The Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is a street circuit around Albert Park Lake, only a few kilometres south of central Melbourne. It is used annually as a racetrack for the Australian Grand Prix and associated support races.
The circuit uses everyday sections of road that circle Albert Park Lake, a small man-made lake just south of the Central Business District of Melbourne. The road sections that are used were rebuilt prior to the inaugural event in 1996 to ensure consistency and smoothness. As a result, compared to other circuits that are held on public roads, the Albert Park track has quite a smooth surface. Before 2007 there existed only a few other places on the Formula 1 calendar with a body of water close to the track. Most of the new tracks, such as Valencia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi have imitated that feature.
The course is considered to be quite fast and relatively easy to drive, drivers having commented that the consistent placement of corners allows them to easily learn the circuit and achieve competitive times. However, the flat terrain around the lake, coupled with a track design that features few true straights, means that the track is not conducive to overtaking or easy spectating unless in possession of a grandstand seat.
Each year, most of the trackside fencing, pedestrian overpasses, grandstands and other motorsport infrastructure are erected approximately a month prior to the Grand Prix weekend and removed within 6 weeks after the event. Land around the circuit (including a large aquatic centre, a golf course, a Lakeside Stadium, some restaurants and rowing boathouses) has restricted access during the grand prix weekend. Dissent is still prevalent among nearby local residents and some still maintain a silent protest against the event. Nevertheless, the event is reasonably popular in Melbourne and Australia (with a large European population and a general interest in motorsport). Middle Park, the home of South Melbourne FC was demolished in 1994 due to expansion at Albert Park.
On 4 July 2008, the official F1 site reported that more than 300,000 people attended the four-day Melbourne Grand Prix, though actual ticket sales were later disputed by the local media. The Grand Prix will continue until at least 2015 after securing a new contract with Formula One Management. There will be no night races in Albert Park but 2009’s event started at 5pm and took place between March 26–29.
Albert Park also has the distinction of being the only venue to hold the Australian Grand Prix in both World Championship and non-World Championship formats. Prior to the 1996 Australian Grand Prix, a modified version of the current circuit was used for both the 1953 and 1956 Australian Grands Prix. During this time Albert Park actually ran anti-clockwise as opposed to the current GP circuit which runs clockwise.
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