The Australian Grand Prix has a special place in our hearts. From hearing stories of the 100-mile road race at Phillip Island in the 1920s, to seeing old footage of engineer-drivers like Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren battling it out through the 1950s, even before we were born, the Australian GP was the stuff of legends.
Although many associate the race with the city of Melbourne, it has in fact been held at 23 different venues since its inception in 1928. And while there have been many famous drivers to claim victory down under, only Australian driver Lex Davison and Germany’s Michael Schumacher have won the race a record four times.
Suffice to say, upon receiving an invite from Formula One’s official timekeeper, Rolex, to attend the Grand Prix, I had to jump on the opportunity. Not dissimilar to the famous race, Rolex’s involvement in motor racing spans over 80 years in various formats and countries. In 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell broke a land speed record wearing a Rolex Oyster and it’s been non-stop ever since for the Swiss watchmakers.
Even the flying Scot, Sir Jackie Stewart, wore a Rolex during his stellar career and continues the partnership some 50 years later. Whilst Rolex has worked with Grand Prix drivers in the past, it wasn’t until 2013 that they became official timekeeper and the official timepiece of Formula One.
Going to the Grand Prix with friends is always enjoyable, but experiencing the excitement with Rolex is something not be missed.
Pit Lane and Garages
From the moment I set-foot in pit lane, I was enthralled. There’s a certain buzz that you have to experience to fully understand. Compared with viewing from afar, it’s the details that you miss. And the level of detail is astounding. When I entered Daniel Riccardo’s Renault Garage, there wasn’t an item out of place. Think of that one guy you know that has an obsessive compulsively maintained garage, then multiply that by a thousand.
Tools, screens, helmets, parts, all immaculately arranged, prepared and presented as clinically as a surgeon’s operating theatre.
Every person in that garage had a specific purpose and a heavy lack of sleep. Considering that the level of precision, engineering and technology that goes into each F1 car is just as advanced as a military fighter jet, it all makes sense why the pit crew operate the way they do. You can see how focused and specialised each crew member is and how operationally, it’s as precise as Sir Jackie’s Rolex.
Despite the high-intensity atmosphere of Renault’s pit lane garage, the crew still took the time to have a bit of fun. I noticed some friendly banter being thrown between the crew, the music was cranked and there was a genuine sense of team comradery. During a rare moment, when I wasn’t being deafened by the roar of Nico Hulkenberg’s engine being tested right in front of me, I could hear team Red Bull singing “Sweet Caroline “ at the top of their lungs.
Up Close With the Safety Car
All the action around the circuit is supported by the army of marshalls, but when the herd gets a bit rowdy, a very capable safety car is required to keep cars and egos in check. How capable? The Mercedes AMG GT R produces 430 kW (585 hp) via its bi-turbo V8 and is the most powerful Formula One safety car of all time.
What’s more impressive, however, is the fact that the GT R is basically the same as the production model you could purchase from your local Mercedes AMG dealer. The safety car does have some decals and lights, but besides that and some specialised ceramic brakes, you’re pretty much ready for a call up from race control.
The Paddock Club and the Rolex Suite
Amidst the action on the track and the exclusive behind-the-scenes experience, when it came time for a drink, we retreated to the exclusive Rolex suite inside the mecca that is “The Paddock Club”.
Think all of those old speedway dagwood dog trucks your dad used to take you to, then think the opposite.
Climate controlled dining, champagne on ice; it’s on par with any restaurant strip you’ve ever been to, yet somehow, everything is portable. There are corporate suites galore, and if you hang out in the media area long enough, you’ll run into an F1 driver or two.
As fun as it is chatting with the drivers, if you’re going to have lunch with one, they may as well be knighted. So inside the Rolex suite, I sat for a gourmet meal with Sir Jackie Stewart at the table. Yes, you read that correctly, three-time world champion, Sir John Young “Jackie” Stewart. A motorsports fan’s “pinch yourself” moment. A humble and charismatic character with interesting stories and an ability to induce smiles upon all those around him.
The Rolex suite, however, isn’t all about wining and dining. Located directly above the garages overlooking the pit lane, all the action on can be viewed from the comfort of the suite.
The International Broadcast Centre
The final destination of my behind-the-scenes tour was the International Broadcast Centre. Another building that’s constructed for each event, yet nothing about it feels temporary. There are wall-to-wall video feeds, telemetry and race control data. Pretty much everything you see on TV or online has gone through this building in one way or another.
A dedicated control room of video editors, sound technicians, and graphic designers edit the event live and broadcast globally through various channels. It’s very impressive to witness the brains of such a logistically complex system in action.
Experiencing the Australian Grand Prix with is always exhilarating and even more so when hosted by one of motor racing’s most historical brands. Even though Rolex has only officially been keeping time six years in Formula One, it feels more like a homecoming than a fresh start.
The writer attended the F1 Australian Grand Prix as a guest of Rolex. Images ©Rolex/Jad Sherif