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Record 419,000 fans flock to Australian Grand Prix weekend

Huge crowds descended on Albert Park over the weekend to watch the Australian Grand Prix. ©AFP

Melbourne (AFP) - Nearly 420,000 spectators poured into Albert Park over the Australian Grand Prix weekend, organisers said Monday, to set a new attendance record at the circuit, and one of the highest in the sport's history.

Melbourne was back on the calendar this year after missing out in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions.

It returned with a bang as fans flocked to the track to witness Ferrari's Charles Leclerc win his second race of the year to stretch his world championship lead.

Organisers said 419,114 people attended over the four days, eclipsing the previous record of 401,000 set at Melbourne's inaugural grand prix in 1996.

A bumper 128,294 watched the Sunday's race, with 55,107 turning up on Thursday just to soak up the atmosphere, despite it being a day when no Formula One cars took to the track.

The Melbourne numbers topped the 400,000 who attended last year's United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which was Formula One's highest attendance in 2021. 

But they were short of the 520,000 who flooded the 1995 race weekend in Adelaide -- the last time the Australian Grand Prix was held there before switching to Melbourne.

Race organisers put the massive Melbourne crowd down to a combination of a new audience to the sport attracted through the Netflix series "Drive To Survive", fine weather and fans desperate for high-speed action after missing out for two years.

There was a sea of orange as fans donned the colours of McLaren in support of local hero Daniel Ricciardo, who finished sixth.

Ricciardo noted during the weekend it had "always been pretty wild here" but that "it felt like it was turned up a notch, or two, or three". 

"It's definitely a good crazy and there's a lot of support and love.I think everyone's just stoked to have the race back," he said.

Australian Grand Prix chief Andrew Westacott described the weekend as "the happiest sporting event" he had ever been to.

"We were instilling the mojo back into Melbourne," he told local radio after the city went through tough years with lockdowns and other Covid restrictions.

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