Decades before the Netflix series Drive to Survive delivered Formula One legions of new supporters, tens of thousands of motorsport fans would descend on Adelaide for the Australian Grand Prix.

Between 1985 and 1995, the race helped boost South Australia’s global events credentials as it hosted the final round of the world championship.

For world champion Damon Hill, the event proved to be the site of victory and defeat.

Damon Hill smiles.

Former professional racing driver Damon Hill won the 1995 Australian Grand Prix.(ABC News: Rory McClaren)

He’s returned to Adelaide for the first time since winning the city’s final grand prix in 1995 for the reborn Motorsport Festival and has fond memories of racing in the city’s east parklands.

“Either the championship was decided, and we came here to finish off the season, in which case afterwards we’d have a party,” Hill said.

“Otherwise, if it [the world championship] hadn’t been decided and it was a very exciting way to finish the season.”

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Hill was on the wrong end of it in 1994, when he was involved in one of the sport’s most infamous title deciders with Michael Schumacher.

“Me or Michael could have won the championship, all we had to do was beat each other,” Hill said.

The championship was settled after the pair collided, putting them both out of the race and handing the German the crown.

“There was a bit of a hoo-ha, I think that is one way of putting it,” Hill said.

“A lot of very upset people, but whenever there’s upset people there are also other people celebrating. So, Germany was celebrating their first ever Formula One world champion.”

People gather beside a racetrack to watch the Motorsport Festival.

The Adelaide Motorsport Festival is being held this weekend at Adelaide’s Victoria Park. (ABC News: Rory McClaren)

The 1994 Formula One season was overshadowed by the deaths of three-time world champion Ayrton Senna and Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger on the same weekend, and allegations Schumacher’s team was cheating.

It was the German’s first of seven Formula One world titles, but he hasn’t been seen in public since a skiing accident in 2013.

Hill’s Adelaide victory in 1995 came in front of more than 200,000 people, which remains a single day attendance record for an Australian Grand Prix, before he became world champion the following year.

By then, the Australian Grand Prix had moved to Albert Park in Melbourne where it will remain until at least 2035.

People gather around vintage cars.

Vintage race cars on displayed at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival. (ABC News: Stephen Opie)

New fans need to understand the sport

The now-pundit for Sky Sports F1 says the size of Formula One’s recent audience and fan growth, spurred by Drive to Survive, has surprised him and that it’s “good and bad”.

“They’ve drawn in new people, young people to the sport, but they’ve been drawn in by the drama of Drive to Survive,” Hill said.

“Now they’ve got to understand the sport. And so, the sporting side of it is not quite as straight forward and maybe not quite so obvious.

“Hopefully they are getting the same thrill out of the actual racing that they get out of Drive to Survive.”

People gather around vintage race cars.

Motorsport lovers get a chance to see rare, historic racing cars at the festival.(ABC News: Stephen Opie)

Hill was among Formula One personalities who were attending this year’s Adelaide Motorsport Festival, alongside drivers Valtteri Bottas and Liam Lawson, long term team principal Guenther Steiner and commentator David Croft.

Based in Victoria Park, a section of the old F1 track was used for high-speed demonstrations, with more than 200 vehicles participating.

“It’s just growing year in, year out,” said seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowdnes.

“Word of mouth is really strong. The public here in South Australia love this sort of event.”

The Adelaide Motorsport Festival was scrapped in 2019 and re-established following the 2022 state election, with additional taxpayer funding from the Labor Government.

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