Stoddart chokes back tears by Webber champagne moment

Paul Stoddart was emotional in recalling Mark Webber's memorable fifth place in the 2002 Australian GP

Paul Stoddart was forced to hold back tears in recalling Mark Webber’s memorable fifth place in the 2002 Australian GP

Former Minardi boss Paul Stoddart was left choking back tears as he recalled the time F1 came to his aid to help him savour one of the most celebrated moments in Australian Grand Prix folklore.

The 2002 Australian Grand Prix will long be remembered for many reasons, not least the Turn 1 collisions on the opening lap which wiped out eight cars, including polesitter Rubens Barrichello after he was shunted from behind by Ralf Schumacher.

Four additional retirements throughout the race allowed Mark Webber to finish fifth on his F1 debut – in an era when only the top six scored – with a team that just a year earlier had been close to collapse before Australian businessman Stoddart stepped in to purchase it.

The result was celebrated with fervour by Australian fans around Melbourne’s Albert Park, notably when Stoddart and Webber took to the podium after the top three of Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen had already enjoyed their ceremony.

But recalling another highlight of that day, speaking to F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast, Stoddart said: “Teams like Minardi don’t keep cases of Moet et Chandon or Veuve Cliquot. We don’t have champagne. What for? We’re not going to use it.

“That day, I realised, literally as we passed the chequered flag, that we needed some champagne.

“I said to our catering staff, go and borrow some champagne. They didn’t have to….”

Trying to hold back the tears, Stoddart added: “I still get emotional now…all the other teams were walking down with cases of champagne. True story.”

The fifth place that felt like a win

The impromptu podium ceremony earned Stoddart and Minardi a heavy fine but one that was worth paying despite the cash-strapped nature of the team at the time.

Stoddart added: “Not only is it the most famous two points in the history of Formula 1, but it is the only time there’s ever been two podiums in Formula 1.

“Ron Walker (former Australian GP promoter), bless him, came up to me and Mark and said ‘Come with me. You’ve got to go up on the podium’. Steve Bracks, who was the Premier of Victoria at the time, was up there.

“I’m immediately thinking ‘Hell, we’re gonna lose our points here’. And I’m saying ‘Ron, have you cleared this with Max (Mosley, FIA president) and Bernie (Ecclestone)?’

“Yes, yes, I’ve cleared it. Are you sure because they can strip us of the points? He said ‘Yes, I’ve absolutely cleared it’.

“So Mark and I, looking somewhat a little bit nervous, go up on the podium. The crowd is just unbelievable. They’ve now filled the pit lane.

“We’ve got, I don’t know, easy 10,000 people standing out there. Of course, they’ve got the champagne up there, they gave us boxing kangaroos, believe it or not, because they couldn’t give us trophies, the Australian flag and all that good stuff.

“Then the music started and I thought ‘Oh no, please don’t play the national anthem. We will be done for this’.

“To all expat-Australians, the old Qantas theme song, ‘I still call Australia home’ is pretty emotional, and that’s what they played.

“So you had me and Mark in tears, champagne going everywhere, and a very happy Melbourne crowd.

“Still, 21 years later to this day, when I go back to Melbourne each year, people say ‘You remember when you won that race back in 2002?’, and it did (feel like a win).”

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