GLOBETROTTER

Thank you Adelaide

Australians have a habit of saying "Thanks" before they get anything.

"Can I have a beer, thanks," they say when shouting to the barman. To European ears this is a strange thing indeed because we have been trained since childhood to say "please", "s'il vous plait" or "bitte".

Finnish people say something ridiculous like "Ole hyva" - which they pronounce "oily hoover". When the service has been rendered we strange Europeans say "Thank you" and depart. Australians seem to say something like: "See ya later. No worries. Ripper!"

"See ya later" is no longer an expression which we can use for Adelaide because it seems that the F1 world has seen the last of the city - at least for the foreseeable future.

A year or so ago, while the Adelaide authorities were busy powdering their noses, the folk from Melbourne rang up F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and said: "Yeah, we'll have a Grand Prix, thanks." And Bernie, recognizing a pot of gold at five paces, grabbed the gift horse by the neck and did the deal. The race is moving to Melbourne.

There have been a few newspaper reports suggesting that Adelaide could have a Pacific Grand Prix but this is wishful thinking. The grandstands and the hundreds of concrete barriers which line the Adelaide circuit will shortly be loaded on to trucks and driven cross country to Melbourne where they will find themselves in action in Albert Park within a few months. It would cost zillions to move them backwards and forwards and, besides, there are too many Asian tracks popping up looking for F1 action to give Adelaide much of a chance. The likelihood of Adelaide getting a race again within the next five years is tiny. And the politicians in Adelaide know it.

You may think that F1 people do not care but I can tell this is not true. We will miss Adelaide. On Sunday morning - in an unprecedented act - the mechanics gathered on pit straight and waved a sign saying "Thank You Adelaide" to the crowds in the grandstand. No-one told them to do it. Judging by the scale of the welcome for F1 this year in Adelaide the locals were going to miss us as well. The crowd was the biggest in history - not just the history of Adelaide but also of modern Formula 1 racing as well. A four-day attendance of 520,000 people and a race day crowd of 210,000 are extraordinary statistics.

When the early F1 folk started to arrive in Adelaide on the Monday before the race the flags on government buildings were all flying at half-mast and the weather was drab and overcast. The flags were remembering assassinated Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin but they might have been there for the race as well. On the run up Wakefield Road towards the city there was a huge billboard across the track proclaiming: "The entire race becomes extinct November 12". They took it down on Monday to make way for a big Marlboro sign...

On the way down to Adelaide, I stopped off in Melbourne to have a look at the track we will go to in just a few short months. I was impressed. It is going to be a great track. The city seems lively and I guess if the people of Melbourne get worked up about the Grand Prix, everyone is going to have a good time. With Melbourne rumoured to have 400,000 people with Italian parentage, all ready to become rampant Ferrari fans the success should be guaranteed.

But I am sure that in March next year the atmosphere in Albert Park will be very different to Adelaide. It will be the first race of the F1 season and that is usually a lot more serious than the last one.

Having said that, when we raced in Phoenix and South Africa in recent years the opening races were relaxed and a lot of fun.

But, it will not be like Adelaide. A city for which everyone in F1 has a soft spot. It has been the favorite race for the F1 teams and its circus since the very beginning. Everyone loved not just the great organization and the rampant enthusiasm but the fundamental fact that it was the last race, held when people are tired and are looking forward to the end of the year. The usual discipline of the teams is always a little relaxed at the non-European events - we call them "the flyaways" and at the end of the year that relaxation is always a little more pronounced. Adelaide was always a race but also it was a great big party, the chance for fans and racers alike to get absolutely off their faces with excess alcohol intake and indulge in a little fraternization with the locals. And we're talking serious partying here. From the first F1 folk arriving hotfoot from Suzuka to be greeted by jazz bands and television cameras to the last drunks being swept off the pavements on Monday morning it was always action all the way.

There were times, however, when even the F1 heroes were overshadowed by others. One year super-model Elle Macpherson turned up to take part in the Celebrity Race. No-one in F1 had ever heard of her prior to the event, but it did not take the drivers long to realize that 'The Body' did actually live up to her name, strutting around the paddock in her celebrity race overalls, with all the pneumatic ease of a race horse. She flashed her wall-to-wall smile at all and sundry and the F1 drivers became starry-eyed schoolboys again.

Adelaide will also be remembered for some truly great races - the result of a very good track design, which carefully balanced high-speed sections with a need for grip in the tighter corners.

The city hosted two World Championship showdowns - but both were truly remarkable. The 1986 event was one of the most exciting races in F1 history. I wasn't in Adelaide that day but I remember sitting in my flat in London, watching TV at four o'clock in the morning when Nigel Mansell's tire exploded on Brabham Straight and the Englishman's World Championship hopes evaporated. The outsider Alain Prost sneaked through the win the title and I can still remember how he climbed from his car and, quite simply, jumped for joy.

The 1994 showdown was another nail-biting finale as Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher fought tooth and nail, the German finally cracking under the pressure and hitting a wall, only to save the title when he drove into Hill and the pair were both forced to retire.

Between the two there were some great races and sensational action. I will always remember 1989 as one of the most terrifying races I ever saw as car after car smashed into things in a rain storm. It was like waiting for the big one which you felt had to come. It came when Nelson Piquet ran into the back of an Osella and nearly took his head off on the gearbox of the car he had never seen in the spray. Adelaide was lucky that day.

The 1990 event was fabulous with Nelson Piquet rampaging past Nigel Mansell in the closing laps, but 1991 was another storm and this time it lasted only 14 laps - to become the shortest ever Grand Prix. In 1992 Berger won after Senna and Mansell collided, the Austrian holding off a fast-closing Schumacher by just a few tenths of a second at the flag.

My favorite race at Adelaide was the 1993 event when the great Senna drove an awesome race to score what would be his last F1 victory. It was an extraordinary drive with an underpowered McLaren-Ford and, at the end of the day, Senna and bitter rival Alain Prost - the World Champion - made peace as they stood side by side on the podium.

Afterwards, when the crowds had gone off to watch Tina Turner's post-race concert in the park, Senna joined Tina on stage and she sang "Simply the Best" to him. I will never hear that song again without thinking of Ayrton and most of the F1 circus feels the same way.

Last Sunday night, as the fans watched Bon Jovi in action the F1 circus was busy packing up its belongings. Then the garages closed down - one by one - and the circus headed off to town to say goodbye to their nearest and dearest in town. Over the years there have been many a brief encounter between the travelling F1 men and the girls of Adelaide and on Monday there will have been a few more dewy-eyed scenes at Adelaide Airport - as there have been every year since F1 first came to South Australia back in 1985. I know when I was younger and wilder (and unmarried!) I left the city and a particular young lady with a very heavy heart.

Goodbye Adelaide. It's been great. G'day Melbourne. We'd like a great Grand Prix thanks.

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