Australian Grand Prix: it's more than just fast cars

This weekend, in Melbourne, people will sample morsels by local restaurants including Maha, Estelle Bistro and Bar Lourinha, against the backdrop of street graffiti art. Close by, Spiderbait will be performing. A dinosaur from the Melbourne Museum's Jurassic World exhibition will loom large. Are they in the CBD? At a music festival? Nope. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines: this is your new-look Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix for 2016.

While rev-heads will still find plenty on offer at this year's Grand Prix – fast cars! Famous drivers! Grid girls! – the four-day event has broadened its appeal to include a much wider group of ticket-holders.

One look at the "suites" popping up at the circuit indicates that the luxury, invite-only areas are reminiscent of the horseracing cup carnival's Birdcage. And this year, the preceding days are peppered with elite Grand Prix-related social diary events, each one more glamorous than the next.

Plan on heading to the track? Drivers, choose your vehicle:

Sad the Fashion Festival is over?

Fashion is your jam. You Instagram meals at hip eateries. You're a musical festival-goer. Or perhaps you just have the energy of a twenty-something. Grand Prix's M-Lane will pay homage to Melbourne's iconic lanes, with 20 feet-high shipping containers painted live by the town's best graffiti artists forming makeshift laneways.

[Ricciardo] has to be dragged away from the Paddock every day because he loves the fans.

Corina Black

There, you'll find food trucks (including St Kilda Burger Bar, Sliders on Tyres and Nem N' Nem), the Petaluma Wine Bar, and chill-out areas to hang out and listen to music. Overall, at the GP precincts, 47 musical acts are performing over the Grand Prix days, including Sneaky Sound System, Rogue Traders and Spiderbait, with DJs including YO! MAFIA and APAX. There's also a special F1 Park After Dark ticket (from $25) for access on Thursday and Friday, from 4-8pm.

Horsepower-starved and revved up?

This year, you can get up close and personal with the rock stars of this event – the Formula 1 drivers. The Melbourne Walk, located next to the Formula One Paddock, grants fans access to drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton at set times (10.15am to 12 noon on Thursday and Friday, and until 12.30pm Saturday and Sunday) – selfies included. Corina Black, General Manager (Sales and Commercial) of Grand Prix, says Aussie Ricciardo is so engaging that "he has to be dragged away from the Paddock every day because he loves the fans."

In addition, the F1 Fan Zone stage has set times with autograph signing sessions with drivers on Thursday and the ability to get photos or listen to Q&A forums from Friday to Sunday. Don't have something to sign? There's a range of merchandise to pick up.

This year, there's also 90 minutes more of track time and one crowd-pleasing race worth watching (it takes place four times over the four days): the Penrite Oil Australian GT, which hasn't been around for five years. Thirty-five luxury car brands, including Ferrari, Aston Martin and Lamborghini, compete in this – 17 of which make their Victorian debut (Porsche GT3-R, anyone?). Plus, they can all be seen at close range in the Penrite Oil Australian GT Support Paddock, located in the V8 Village. In all, there are around 485 cars on display.


What tickets should you buy?

Fangio Grandstands let spectators see the start, finish and pit lane activity. Turn 1 (which can be seen via grandstand and corporate suite tickets) is a fan favourite and Brocky Hill – a general admission area – highlights a high speed, left-hand sweeper, making it the fastest corner on the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit. Turn 3 (grandstand, corporate and general admission) showcases great viewing, and at Turn 15 (general admission, premium zone tickets) you see cars at a slower speed, since it's a tight corner.

And a final note: Mercedes-Benz has several things worth looking at. On display is a rare 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16, originally purchased by Ayrton Senna. They also have AMG cars that have been custom 3D printed, in an installation that runs 22.5 metres in circuit length.

In between basketball seasons?

If your kids are 14 years or under (it used to be 12), they get in for free. Once there, younger ones can learn how to drive at the world's classiest junior driving school – the Porsche Kids' Driving School. A 20-minute session will result in a 'driver's licence', but enrol early. (There's a Honda Junior Grand Prix, too.) Elsewhere, the Disney Zone offers a Star Wars experience, with an Asteroid Escape Obstacle Course, or an interactive Jedi Training Academy.

The updated Pixar Cars zone has other attractions: a life-size Lightning McQueen and Mack the Transporter. Other highlights include an engine-building competition at Main Street Madness, and an inflatable slide. The Kids Sporting Zone allows kids to test a variety of skills with set-ups by Netball Vic, Aussie Hoops and National Rugby League, for starters. And there's a life-size velociraptor from the Jurassic World exhibition on site.

Older kids won't feel rebuffed: There are several daily stunt shows from the Australian FMX (Freestyle Motorcross) riders in the Action Zone, which will include a Speed & Style competition and a feature-length show on the weekend, and will also showcase former 'best trick' champion Cam Sinclair. At the Industry and Innovation Precinct, there's a glimpse into the cutting-edge technology behind Formula 1 by RMIT, with Formula SAE racing cars built by TMIT students and state-of-the-art drone technology. And there's no age limit to enjoying the aerial display by the RAAF Roulettes and F/A-18 Jets, which can be seen from any location on the track (noise factor: high). For the first time, a Boeing C17 Globemaster will do a low flyover on Sunday.

Social diarist A-lister?

First, there are the private parties. Tag Heuer's cocktail party at swish Luminare celebrates its partnership with the Red Bull racing team and has driver Daniel Ricciardo as its special guest; he even plans to take to the DJ decks in a battle with DJ Minx.

Jaguar's offering will showcase its new F-Pace sports car, while Johnnie Walker will host its Grand Prix party at The Emerson. The official Grand Prix bash is Glamour on the Grid at Albert Park, where guests will be dropped on circuit and do a pit walk to the entrance of the F1 garages. The trackside party boasts entertainment by Sneaky Sound Sydney and DJ Generik, as well as a driver-themed dessert station by Burch and Purchese's Darren Purchese.

At the Mercedes-Benz Ladies Day Luncheon, actor Dan MacPherson will play MC, lunch will be overseen by chef Shane Delia and guests will include 'real housewife' Chyka Keebaugh, designer Yeojin Bae and basketball player Liz Cambage. Prefer an early start, rather than a late night? Swisse Wellness hosts a 7am breakfast on one of the Grand Prix days, with special guest Mark Webber.

Even if your mailbox has been empty, despair not: it's possible to buy a corporate ticket for an ultimate Grand Prix experience from $295 (that sum includes food and beverages). Bentley, Jaguar, Rolex, Ferrari and Qantas are among those who have suites (and Mercedes-Benz their Star Lounge), each with individual thematic tone and atmosphere. At the Renault Torque Bar – the least expensive corporate ticket – guests enjoy deejays all day, wine and beers and a grazing menu at a suite on Pit Straight, complete with entry to an after-party at Alumbra for weekend ticket-buyers.

The best thing about having a Paddock Club ticket is access to the Formula One Paddock Club, a glamorous hideaway above the Formula 1 team garages; entry includes a daily Pit Walk and access to the rooftop viewing deck from $995. With a trackside ticket, you can see the drivers arrive and have unfettered track viewing.

A ticket to the James Boag's Premium Skydeck Lounge sets you back $595, which might be a bargain, considering that the Podium Package Plus three-day pass – offering ticket-holders three views across three days - is sold out, at the cost of $2995.