Formula 1

Formula 1 and its Australian stars

Formula 1 and its Australian stars
Next stop for the F1 circus is Melbourne, making a welcome return after a two year absence from the calendar. The crowd will mainly be cheering for Perth-born Daniel Ricciardo, the latest in a long line of Aussie racers in the sport’s blue riband category.

Formula 1 has a “bonza” history with its friends from Down Under. After all, anyone leaving their home continent to make the day-long voyage to the heart of motorsport has to have an inner steel, a stubborn ruthless streak, and supreme confidence in their own ability to not just get there but then succeed.

Tony Gaze was Australia’s first in 1952 – and having been a prolific fighter pilot during the Second World War the matter of Formula 1 racing paled in comparison. He made only three starts, and didn’t hang around long nor grab the attention, but the next Australian on the scene certainly did.

Enter Sir Jack Brabham. He was more than just a hard-changing racer, running an engineering workshop, before founding the team that bore his name. Brabham’s technical expertise and skill behind the wheel netted him the world title in 1959 and 1960 with Cooper but he embarked on a long drought with his own team before revised regulations helped him strike gold. Under the new three-litre formula in 1966 Brabham opted for an eight-cylinder engine designed by Australian company Repco for the BT19 chassis, rather than the 12 cylinders used by most rivals. Four straight victories bagged him a third and final title, becoming the only driver to do so in a car bearing his name, and he eventually retired in 1970 aged 44.

Jack Brabham with a fake beard at the Grand Prix in Zandvoort 1966 . Image courtesy Wiki Commons

Australia didn’t have to wait long for another front-runner. In came the forthright and brisk Alan Jones, whose no-nonsense approach gelled with the up-and-coming Williams team led by Sir Frank and Patrick Head. Jones was superb in various iterations of Williams’ FW07 across 1979 to 1981, claiming 11 victories as well as his and Williams’ first titles in 1980. Only misfortune and politics denied Jones a second, or possibly third, title and after 1981 he walked away from Formula 1. A return a few years later with Arrows, and then Team Haas, (not the same Haas as the current squad) led to another chapter to his story but it was hampered by uncompetitive machinery in comparison to his Williams heyday.

Since then, Australia has not had a World Champion – but it has had two rapid race winners, and there is potential for the future, too.

Alan Jones at the British GP in 1980. Image courtesy Hoch Zwei

Mark Webber made big sacrifices to pursue his dream and in 2002 was propelled last-minute into a short-term deal with backmarker Minardi, run by grafting compatriot Paul Stoddart. It was surely a hopeless proposition yet on his debut on home soil he avoided drama in a crazy race to bag fifth, prompting jubilation among fans and even an impromptu and unofficial podium appearance. That set the tone for a career in which he thrived as an underdog who confounded expectations, finally winning a race after 130 starts, once provided with competitive Red Bull machinery. Two Monaco victories, and remaining a title contender until the very last race in 2010, were the high points of a career in which Webber did things his own way, got his elbows out on track, and left while still competing at the sharp end.

Mark Webber (left) with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso at the Australian GP in 2010. Image courtesy Hoch Zwei

Oscar Piastri, a 20-year-old Melburnian, already has a trophy cabinet to rival former junior stars Charles Leclerc and George Russell. Piastri secured three titles in as many years, including prestigious Formula 3 and Formula 2 championships, to come to the attention of Alpine. Only bad timing, the strength of the current grid, and Piastri’s inability to bring a suitcase full of cash denied him a 2022 Formula 1 seat. But as Alpine’s reserve driver he has an extensive test programme lined up, is deeply embedded within the team, and is surely a shoo-in for a 2023 seat. Australia also has two representatives in Formula 2 this year in the shape of Calan Williams and Jack Doohan, son of motorcycle legend Mick, and who has already displayed speed by taking pole in Bahrain.

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