The beginning of Autumn is a beautiful time of year in Melbourne. Temperatures are mild, leaves start fluttering in the breeze and the city’s cafes are packed with aficionados eager to get their caffeine fix. Oh yeah, and the adrenaline-pumping Australian Formula One Grand Prix is in town.
It will be very a different kind of Grand Prix when the flag drops at Albert Park on Sunday afternoon. A new turbo-boosted era will have the cars screaming around the street circuit at unprecedented speeds, while local fans will have to get used to the sight of a starting grid missing Australia’s favourite son Mark Webber.
Following a glittering 12-year Formula One career which included nine Grand Prix wins, Webber stepped down at the end of the 2013 season. He’s passed the mantle on to 24-year-old Perth-born youngster Daniel Ricciardo, who slides into the seat vacated by Webber at heavyweights Red Bull-Renault.
Ricciardo’s promotion is good news for Australian fans, who will watch a young driver go around with a genuine chance of challenging team-mate and four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel. The German’s recent dominance hasn’t put a dent in spectator interest, with more than 100,000 fans set to pack the Albert Park stands on race day.
For many, Melbourne is the centre of the sporting universe and the deserved home of countless major sporting events. Yet as heated as proceedings get on the Formula One track, it was Melbourne’s decision to poach the Australian Grand Prix from its former home in Adelaide which still rankles many South Australian sport fans.
But with Melbourne’s glorious Autumn weather serving as the backdrop to the opening Grand Prix of the season, and the delights of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities beckoning visitors to the shores of Yarra River, it’s not hard to see why the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile signed off on the move to Albert Park.
Take a stroll through Melbourne’s eclectic laneways and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to Europe. Trendy cafes abound, but you don’t need to be one of Melbourne’s hip inner-city elite to take advantage. Simply pull up a stool, set aside some time for a latte and watch the world go by in this unashamedly chic city.
Aside from a plethora of top-quality cafes, there’s plenty more to entice visitors to pound the pavements of Melbourne’s vibrant city centre. Not only is it home to the National Gallery of Victoria, Crown Casino and the multipurpose Etihad Stadium, it’s also the last city in Australia which you can circumnavigate by tram.
Melbourne’s comprehensive tram network criss-crosses the city in a boundless fashion, linking swanky urban enclaves with blue-collar suburbs on the outskirts of town. But as fun as it is to explore the Greater Melbourne area by tram, it’s perhaps more advisable to rent a car and take a trip down the Great Ocean Road.
One of Victoria’s most popular tourist attractions, the Great Ocean Road winds its way from Torquay to Allansford, taking in some of the most dramatic stretches of Australian coastline along the way. The famous Twelve Apostles are a leisurely half-day drive from Melbourne’s city centre, meaning you can indulge in your own driving pursuits once race proceedings have finished.