BUILDING THE AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX

Every March since 1996, Albert Park in Melbourne has been transformed from a public recreational facility into a world class street circuit which is host to the premier category of motor sport, Formula One. The Australian Grand Prix moved from the streets of Adelaide in 1995 to its current home, and the task of turning parkland into a Grand Prix circuit is not a simple feat.

Initial planning for the annual race takes place all year round, with several meetings taking place throughout the year in order to maintain the standards required by the FIA. While the circuit itself and the facilities within it may look aesthetically the same each year, it is in fact a vastly different beast each time the race comes around.

Building at the circuit commences in mid January, with several structures being put in place over the average seven week period to ensure all the circuit is ready to go for the event. 290,000 man hours are needed to ensure the circuit is ready to go, and amazingly the public are still able to use the roads which make up the circuit right up until the Monday prior to the race. As the event is run over four days, the roads are then opened up to the public once again the following Tuesday morning, meaning only eight days a year the roads are unavailable. An extraordinary statistic given the scale needed to turn the area into the circuit.

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“We just take over small areas that we need to build infrastructure,” GM of Operations for the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) Ashley Davies says of the building of the circuit. “The majority of the playing fields and facilities as well as roads are still available during the build and dismantle period.”

Given the high standard of safety expected by the FIA for its circuits around the world, the AGPC remains in constant communication with the head of global motor sport to ensure the standards are met for each year’s race. A track walk is held on the Wednesday prior to the event and is overseen not only by the FIA, but also members of the Confederation of Australian Motor sport (CAMS) to ensure the circuit meets the set standards.

“The FIA produce a report immediately after the event that addresses any potential issues and incidents, and make suggestions for changes to the track,” Davies says. “Fortunately we only ever have a small report, and it’s only usually a few minor comments which are along the lines of adjusting curbs or fixing artificial run off areas. It keeps us busy for the rest of the year making the changes and implementing them”

Given the Australian Grand Prix is generally the first race of the year, drivers have to find a fine line between issues with the track and issues with their car. Feedback from the drivers is extremely important to ensure the circuit is up to their standards, and the FIA are constantly in discussion with the drivers to ensure everything is running smoothly as Davies explains.

“Over the course of the [race] weekend, there will be comments made by particular drivers about particular aspects of the track. The FIA need to separate out the differences between driver and car issues versus a genuine track issue. Obviously we can’t change our track to suit every single change in the cars because they’re constantly changing, so the FIA and CAMS separate out those issues.”

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With over 34 kilometres of fencing required for the track and 34,000 square metres worth of marquees, storing the items needed for the circuit is important and an effort in itself. A visit to Albert Park at any other point of the year besides Grand Prix time might make it hard to believe a race is even held there, and it’s all down to the meticulous planning of taking out the items that are in the way of the circuit, and then putting them back in place when the race is over. A five hectare storage yard about 12 kilometres outside of Melbourne is home to items such as the debris fences, tyres, overpasses and concrete barriers which are owned by the AGPC. Other items such as fencing, grandstands and marquees are all hired annually from local suppliers.

While the build period takes approximately seven weeks to complete, the dismantle period only takes around four weeks.

“We have a period of time [after the dismantle period] where we stay in Albert Park and continue to renovate some of the ovals, and make sure those ovals and the park is returned to the condition that is needed throughout the year,” Davies continues. “It’s really only four to five weeks after the event of what we call the park renovation and maintenance period. After four weeks, there is no evidence of the event ever being held there.”

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The only permanent facility at Albert Park that shows any sign a Grand Prix is held in the area is the pit building complex. While there are no plans to turn this into a set tourist destination for Formula 1 fans to visit when the race isn’t on, it still attracts countless fans to get their picture taken outside of it, and even sneak a shot on the start/finish line to no doubt share with their fellow rev heads.

After everything is packed away, the race has been run and won and the Formula 1 circus has long moved on to Malaysia and beyond, a thorough debriefing is held with the races contractors, suppliers and sponsors to help identify opportunity for improvement for the next event.

Davies mentions “we never go into an event thinking we did a great job last year, let’s do the same this year. Our mode of operation is always to lift that bar higher and see what we can do differently and always be delivering a great result for the Australian fans and Formula 1 fans and deliver what we hope is the best motor sport event in Australia.”

The Australian Grand Prix is now less than three weeks away. If you would like more information on the event, visit www.grandprix.com.au and if you purchase your tickets before the 1st of March you will save money!

To download our full interview with the AGPC General Manager of Operations Ashley Davies, click on the link below. We would like to pass on our thanks to the AGPC for arranging the interview.

This article was originally written for The Qualifying Lap. You can read the published version here

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