keke stag

Keke Rosberg tips his Williams FW10 Honda into ‘Stag Corner’, so named after the hotel behind him, for the long run down Rundle Road and onto Dequetteville Terrace. Adelaide GP 1985. The Stag Hotel is still there and a much nicer place to eat and drink than then! (unattributed)

‘Rossi Kekberg is on pole!’ our host Ralph announced as we pulled up at what would become our regular annual digs for the Adelaide Grand Prix for the next 10 years…

I was the designated driver for the second half of the long drive from Melbourne, but the rest of my mates were well pissed, so it was a relief to see our host similarly inebriated when we pulled up in leafy Tusmore, Adelaide. Ralph and Jill’s backyard provided our cheap accommodation only 1 km from the Victoria Park road circuit for years. Wonderful people they were and are.

Ralph was no racing enthusiast, he always struggled with the furrin’ drivers names, but his zeal for the race typified the way the average Adelaide citizen felt about the event each year despite the interruptions to normal traffic flows and all the rest. Adelaide is a small town which embraced the race in a way Melburnians en-masse never really have. The ‘Save Albert Park’ mob are still vocal despite the GP having support from both sides of politics.

There had been mumblings about Australia having an F1 GP on and off for decades, the lack of an F1 event was not such an issue in the sixties when we had the Tasman Series which was effectively 4 Grands Prix in 4 States in 4 weeks! And 4 races in New Zealand before the ‘circus’ arrived in Oz.

The ‘Tasman’ was a 2.5 litre formula dominated in the early days by ex-F1 2.5 litre Coventry Climax 4 cylinder FPF engined cars. Later on ‘bored’ 1.5 litre F1 engines were used and at the very end of the category, 2.5 litre versions of current F1 engines were built by Cosworth and BRM, in addition to the bespoke Tasman engines of Repco and Alfa Romeo. Magic it surely was!


Geoff Smedley’s shot captures all that was great about the Tasman Series. Here, at Longford, Tasmania in 1968; Clark from Hill, Amon and Gardner in yellow. Lotus 49 DFW X2, Ferrari 246T obscured and Gardner’s Brabham BT23D Alfa Romeo. This is the preliminary race, the main very wet event was won by Piers Courage in a McLaren M4A Ford FVA F2 car, a famous victory for the young Brit. (Geoff Smedley)

Later Bob Jane perhaps came close to an F1 event, his early 80’s Formula Pacific Grands Prix were intended to be replaced by an F1 event but Calder, love it as I do, is a bit of a ‘shithole’. It lacks any sort of visual appeal from a Teev viewpoint, nor does it represent a challenge to the best drivers in the world. It’s a great club, point and squirt kinda place.

Sandown looked best placed, the circuit was increased to GP length to host a 1984 World Endurance Championship Round but the Light Car Club emasculated a great circuit with the ‘Mickey-Mouse stop go’ additions to the circuits infield to get the track to the requisite length. The financial returns, or lack of them destroyed the oldest racing club in the country as well.


AGP Calder 1984. F1 drivers in F Pacific cars, Ralt RT4/85 Ford’s. Rosberg, 2nd on the inside, Lauda, DNF prang, on the outside. Roberto Moreno won the race in another RT4, his 3rd AGP win. (History of The AGP)

And so, pretty much outta the blue, with the support of the local business community, racer/business man Bill O’Gorman having pitched the idea to the committee set up to celebrate SA’s Sesquicentennial Year in 1986; South Australian Premier, John Bannon did a deal with Sir Bernie The Unbelievable to stage a race on the outskirts of Adelaide’s CBD. Part of the circuit defines the cities Eastern boundary, so ’twas a race in the city centre. Critically from an SA perspective, the Formula One Constructors Association wanted a street race, Calder and Sandown are not street circuits.

Sydney is Australia’s beautiful world city. The place doesn’t have to work hard to attract tourists who are drawn to all of its visual, cultural and sporting splendour, she is the ‘hot sister’ her sibling cities are the ‘fuglies’ in relative terms. They have to work a lot harder to get tourists into their cities.

Melbourne’s approach to combat that, is an event a month strategy, the very same Ron Walker behind the Melbourne GP was one of the founders of ‘Melbourne Major Events’ the body set up decades ago, to identify global events or develop local initiatives to get folks to come here. John Bannon grabbed an event the Victorians wanted and in fact the Victorians ‘stole’ it from the South Aussies some years later.


Derek Warwick Renault RE60, turning into ‘Stag Corner’, with the fruit markets in the background, Adelaide 1985. The building is still there. (unattributed)

Most of us hadn’t seen contemporary F1 cars. I hadn’t done the ‘big European trip’ at that point, the visits of Guy Edwards in a Fittipaldi to Sandown, and the Theodore Team to the ’79 Rothmans Series with an Ensign MN05 and Wolf WR4, all Ford Cosworth powered whetted the appetite, but none were current cars when they visited and by 1985 we were in the middle of the 1.5 Litre Turbo Era.

The sight and sound of those cars around the wide open expanses of Adelaide’s Victoria Park was something to relish. It was, and still is a street circuit but the GP circuit, the V8 Supercars use a truncated version of the track, was fast and flowing with the full gamut of corners, if not gradient changes to provide a ‘technical track’ for drivers to master.

adelaide map

Once we separated ourselves from Ralph, our host, his enthusiasm for ‘Rossi Kekberg’ undiminished, we went to the circuit, being unfamiliar with the city and were simply blown away by Victoria Park, it’s scale, the circuit itself and the standard of organisation. The event won awards from the start to the end of the period in which the races were held there. Little Adelaide had something to prove both within Australia and globally, and delivered in spades.

Typical of AGP’s is a chock-a-block program of events; that year the supports included F Pacific, F Ford, Group A Touring Cars (Gerhard Berger drove a BMW635csi in the taxi races), Historic Cars. The ‘what the FAAAAARK’ moment was provided on that Thursday, when, unannounced an RAAF General Dynamics F18 Hornet fighter did a treetops high, fast pass, with all of us in Victoria Park hitting the deck and realising what it would have been like to ‘kiss your arse’ goodbye if one of these things was flying with aggressive intent…

prost nipping a brake

Alain Prost nips a front brake, his carbon brakes gave him troubles as they did other cars similarly equipped, but a blown turbo wastegate put him out on lap 26. He won his first drivers title in 1985.(Phil Aynsley)

By the time the circus arrived in town Alain Prost had won his first F1 Drivers Title with victories in Brazil, Monaco, Britain, Austria and Italy. He lost a win at Imola when his car was found to be underweight.

The McLaren MP4/2 TAG’s were the class of the field in 1984, they were fast, reliable, handled well and were driven superbly by Niki Lauda, who took the title that year and by Alain Prost who joined the team from Renault. The McLarens took their advantage into 1985 but the year was made technically interesting by Williams first carbon-fibre monocoque and the emergence of Nigel Mansell, signed by Williams that season, as a force particularly in the seasons second half.

rosberg front

Patrick Head’s first carbon-composite Williams, the FW10 Honda a superbly integrated design, the car of the second half of the ’85 season. Honda had also got the power delivery of its potent twin-turbo V6 more progressive than in 1984. Keke Rosberg here. (Phil Aynsley)

Patrick Head, Williams designer was conservative and cost-effective in his approach to such large design changes and was also concerned about the new carbon-composite materials. Head was impressed with the way his aluminium-honeycomb monocoques had withstood big impacts; Jones at Watkins Glen (FW06) in 1978 and Reutemann at Silverstone (FW07) in 1980.

Head determined to control the carbon-composite program inhouse, Williams built 9 carbon-composite FW10 chassis during the season. And gems of cars they were, right out of the box; Rosberg won in Detroit and Adelaide, Mansell at Brands Hatch and Kyalami.

In the early part of the season the cars were powered by ’84 ‘D-spec’ Honda engines but by the time they arrived in Adelaide ‘E-spec’ engines giving a reputed 1000/1250 BHP qualifying capability and a 6 speed, rather than 5 speed Hewland gearbox to harness the power was fitted.

williams fw10

Williams FW10 and its Honda RA163E engine; 80 degree DOHC, 4 valve 1494cc twin IHI turbo V6. Upwards of 800bhp @ 12000rpm depending upon boost. Carbon fibre chassis, lower wishbone and rocker/ coil spring/dampers suspension. Hewland 6 speed gearbox. Brakes in this shot carbon, but cast iron brakes in Adelaide an important factor in the Williams win. 520Kg. (unattributed)

Qualifying was held on a beautiful, hot day, 30000 punters turned up to see Ayrton Senna do an absolute blinder of a lap, you could see and feel the effort being expended by the Brazilian on track and on the plentiful video screens around the circuit, to set pole 7/10 of a second from Mansell, Rosberg, Prost and Alboreto.

So; Lotus, Williams, Williams, McLaren and Ferrari were the top 5. Alan Jones had returned to F1 but was well back in 19th, the Lola Hart not the fastest combination in the field.


Alan Jones ponders his chances on the grid. Strategy was to ‘go for it’ knowing the car probably would not last. It didn’t! He stalled on the grid but recovered to be 7th by lap 18, when the engines timing caused his retirement. Team Chief, ex-McLaren owner Teddy Mayer beside the wing. Lola THL1 Hart. (Phil Aynsley)

We were well pleased with the first 3 days of entertainment, I was suitably jealous of a couple of mates who were part of the show, participants in the Formula Ford race and wishing I was part of history, as all the competitors in that year were. It was surely the most significant motor race in Australia’s Racing History?!

muzza and keke

Muzza and Keke. Murray Walker had the same cult following in this part of the world as elsewhere, deservedly so! He is getting the goss on the grid from Rosberg before the start. (Phil Aynsley)

We plodded into town and found a nice Italian joint to have dinner, as it happened La Trattoria, which is still in King William Street, still owned by the same family and still employs the same waiters, became a restaurant of choice for the drivers, especially the Italians.

We had not even ordered a Spag Marinara when Patrese and De Cesaris arrived with wives/friends, we were blown away to have stumbled on the place by luck; because we were first, and ate there every night, every year a table was kept for us, it was fantastic to live vicariously and get the occasional autograph without intruding too much on the drivers. Adelaide was and is a small place, this was a good example of the access the locals had, their simply were few places to stay, so it wasn’t hard to find the stars of the show.

parade lap

Grid departs on its parade lap. Mansell, Senna, Rosberg by the fence, then Prost and Alboreto. Adelaide Hills in the distance, gum trees, and a full-house. Circa 105000 people on raceday/ (Phil Aynsley)

‘Poverty tickets’ in that first year weren’t a smart purchase, practice crowd numbers meant we had a very early start to bag our viewing positions. Outside the turn 1 chicane, a top spot on lap 1 but also throughout the race with a video screen to follow the event, was our choice after much debate. Being early was key, over 105000 attended on raceday.

Ralph was keen for ‘Rossi’ to win the race, and so it was, Keke won, and after 3 pit stops!

senna grid

Senna awaits the start from pole. Lotus 97T Renault. Blinder of a lap to get pole, but his race performance was a bit erratic. (Phil Aynsley)

Mansell won the start but Senna carved him in half at the third turn, putting Noige outta the race. Rosberg then lead for 41 laps with Senna at a distance until his tyres went off.

turn 1

Lap 1 turn 1 Chicane; Mansell from Senna, Rosberg, Alboreto (Ferrari) Prost, Boutsen (Arrows BMW), Surer (Brabham BMW) on his outside and Warwick (Renault). Senna gave Mansell a tap which took him out of the race into the right hander at Wakefield Road. (unattributed)

Senna moved back towards Keke, having given his tyres a rest and regained some grip, he then made a mistake clipping a chicane on the entrance to Brabham Straight, giving Rosberg some breathing space. But crazily, Senna had another moment and boofed Rosbergs Williams up the chuff as Keke went into the pits for a scheduled tyre change. Senna had to pit for both tyres and a new nose cone.


Niki Lauda in the cockpit of his McLaren MP4/2B TAG during practice. We saw him twice in Oz, in ’85 he was a real chance but like so many others his carbon brakes were not up to the rigours of a hot race which went for the maximum possible time allowed for a GP of 2 hours, twas said the race was about 12 laps too long. In 1984 he raced a Ralt RT4 Ford F Pacific car in the last non-F1 AGP at Calder Park. Niki retired at the end of the ’85 Adelaide race. (Phil Aynsley)

Rosberg was in the lead but Niki Lauda, in his last GP was looking a possibility in 2nd. At this point the heat of the day was telling for those with carbon-brakes, which were failing, those with steel brakes faring much better.

Keke’s tyres had gone off, he lean’t on them too soon so pitted again, then a wheel nut jammed so he entered the track 45 seconds behind Senna and Lauda.

rosberg tyres

Rosberg frying the Goodyears of his Williams on the hot day, you can clearly see the graining. (Phil Aynsley)

Senna fried his tyres giving the lead to Lauda, a career ending win a possibility, but his carbon brakes failed and he was into a wall. Rosberg, with cast iron brakes was looking good, Senna with carbon not so much, but then a piston failed in his Honda engine so Ayrton was out.

keke and senna

Rosberg from Senna during their long and interesting battle. Ayrton DNF with piston failure brought an end to it, but the Brazilian’s carbon brakes would not have lasted the distance in any event. Shot captures the essence of the track, the view from this point, in the Victoria Park section of the circuit, on Pit Straight  is pretty much the same 30 years later. (unattributed)

Rosberg had the race won with 21 laps to go, last lap entertainment was provided by the Ligiers (Ligier JS25 Renault) with Jacques Laffitte and Phillipe Steiff managing to run into one another, the unfortunate Streiff misunderstanding a Laffitte waving arms gesture which meant ‘don’t pass’ rather than ‘do pass’ as Phillippe interpreted!

Ivan Capelli, Tyrrell 014 Renault Stefan Johannsson Ferrari 156 and Gerhard Berger Arrows A8 BMW rounded out the top 6.

east terrace

The cars blast down Wakefield Road heading into town and into the East Terrace section of the track. Proximity of Adelaide CBD and treed nature of the Victoria Park section of the track clear. A Renault chasing a Tyrrell. (Phil Aynsley)

What a memorable race and event it was; the last for Lauda, Renault as a team for a while, Alfa Romeo as a team and the first of many Grands Prix for Australia…and yes Ralph did master ‘Rossi’s’ correct name but it took him another year to do so…


Victory ceremony L>R Laffitte, Frank Williams with his hands on the cup, Rosberg, Streiff and in the suit John Bannon, SA’s Premier who brought the event to Australia. Williams was shortly to suffer the accident which made him wheelchair bound only several months later. Mitsubishi a welcome global and local sponsor. At the time, its now long since closed, Mitsubishi manufactured cars at Tonsley Park, a southern outer Adelaide suburb. (unattributed)


warwick and senna

Derek Warwick, Renault RE60 and Senna Lotus 97T Renault, a bit cocked up, coping with tyres fried by heat and the pressure he is applying to them. End of Brabham Straight perhaps. (Phil Aynsley)


Unusual Adelaide GP circuit angle and shot. Keke’s Williams Fw10 has gone through the fast left/right ‘Banana Bend’ kink, he is on the outside of the circuit, The Adelaide Fruit Markets to his left, by the look of it he is under brakes and plucking 2nd gear for the left hander at ‘Stag Corner’, to head east out of town along Rundle Road. The fruit market buildings are still there, but are now retail and residential space. (unattributed)

alboreto and patrese

Michele Alboreto Ferrari 156, DNF transmission, ahead of Riccardo Patrese, Alfa Romeo 185T, DNF exhaust. (Phil Aynsley)

noige hairpin

Red 5, Noige at the hairpin onto Pit Straight. Mansell a popular figure in Oz, Senna drove a nutty race, twould have been very interesting to see what Mansell would have done without Senna’s assault on him. Two wins in the previous 2 races, the ‘form combination’ coming into Adelaide. Williams Fw10 Honda. (Phil Aynsley)


‘Autocourse 50 Years of The World Championship’ Alan Henry, ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard

Photo Credits…

Phil Aynsley, Geoff Smedley, ‘History of The AGP’ Graham Howard


  1. Phil Brown says:

    Thanks for an excellent article. I was then and still am a big Williams and Keke fan and you really brought the event to life with your anecdotes plus great pictures.
    For me it was a great finish to such a promising season for the team. A revival after a tough 1984, Nige’s rise and Keke’s farewell victory.
    Shame Jonesy didn’t get away well at the start but it was great to see him really racing.
    Very poignant to see Frank standing on the podium.

    • markbisset says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Phil, FW has always been one of my heroes too. Can remember that ’85 trip as tho it were yesterday, wonderful times! Thanks for the feedback , Mark

  2. graham64 says:

    I remember doing a walking tour of the track when I was in Adelaide on holiday back in 1991.
    The interesting thing was the width of Brabham Straight – the temporary spectator stands were placed on one side of the raod.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s