Going to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne was a bit of a whirlwind and dream come true. Right until two weeks before it was on we didn't know if we would make it and if there would be tickets left or flight tickets from Brisbane to Melbourne and from Melbourne to New Zealand after the event and we were almost certain we would have to buy a tent and camp somewhere because surely all accommodation was booked up months ago. But, somehow we struck really lucky, the best seats on the ground had sold out but we got reasonable seats and the only tricky issue with the flights was that to fly out of Australia on the 10th of March we had to change at Sydney, all the direct flights to Christchurch were booked. On the accommodation front we were coming up against a brick wall with all our trusty last minute websites like wotif and ratestogo because the few places that were available were over $200 a night (about £70). So, back to the drawing board, we got out our trusty Budget hotel directory and phoned up central reservations who amazingly found a motel only 5km's west of Melbourne which weren't raising their rates for the Grand Prix week (only $87 a night - about £30).
It was sooo exciting. The track ran on a public road around Albert Park Lake which is very near the centre of Melbourne. There were great views of Melbourne from the ground and to cross the lake they had built a bouncy bridge. There were great stalls, a GP exhibition where we got close to some F1 cars, live music, lots of stalls selling unusually good food for this type of event and a stage where there were a lot of public appearances and when the F1 cars weren't practising, qualifying or racing there were lots of other interesting races going on.
These were great, we got to identify a lot of the V8 drivers which we'd previously only known by their car numbers. The star of the show was Aussie Formula 1 driver Mark Webber who made a couple of public appearances and because we'd first watched the Mini Celebrity Challenge public appearance, followed by some V8 drivers we were right at the front by the time Mark Webber came on stage later in the afternoon. We will probably never get any closer to a F1 GP driver so it was quiet a thrill. Another time we saw a team talk with three people from F1 teams: Gustav Brunner, Head of Design at Toyota; Ian Phillips, Head of Business Affairs at Jordan and Nav Sidhu, Head of PR at Jordan which was interesting because we saw how they interacted with each other and they were all quite candid about their feelings about the new rules. Lots of the more technical questions from the crowd went right over my head though.
Mark Webber, the popular Aussie Formula 1 Jaguar driver
Mini Celebrity Challenge Drivers Public Appearance
(Pat Rafter's the one in the middle)
Jaguar, Jordan, Minardi and Renault have opted for the extra practise time on race weekends over more training throughout the year so they were out on Friday morning. After that practise there was some more practise with all the teams and then the first qualifying which Barrichello topped meaning that he would be the last car to put in a flying lap at second qualifying the next day.
This was the first GP since the new rules started so the drivers were trying to get used to the flying lap qualifying. Of course, in the end it made no difference to the qualifying, Michael Schumacher, who had had a bad day of crashing and coming off the road in the practise sessions still managed to end the day in pole position. Second was Barrichello and third, Montoya.
Sunday was the worst day weatherwise. It rained through all the other races that morning but just as the GP was due to start the rain stopped. Barrichello was out of the race pretty early followed by Mark Webber which was a shame in front of his home crowd especially after his amazing Formula 1 debut in 2002 in Melbourne when he came 5th with Minardi. Montoya led for most of the race, after taking the lead from Kimi who had been keeping Michael at bay, but spun off some laps from the end - he got back on but he gave the lead away and had to settle for second place.
And the winner is....David Coulthard. Excellent race, good to see a Brit win and apparently it was the first time Ferrari haven't been on the podium since August 2001 (Monza). After the race we were allowed onto the track and rushed along missing the podium presentations but getting there in time to see the champagne being sprayed by Coulthard, Montoya and Raikkonen. The only thing which affected our enjoyment slightly was the height of the fences which meant that the views were slightly restricted and that the photos we took aren't very good as you can see with this one of Coulthard doing his pre-race lap of the circuit.
After all that excitement it was time to say goodbye to Australia, our home for 10 months, with lots of good memories some new friends - hopefully we'll make it back one day.... Next stage of the holiday was to rush around both the North and South Island in two and a half weeks when originally we'd been thinking it would take about two months. Nevermind, on Monday 10 March we fly from Melbourne to Sydney and then to Christchurch which is on the South Island of New Zealand.