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The Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, 2023 – a fan’s review & perspective

Most of the time I don’t watch motorsports as I prefer to do it myself, but I am a long-time F1 fan so decided to attend the 2023 Australian F1 Grand Prix with my daughters, also F1 fans – one of whom supports Red Bull which makes me question where I went wrong as a parent.

I’m not going to talk about the race itself, as many others have done that but let’s say give the FIA a chance. Formula 1 and car racing has only been going for seventy odd years, and that’s not really enough time to work out all the bugs in administration, and it’s not as if there’s been trenchant and deserved criticism to provide an impetus for change, including the apex of the 2021 fiasco. I can’t believe entirely predictable scenarios such as a last lap red flag weren’t accounted for in the rulebook.

Anyway, the fan experience. We bought three tickets for the Prost stand for both weekend days and eagerly awaited the Grand Prix. We knew parking wasn’t possible, so we drove into the CBD and parked near Southern Cross Station which gave us a short walk to the free tram service. It was great to see the trams clearly marked and helpful people standing by. The trams weren’t overly packed, and quickly got us to Gate One. There officials told us that we’d need to go to Gate 10 as we had Prost stand tickets, saying “people with Gate 10 tickets have tried to get in this gate and it’s not worked”.  So we waited 30 minutes for a bus to take us to Gate 10, which seemed a bit pointless as the general admission tickets weren’t specific to a gate. I could understand Gate 10 being recommended for the Prost stand, but I didn’t see why it would be mandatory – maybe it wasn’t, as on the Sunday we got through Gate 1 without any problem.

Anyway at Gate 10 we strolled in with barely any queue and then we were into the Grand Prix!  Now where was everything…there were colourful, easy-to-use maps at an information booth but we were told they were running low and we couldn’t have one. Scrolling on a phone isn’t as good, so that was disappointing. We easily located the clearly-marked Prost stand, and then set off for the morning’s second coffee – and discovered coffee demand was far exceeding supply, something I’d suggest be rectified for the 2024 event as it’s Melbourne…of COURSE people are going to want coffees!! 

The flip side of coffee is disposal and the other facility lacking was toilets; let’s just say I had to wait a while and was glad I didn’t need to queue for the ladies. Throughput in one block was a bit low was one of the cisterns was blocked; I couldn’t find anyone to report it to, so maybe one of those apps where you report issues would be a good idea. The other thing where demand exceeded supply was Internet bandwidth; next time, talk to the telcos and add in some temporary bandwidth, or at least ensure that that users in hospitality suites etc have something other than 4G/5G such as Starlink to take the pressure off. This problem is set to be worse and given the way we all communicate these days we need those WhatsApp messages going through, pronto.

The big screens where you could watch the action were fantastic, especially those with seats and covers, as at motor races you can’t see a lot of the track when you’re next to it.

So aside from watching car racing, what was there to do? Well, buy overpriced team merch or food mostly. There was a paucity of interactive displays, and what displays there were rather static, such as Toyota, or forbidding-looking corporate hospitality.  There were racing simulators here and there with queues too long to wait for in my view, a BMX display which ran intermittently – I didn’t see them, but have watched that crew perform before and they’re good. The aerial attractions were a Spitfire and the Roulettes, welcome addition, and there were a few other attractions such as Formula Art. But overall, I felt there could and should be quite a few more vendors selling things other than team merch, and other attractions. Here’s some ideas:

  • F1 talks:  F1 Basics, F1 Tech, F1 History. Get a technical director or two out and about. Think STEM…F1 isn’t just about the drivers
  • F1 in Schools demo
  • More RC cars (there were some over the north side) including rock crawlers and trailer reversing competitions
  • Mechanics for Basics hands – on workshops
  • How to Drive a Tank
  • 4X4 demonstration teams e.g. Land Rover
  • Flags explained and Wave the Flag photo op, hosted by a friendly marshal

I’d get the Fan Forum running all the time, not just occasionally. I’m sure there’s lots more ideas, what are yours?

Then we come to the locations. The east side of the track doesn’t hold much aside from an array of cars and the BMX/RC display, but the cars on display are fewer in number and variety than you can see at any free Cars and Coffee event, and the owners are less likely to be around.  I’d say there’s no point walking around to the east side from the west unless you want the exercise or a specific vantage point.

The car display. Nice enough, but if you’ve been to any Cars and Coffee no need to walk around for a look.

I’d also like to suggest the official website needs a redesign; you have to select either On Track or Off Track, and can’t display both at the same time. How about a single page with filters, and further you can mark off the events that interest you to create your own schedule. The overloaded Internet access didn’t help matters either.

The Melbourne Walk is where fans can line a walkway as the great and famous – drivers, team identities and so on – walk down a path and chat to the fans and sign things. I think this a fantastic idea, but needs a bit of work for equality and safety. Fans were five to six deep at times, and that is a crush risk.

I spent a bit of time in the melee behind my daughters, and didn’t feel overly comfortable so it must have been much worse for shorter people. We ended up pulling my eldest out from about halfway in the pack as she felt faint.  The shorter people were at a real disadvantage, and disabled would have no chance.  The people at the front had all the chances, the ones at the rear…none.  If you’re a tall sprinter who got there first, you’re in. If you’re a shorter, slower walker, forget it.

Part of the fan crush on the Melbourne Walk

Here’s a suggestion to keep it both fair and safe for all; simply have a holding bay for fans and they move down the length of the Walk, then back into the holding bay. This way it’s fair for all, you can duck off to the toilets (which should be nearby), and you’re not disadvantaged by height or mobility.  A similar concept to the Walk should be implemented at the arrivals tunnel as many enjoyed spotting the famous arrive, and it’d take a little pressure off the Walk.

The Shannon’s Historic display was your classic motoring missed opportunity. I criticized Motorclassica for not telling the story of the cars and the people, and I’m going to make the same point here. Every historic car has an amazing story…so get some knowledgeable people to tell it as you see the car cruise round.  And, put a summary of those stories on placards on the cars in parc ferme. 

I’d also suggest the racing could be more varied. With F1, F2 and F3 we have three open-wheeler categories, and that’s one too many. The Porsche Cup and Supercars are good, but give a grassroots category a shot like say Excels, or gokarts. And keep something on the track at all times, even if it’s just an interesting car or ten cruising around with expert commentary. Some stunt car or bike work maybe, high-speed trailer reversing – who could get a 6×4 trailer reversed around the entire track and how fast? I actually did something similar at an airfield many years ago!

Also, throw in a few parade laps, cool cars driven by ordinary people; let’s say Hyundai N cars, Toyota GR cars, modified 4WDs, Lotus, Mustangs, WRXes…whatever, and have them line up in age order too. The Shannon’s run is good, but let’s face it, the cars aren’t relatable to the average person and especially young people, and we don’t need them to do several laps. One lap per set of cars, and you can have maybe 15-20 sets of cars. Much more interesting and real-world. Could also do a few more laps with the RAM trucks pulling those trailers full of spectators too…what I’m saying is real-world involvement, not making motorsports out to be elitist and out of reach. Also, give the opportunity to anyone with a motoring YouTube channel that has 28k or more subscribers to cut some laps. I’m only half joking; the bulk of video content is consuming on YouTube these days, so find the automotive people who the crowds follow and get them out there in some way, shape or form. This works well at 4X4 shows.

I doubt any changes will be made as there was record attendance, so the organisers will probably just think they’re onto a good thing and in many ways, they are. But just like Mercedes found in the last couple of years, you need to innovate and adapt to maintain your position and I hope the Australian GP improves over time too. It is a great weekend, but I think it could be even better.

And here’s your F1 Bingo card, updated after Race 3!

And for those manual drivers…can you do this?

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