The 2018 F1 season is now underway, but the race at Albert Park has been criticised for the lack of overtaking with many calling it a ‘snore-fest’. Our very own #BadgerDownUnder Fern Lock travelled to Melbourne for the race and explains why there is so much more to this important season opener than the race itself.

When you think about it, 10,500 miles is a long way to travel for a race. However, the Australian GP is much more than you’d expect. Thousands of fans fly in for the first race of the season and I can understand why. This is one of Melbourne’s biggest weekends of the year for tourism and you could be kept busy for the entire weekend without even seeing a car on track.

One of the many #AusGP signs scattered around Albert Park.

Let’s start with the Thursday, a behind the scenes day for fans to get up and close to both the drivers and areas of the circuit that are usually out of bounds. There is multiple pit lane walks throughout the day, autograph signings, and even on-track action from the likes of the Shannons Australian GT Championship and the Coates Hire Supercars.

Yes, you’ll find other circuits do open on Thursday, but usually, this is limited to only a few hours. There are cars on track from 10:30am until just after 7pm, which makes this a full extra day free to fans. I’d recommend using this day to explore Albert Park and enter the #AUSGP Instagram competition. This is a fan favourite where taking a photo could score you an exclusive behind the scenes experience.

Autographs all round – whether it was at autograph signings or at Melbourne walk, everyone was happy to stop for a photo or a signature.

Like the first day of school after the holidays, everyone is excited to be back and see familiar faces. The great folks organising the Australian GP have capitalised on this and re-created this experience in the form of ‘Melbourne Walk’ – a pathway of dreams for many excited fans.

This is probably my favourite part of the weekend, where drivers are happy to stop by and offer a few scribbles and pose for selfies. Open every day throughout the weekend, this gives fans an opportunity to meet their heroes. I’ve seen other events try and copy this with less success, I guess this is the beauty of the Australian GP, where it’s only the beginning of the year and there are smiles on absolutely everyone’s faces.

After you’ve captured the perfect selfie with the Honey Badger or got your Silver Arrows cap signed by the Champion, there are so many more activities to keep you busy.

If you fancy experiencing the adrenaline rush, then the Jaguar F-Type Supersprint is for you. This is your chance to ride in the hot seat whilst one of their experts drive you around a custom track. This experience was so good that 99-year-old super fan Nell decided to do it twice. Now she really is an adrenaline junkie – an incredible woman if you ask me.

Life in the fast lane; fans enjoyed free rides in the Jaguar F-Type Supersprint.

Cutting from the action a little, there was an onsite barber for those who wanted a little trim ready for the big day, the Heineken village where you could sit back and enjoy music from local and international artists or you could even take a helicopter ride around the park, capturing stunning views of Melbourne. They were offering this experience half price on Thursday, making it an affordable afternoon activity. I’d highly recommend doing this if you get the chance.

Spectacular views from above Albert Park.

Another important area they have is the Industry and Innovation Precinct. This is exactly what this era of F1 is about – getting the kids involved. It was great to watch a Q&A session featuring David Coulthard. The school children were able to ask him important questions on how to get involved in the sport as a career, many probably weren’t sure who he was but they were captivated by his answers and stories.

There were also competitions held in the run-up to the weekend for local schools. These included designing robots to be used within the sport and designing different modes of transportation to the track. It was great to see their work and their teachers getting them involved. These children really are lucky to have an opportunity like this to attend a Grand Prix, why wasn’t this a thing when I was growing up?!

Now let’s take a look at the Formula One, the main reason I travelled to Melbourne and why so many set alarms at silly o’clock.

After waiting what feels like a lifetime, winter break is over and we can finally enjoy some on-track action. But it’s a known fact that Albert Park isn’t famous for overtaking, so in efforts to increase overtaking this year, the FIA introduced an extra DRS zone after Turn 12. The theory was that this would allow drivers the opportunity to pass before they reach Turn 13. Well, this idea flopped and we didn’t see an increase in overtaking manoeuvres at all.

Since the race, there have been floods of complaints from almost everyone. But did we seriously believe that things would change?

Fans watching at home in Europe were already struggling with the clocks going forward and losing an hours sleep – to then face a dull race, really wasn’t ideal. But you wouldn’t have known that sat in the grandstands as the atmosphere was electric. The home fans were cheering for Daniel Ricciardo until the very end, although he couldn’t quite make the podium they were all proud of his race and were showing their support.

After such a strong qualifying, Lewis Hamilton winning looked to be a sure thing and a rather predictable race was expected unless we could see some changing conditions. Melbourne is known for its unpredictable weather, and the weekend of the Grand Prix was no exception. We were really close to seeing a wet qualifying and race, which would have spiced things up.

Even Sebastian Vettel spent a few minutes chatting to fans.

Unfortunately, the cloud built over the track and grandstands but nothing came of it. Alas, the rain dance didn’t work and as we now know, Lewis’ win just wasn’t to be. Sebastian Vettel took it from him after pitting during the Safety Car period. Again the crowd were incredible, and it almost felt as if I was stood amongst the Tifosi in Monza – Ferrari are very well supported out in Australia and after a long winter break, they were ready to celebrate a win.

But looking back at the entire weekend, the race almost feels secondary to everything else. The excitement was there, but my highlights of the weekend weren’t necessary when the cars were on track. Seeing the cars fresh from testing on their first big outing, parading around Albert Park, is an unforgettable experience, but just don’t go kidding yourself into believing that it’ll be the most entertaining race of the year.

We all tune in to watch the Monaco GP, knowing full well that there probably won’t be any overtaking, well Melbourne has that same effect. We watch because it’s the start of something special, the new season that we have all waited for. It doesn’t matter that overtaking isn’t easy, the fans will still watch and more importantly visit the Australian GP and it will be staying on the calendar until at least 2023.

If you have the chance to make the long trip down under, then make sure a visit to Albert Park for the weekend is on the list. This really is an essential, once in a lifetime trip.