Record number of fans brave cold to see F1 action

Dressed in a white karting suit complete with a helmet, Australian Grand Prix attendee Greg Tafft was asked whether he would also be racing on the Formula One grid.

“Absolutely – racing to the bar,” he said.

He was one of the record-setting 129,000 in attendance at Albert Park on Saturday, the event buzzing with a carnival-like atmosphere despite the cold and wet weather.

Big crowds at the Melbourne Grand Prix.Credit:Eddie Jim

Fans were prepped and primed to have a good time. The queues to the bar stretched down the muddy grass, the grandstands seats were occupied by a sea of plastic poncho-wearing fans, and the kids were protected from the noise with comically oversized earmuffs.

Tafft attended with his adult kids, who dress up and host an after-party following the day’s event. He dressed up last year as the team principal for Alfa Terri.

“The year before he was Miss World,” his friend joked.

Zarah Zamani was also at the track with her kids, Hassan Motevallian, 6, and Hussain, 4.

She packed camping chairs and spent the day exploring the areas around the racetrack. It’s her second time attending – though she isn’t too sure which team she supports. Their dad, Ali, introduced them to Formula One last year, and now the boys watch it with the same passion as him.

“In our house, if Red Bull wins, one cries. If Ferrari wins, the other one cries,” they say.

That sort of Formula One fervour isn’t ubiquitous for all at Albert Park, with many coming along for the drinks, the music and slew of activities.

Some took up the helicopter rides on offer, while others were happy to be planted on a picnic rug in front of the big screens with the Melbourne skyline behind them.

Sydneysiders Ash Murray and Edel Ryan had already taken flight for the event – flying down south especially for the event. Hiding under a black umbrella, the friends lamented that their favourite driver, Daniel Ricciardo, would not be racing this year.

“Last year was more of a festival vibe – everyone was so happy for it to be back. But the weather has sort of dampened that,” Ryan said.

“Ricciardo made a difference to the atmosphere, last year the crowd was a sea of orange.”

“He’s the only driver that’s still so prominent and still has all the sponsorship [despite being a reserve driver],” she said.

Ryan said she was obsessed with Formula One for a while, while Murray had been introduced to it through Netflix series Drive to Survive.

“It’s the best thing that’s happened to the sport. It’s made it so accessible,” Ryan added.

Just a couple of hundred metres over at the Fan Forum stage, hundreds screamed with glee as Ryan and Murrary’s beloved Ricciardo arrived in the flesh, the sound of the cheers rivalling the raucous roar of the F1 engines.

But, despite his rock star welcome, even Ricciardo conceded that the weather was dampening the day.

“Melbourne’s great, but it is cold,” he said.

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