Grands Prix that Never Happened: Australia and Oceania

Any self-respecting Formula One history geek knows the majority of the World Championship venues like the back of their hand. Some of the 70-odd circuits on that list have become a distant memory of the different eras of F1 – but most of them managed to become a staple of the F1 calendar over time, and need no introduction today. 

But that’s not all there is to the world of racetracks. In this article series, we will shed a light on these often less-known motor racing venues that have had serious plans to host the F1 World Championship – but for reasons ranging from “understandable” to “highly rejectful”, never actually ended up hosting the GP’s after all. 

AUSTRALIA AND OCEANIA

It is quite surprising to think that it took Australia until 1985 to officially become part of the World Championship. The non-championship Australian GP was first hosted back in 1928, and the local open wheel racing scene had been bustling in both Australia and its little brother New Zealand ever since the 1950s. By the year 1985, Antipodean exports such as Brabham, McLaren, Hulme, Amon, and Jones had already graced the top of the F1 grids – but for none of them was it possible to enjoy their successes at a home race as part of the Formula One World Championship.

Initially, the natural deterrent for the F1 circus had been geography. In the early editions of the World Championship, the long and difficult travel from Europe to Down Under was a natural reason for not including any Australian or New Zealand rounds on the calendar. As the Sixties came along, however, geography became less of an excuse, and the first European stars took an interest in the racing scene of their guests. Many of them began to use the European wintertime racing the locals in open wheel equipment that was very close to that used in F1 events proper.

Hence, the likes of Stirling Moss and John Surtees had already been regular guests at the non-championship Australian GPs and the “Australian Drivers’ Championship” events before 1964, when the popular Tasman Championship was established. The combined January-February championship, consisting of six to eight events in Australia and New Zealand attracted participation from many European F1 drivers and teams alike, as Lotus, BRM, Brabham and even Ferrari converted several of their F1 and F2 cars into “Tasman specials” for the sole purpose of sending their drivers around the globe to battle for the Antipodean crown.

Front row from the 1968 Tasman Series at Sandown Raceway. Jim Clark and Graham Hill in their Lotus 49’s, Chris Amon behind them in a Ferrari Dino 246T. (Source: primotipo.com)

Front row from the 1968 Tasman Series at Sandown Raceway. Jim Clark and Graham Hill in their Lotus 49’s, Chris Amon behind them in a Ferrari Dino 246T. Photo: primotipo.com

Prestigiously enough, the list of Tasman Champions in the 1960s is made up of Bruce McLaren, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon.

First attempt – Warwick Farm Raceway: 1970 

Drawn on a modern map, the old Warwick Farm track profile as it was approximately - though bear in mind that the surroundings have changed a bit

Drawn on a modern map, the old Warwick Farm track profile as it was approximately – though bear in mind that the surroundings have changed a bit.

As the European visitors’ interest abruptly dwindled down and the Tasman Series chose to adopt the F5000 regulations from the 1970 season on, it was only natural that the first really serious discussions to host a World Championship Australian F1 GP took place. The Australian GP, that year hosted at Warwick Farm Raceway, was assigned a tentative November date. It was to be the final race of the F1 season. The medium-speed, 3.6 km track in question, was built in 1960 and located on a Western Sydney horse-racing track. One of its notable features were the bumpy temporary crossings required for cars to go across the horse track, which always had to be installed when the motor racing took place. When the automobiles were done racing for the day, the crossings had to be removed to accommodate the racing done using non-motorised horsepower.

Footage of Australian touring cars racing on Warwick Farm in 1970

It remains unclear why the event was never put on the final version of the 1970 calendar. The reason may have been a lack of capable race organization to host an event as big as a World Championship GP, or the developing rift between the governing bodies in Australian motorsport. It could have been simply the suburban not-in-my-backyard residents getting their way, because the track itself would have been comfortably up to the F1 standards of the era. 

Regardless of the root cause, the result was that the plans for a World Championship Australian GP were cancelled, and the 1970 event was hosted as a Formula 5000 race instead. To date, Formula One has never visited New South Wales. Warwick Farm was closed from motor racing in 1973, but still exists as a horse racing track. 

Warwick Farm Race Course today

Warwick Farm Race Course today. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Second attempt – Calder Park: early 1980’s 

Photo: theracingline.net

Photo: theracingline.net.

As the Warwick Farm plans fell through, it took a decade and one ambitious business tycoon for Australians to have another more serious crack at hosting an F1 race. Bob Jane, a former racing driver and businessman from Melbourne, purchased the little-league Calder Park Raceway on the outskirts of the city and began to invest in its facilities, with the ambitious goal of turning the place into a hub of Australian racing. As the Victoria-born Alan Jones and Williams got up to speed in 1979, and headed towards the championship in 1980, the fever for a possible Australian Championship GP was higher than ever. Jane’s ambition was for Calder Park to be the host, but one small issue remained – the four-turn circuit was only a mile long, and contemporary F1 cars would have lapped it in less than 40 seconds! 

The shortness of the track dictated that the chances of FISA allowing Calder Park to join the calendar weren’t too high. However, Bob Jane would not let this minor inconvenience stand in the way of hosting an Aussie GP featuring the World Championship winner Alan Jones in his Williams. So, he did host the race anyway. After the F1 season was done and dusted, Jones indeed did come over to race his F1 Williams against a field of local F5000 and Formula Pacific cars, as well as Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo 179. The World Champion won the uneventful hour-long race, finishing a lap ahead of Giacomelli. Didier Pironi finished third in a F5000 car, four laps down. 

The 1980 Australian GP from Calder Park – enjoy Jackie Stewart’s commentary!

The competition that year may have been lacking, but the event itself was a commercial success. Jane began attempting to upgrade his track to a World Championship standard, and plans were made to build a dogleg on the eastern side of the track, extending the full length of the circuit to 4.3 kilometres. 

The planned 1983 expansion would have stretched over the area that the Thunderdome was eventually built on. (Source: theracingline.net)

The planned 1983 expansion would have stretched over the area that the Thunderdome was eventually built on. Image: theracingline.net.

Unfortunately for Bob, the grand plans fell through. Only a small 1986 extension brought the track to the length of 2.2 kilometres, and F1 cars never returned to Calder Park. Despite that loss, the Australian GP – run to the Formula Pacific regulations from 1981 on – was hosted at the track every year until 1984, and regularly attracted guests like Piquet and Rosberg anyway, as the World Champions would dice it out against large fields of local stalwarts in equal equipment.

After the F1 plans fell through, Jane chose to channel his inner NASCAR aficionado. Instead of half an F1 track, it was a heavily-banked oval going by the name “Thunderdome” that materialised on the eastern side of the original racetrack. It seemed like oval racing on the Thunderdome was a rousing success, as Jane managed to attract high-profile entrants even from the NASCAR Cup Series. 

Calder Park at its height. With the big Thunderdome visible at the background, the track used in 1980 can be seen in the front right in the picture. (Source: austadiums.com)

Calder Park at its height. With the big Thunderdome visible at the background, the track used in 1980 can be seen in the front right in the picture. Photo: austadiums.com.

From thereon, Calder Park continued to prosper until the 1990s. However, disputes between the governing bodies in Australian motorsport meant that the track entered a decline in the 2000s, eventually rendering the once-popular facility into disuse today. 

Onboard lap of the combined circuit with both the extended raceway and the Thunderdome included. As the cockpits in Australia were on the right side, the oval was usually taken clockwise! 

Third attempt was the charm – but not for Sandown Raceway: 1985

In red, the 1984-1988 track profile with the International Loop. In blue, the shorter layout used today

In red, the 1984-1988 track profile with the International Loop. In blue, the shorter layout used today.

Australia finally managed to host a GP in 1985. With its new street track at the ready, Adelaide was given the honours, but the South Australians were not alone in the bidding. Another track in Melbourne had developed an interest as well. Situated around 15 kilometres southeast of the city centre, Sandown International Raceway first opened in the early 60s, and like at Warwick Farm, its site hosted an existing horse-racing track. 

Unlike its Sydney counterpart though, Sandown left the entire horse raceway inside of it. The shape meant that the 3.1 km track profile naturally turned out to be one of the fastest in Australia, as two of its long straights ran in parallel with the oval-shaped horse racing track. After its completion in the 60s, Sandown promptly became a recurring host of the Australian Touring Car series, and also hosted domestic single seater races regularly: it even played host to the Australian GP six times between 1964 and 1978. However, lacking facilities meant that Sandown was hardly a candidate for international racing championships.

The stars and the cars perhaps outshine the track in this video clip – but in any case here’s Juan Manuel Fangio racing his Mercedes W196 against Sir Jack Brabham in a support event of the 1978 Australian Grand Prix around the original Sandown circuit. 

The Light Car Club of Australia – LCCA for short – however, had more ambitious plans for the site than domestic motor racing. LCCA managed to secure government funding to improve the track, and hoped to bring it up to F1 standards. In mid-1984, the pit facilities were heavily revised, some corner profiles were adjusted, and a twisty “International Loop” was added into the infield of the horse racing tracks, which brought the track length up to 3.9 km. In the end, though, Victoria state government refused to properly support the F1 bid, and Adelaide got the gig for 1985 instead.

Despite their F1 plans crashing down, Sandown still managed to secure a slot in the World Sportscar Championship calendar, hosting the 1000km race in November 1984. This event, the first important car race at the developed Sandown was decidedly not a success. The track surface did not fancy the powerful Group C machines at all, and drivers and spectators alike heavily criticized the new, slow, and unimpressive infield loop. 

Johnny Dumfries’ onboard lap from the 1984 World Endurance Championship event – listen to him not enjoying the experience at all! As an anecdote, he was sharing the car with a 58-year-old Sir Jack Brabham. 

In spite of the initial flop, LCCA tried hosting a WSC race again in 1988. In four years, Melbourne racing fans still hadn’t warmed up to the idea of sportscar racing at Sandown, rendering that event too as a commercial failure and bankrupting the LCCA. Less ambitious parties have owned the track since and focused the track towards domestic racing. The infield loop was abandoned after the 1988 event, and the track profile was reverted back towards the shorter, faster pre-1984 version the fans were more familiar with.

Due to its location making it attractive to land developers, Sandown has been under threat of closure multiple times in the last few decades. So far, it has survived, and both its horse and auto racing tracks remain active. The track is still regularly hosting prestigious racing series in Australia, such as V8 Supercars and the S5000 championship. 

Sandown Raceway today. Left front in the picture, there still are some visible traces of the “International Loop” that was symbolic of the brief F1 ambitions.

Sandown Raceway today. Left front in the picture, there still are some visible traces of the “International Loop” that was symbolic of the brief F1 ambitions.

Was it even an attempt? Surfers Paradise Street Circuit: 2010

Surfers Paradise Map

Adelaide successfully hosted the first eleven Australian World Championship events, and in 1996, the torch was passed over to the freshly renovated Albert Park Circuit, located nearby Melbourne city centre. Albert Park has remained popular with the teams, drivers and fans alike, so there hasn’t really been a serious push to host the Australian F1 GP anywhere else. 

However, there was a semi-serious push to replace F1 altogether. In 2009, the big boys of the sport didn’t appreciate FIA’s idea of a cost cap and began throwing their fancy toys out of their fancy prams. What followed, some now call “Grand Prix World Championship”, others “Formula Elaborate Bluff” – but regardless, they were prepared enough to turn up to negotiation with a calendar up their sleeve. Leaked mid-2009, the 2010 schedule the GPWC had drawn up consisted of 16 confirmed GP’s with 16 confirmed dates and 15 confirmed locations. The final round in Australia still had two alternative track options. One was good old Adelaide, and the other was Surfers Paradise Street Circuit located in Gold Coast, Queensland. 

V8 Supercars tackling the beachfront chicanes. (Source: queensland.com)

V8 Supercars tackling the beachfront chicanes. Photo: queensland.com.

This 4.5 km street circuit, half of it going in parallel with the coast of the Pacific Ocean, had initially been drawn up in 1991 for hosting IndyCar racing. The course was fairly start-stop in nature, with long straightaways interrupted by several 90 degree turns and a few artificial tyre bollard chicanes thrown in here and there. This combination provided good racing and the Surfers Paradise events were tremendously popular from the get-go. Despite the difficult logistics to transport the cars over from America, the event was an annual fixture in CART and later, as a double-act with V8 Supercars, also the Champ Car calendars. This arrangement continued until the 2008 pre-season, when the championship finally agreed to merge with the Indy Racing League. 

CARTs on the main straight. (Source: motorsport.com)

CARTs on the main straight. Photo: motorsport.com.

Unable to find slots in the merged calendar, many of the Champ Car events died in the process of the merger. Initially though, it appeared this wouldn’t be the case with Surfers Paradise. The Australians promptly made a deal with IndyCar to host the cancelled Champ Car event as a non-championship IndyCar race after the season ended instead, and to join the proper calendar for five years from 2009 on. 

Watch Dario Franchitti’s slippery onboard lap from 2008 in an IndyCar Dallara. 

Hence, nobody watching that race in 2008 knew that it was to be the final open-wheel event on the circuit. But in early 2009, the IndyCar deal was cancelled due to a further disagreement about dates, and the Surfers Paradise promoters were soon left looking for another racing series to take its place. Hence the aforementioned GPWC breakaway came up at just the right time for the Surfers Paradise organisers to join in the deal, but the breakaway series was dead as FIA cancelled their intended cost cap and the new Concorde Agreement was signed on August 1, 2009. 

As a last resort to save the single seater Surfers Paradise went after A1GP, and were about to host the 2009/2010 season opener, but it wasn’t to be. The entire A1GP championship went into liquidation a mere week before the opening round of the season and the cars were impounded by a freight company, which made it impossible for the teams to get their cars down under. 

Since the cancellation of the A1GP event, single seaters would never race at Surfers again, but the lack of them never interrupted the V8 Supercars round which the venue still hosts annually. Since 2010, the Supercars race has taken place on a shortened 3.0 km version of the original track profile.

Highlights from the 2019 V8 Supercars race on the modern version of Surfers Paradise.

Honourable mentions: Those many venues in New Zealand

Sharp readers may have noticed that all of these Antipodean tracks mentioned have been located in Australia. So, where does New Zealand fit within this history? Considering that New Zealand is a relatively wealthy country which – compared to its population – has produced skilled racing drivers at a rate unmatched by any other country on the planet, it is somewhat peculiar that it never even attempted to host a World Championship race. 

As mentioned before, geography has been an obvious deterrent, but one contributing reason for its lack of presence on the calendar must also have been a lack of a facility suitable for a World Championship GP. Currently, the top level motor racing facility in the country is Taupo, a Grade 3 track rebuilt in 2006, but it’s a far cry from the glitzy standards of Formula One.

Despite that, the New Zealand GP – one of the two non-F1 Grands Prix still being hosted today and recognized by the FIA – does have some Formula 1 background. First hosted in 1950, the NZ GP got moved to the 3.2 km Ardmore airport circuit on the outskirts of Auckland, in 1954. There, it instantly became one of the most popular spectator events in the country, and its Formula Libre regulations and the convenient date during the European off season – usually on the first week of January – ensured that the European racing stars soon found the race a surprisingly attractive prospect to attend. By the early Sixties, many of them had made it an annual tradition to ship their F1 equipment over to race it in New Zealand. Some of the NZ GP’s from that era ended up having front rows and podiums that could easily have been confused with the World Championship ones! 

Racing action from the 1961 New Zealand GP. Jack Brabham won this edition from Bruce McLaren and Graham Hill.

However, there was never a push to include Ardmore on the World Championship calendar, and due to reasons mostly related to the local aviation authorities, 1962 ended up being the last New Zealand GP at the Ardmore airfield anyway. The freshly-built Pukekohe Park circuit, located nearby Auckland, took over from 1963 onward. The 3.5 kilometre track was built around a horse-racing track, much like its fellow circuits in Warwick Farm and Sandown, but the event remained popular regardless, and inherited the usual F1-standard fields from Ardmore. Moving to the Tasman Formula regulations in 1964 did not hinder the event, but as early as 1966, the track profile had its southern leg cut off, resulting in a reduction of the track length to a meagre 2.8 kilometres, making it clearly insufficient for the World Championship calendar. 

The 1965 GP at Pukekohe. Graham Hill, in his Scuderia Veloce Brabham, won ahead of local stars Frank Gardner and Jim Palmer. 

That was probably the main contributing reason why in 1970, as the Tasman Series went with the F5000 regulations, the Kiwis went along with it and made zero noises about wishing to host a World Championship GP (unlike the Australians!) – despite several New Zealand racing drivers at the time still having regular success in Europe. Ever since the late 1970s, the New Zealand GP suffered a slow but steady decline in importance, hosting slower and slower formulae. 

During the last decade or so, the GP has had a bit of a revitalization, as the new Toyota Racing Series regulations rescued the New Zealand open wheel racing scene. Hence, the New Zealand GP is able to attract international guests to test their skills against the local star drivers again – though these days, the guests are much younger than they used to be.  Some of the winners of the event in the last few years include names such as Nick Cassidy, Lance Stroll, Lando Norris and Liam Lawson. This past month of January – following the long-tradition – V8 Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen (and proud Kiwi!) became the newest addition to the hall of fame of the race. 

 

Watch the 2021 New Zealand GP highlights from Hampton Downs Raceway, a Grade 3 circuit! Unfortunately, the COVID situation meant that the International guests were not able to challenge the locals this time around, but the situation is fortunately bound to change in 2022. 

Sources: racingcircuits.info, the-fastlane.co.uk, gdecarli.it, “The Nostalgia Forum” on Atlas Autosport, statsf1.com, motorsport.com, nzigp.co.nz