically enough, JPM went back to IndyCar and drove in the 2021 Indy 500 for McLaren.

– On Lap 36, Tonio Liuzzi was apparently caught out by Jacques Villeneuve, and Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso jumped to the grass at high speed, crossed the road, smashed into the left barrier, crossed the road again and struck the right barrier at Turn 3.

– Eventually, with most eyes focused on Fisichella’s chase of Button for 5th place, reigning World Champion Alonso won the race from Raikkonen, marking Renault’s third win from as many races in 2006, with Ralf Schumacher 3rd for Toyota despite a drive-through penalty, in what would be his last podium appearance in F1….

16 years later, Raikkonen only recently retired, and Alonso is still going with the Enstone-based Alpine, with 2006 marking his only win in Australia, one of his 7 wins on the way to world championship No.2.

– Nick Heidfeld crossed the line 4th for BMW Sauber, and in a spectacular ending, Button’s Honda engine went up in a trail of smoke and flame in the final sector of the race, and despite having enough power and time to make it to the end and finish 6th, Button intentionally pulled up 10 metres shy of the start/finish line, because under the old engine rules, he’d be able to take a new unit for San Marino without copping a 10 place grid penalty, and thus, the polesitter did not score a point.

That promoted Villeneuve to 6th, Button’s teammate Rubens Barrichello finished 7th, and American Scott Speed finished 8th for Toro Rosso, which would’ve marked the first time an American driver had scored points in F1 since Michael Andretti’s 3rd at Monza in 1993, but Speed was penalised 25 seconds for speeding under yellow flags, promoting Coulthard to the final points position, and to add insult to injury, Speed was fined $5000 for abusive language during the post-race hearing.

As of April 6, 2022, Speed’s 9th remains the closest an American driver has come to scoring a World Championship point since Andretti in 1993.

On another historical note, 2006 also marked the last time the Australian Grand Prix featured tobacco advertising around the circuit and on the cars.

The Australian F1 and Motorcycle Grand Prix both had exemptions under the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act of 1992, as they were events of international importance, but following the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island in September, the October 1 deadline kicked in and tobacco advertising in Australian sport came to a long-awaited end.

So yes, that’s what happened the last time the Australian Grand Prix was run in April…

So if history is any guide, expect both Ferraris to be violently destroyed in accidents.

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