The new circuit was received extremely positively with glowing reviews from those within the paddock despite the circuit's temporary nature as it wound through streets, parkland and across horse racing venue Victoria Park Racecourse immediately adjacent to the Adelaide central business district, with the drivers enjoying a street circuit that was unlike Monaco and Detroit with their endless short straights, narrow roads and hairpin or right angle corners. The Adelaide circuit was wide and fast in places, and included a 900 metre long straight (named the "Brabham Straight" for Australia's three-time World Champion Sir Jack Brabham) where the faster cars reached over 200 mph (322 km/h). The reception for the track, and the professional way in which the event was organised and executed was sufficiently positive to see the promoters awarded the Formula One Promotional Trophy for 1985.
Dual World Champion Nelson Piquet confirmed the drivers' positive view on the circuit when he said early in race week "After Dallas and Las Vegas, we all expected another bad street circuit", while his Brabham team boss and head of the Formula One Constructors Association Bernie Ecclestone told the assembled media that he believed that the standard of the organisation and the circuit itself was bad news for Formula One, explaining that Adelaide had raised the standards of what would be expected in the future and that several tracks in Europe already on the calendar, or hoping to be, would have to lift their own games in order to match it. Over the course of the weekend, the only complaint from the drivers was of a lack of grip on the newly laid surface (along with the new road built inside the Victoria Park Racecourse which is where the pits were located, the entire circuit other than the Brabham Straight had been re-laid a few months prior to the race to prevent the problems often faced on American street circuits where the road surface broke up badly under the strain of the high powered cars). The new surface was causing graining in both qualifying and race tyres. Other than a bump in the road at the end of the Brabham Straight, the circuit itself was generally given the thumbs up by those that really mattered, the teams and their often highly paid drivers.
The only Australian driver in the field, 1980 World Drivers' Champion Alan Jones who was driving the Haas Lola team's Lola THL1-Hart, was given the honour of driving the first Formula One car out onto the new circuit when first practice opened at 10am on the Friday morning. Bernie Ecclestone had arranged for Jones to do a lap of the track before any other cars were released from the pits. Jones also had the honour of having a section of track named after him, with the Rundle Road section of the track, a 350-metre straight between turns 9 and 10, renamed as the "Jones Straight" when the circuit was in use. Jones Straight led directly onto the fast Brabham Straight.
Official qualifying became a battle royal between the Williams-Hondas of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg and his team mate Nigel Mansell, and the Lotus-Renault of Ayrton Senna. Rosberg took the honors on Friday with a lap of 1:22.402, only 0.001 faster than Senna, with Mansell a further 0.161 back in third. During final qualifying, Mansell looked to have pole position wrapped up with a lap of 1:20.537 in his Williams FW10, with Senna second with Rosberg another three-tenths further back in third. Senna was out on his third run with only minutes left before the end of qualifying in his black and gold Lotus 97T, powered by a special Renault qualifying engine rumored to be putting out some 1,150 bhp (858 kW; 1,166 PS), and stunned everyone with a time of 1:19.843, seven-tenths faster than Mansell, to grab his 7th pole position of the season. As such, Senna was the only driver to record a time under 1:20.
World Champion elect Alain Prost was 4th on the grid in his McLaren TAG-Porsche, the Ferrari of 1985 World Championship runner up Michele Alboreto fifth, and Marc Surer in his Brabham-BMW rounding out the top six qualifiers. Outgoing World Champion Niki Lauda was 16th on the grid in his McLaren. Alan Jones ended up 19th on the grid after engine and turbo problems throughout practice and qualifying.
The slowest qualifier for the race, Huub Rothengatter in the Osella-Alfa Romeo, was 10.473 seconds slower than Senna with a time of 1:30.319. With only 25 cars appearing for the race (the RAM and Zakspeed teams did not contest the last two races of the season), all cars that attended qualified for the start.
The race of high attrition, which was run in 35 °C heat, was won by Finnish driver Keke Rosberg driving the Williams-Honda; it would turn out to be the last victory (and last fastest lap) of his Formula One career. Rosberg was the only front running driver to finish strongly and one of only eight cars to be classified. It was the fifth Grand Prix win of Rosberg's career and confirmed his status as a street race specialist with three of his previous four wins being on the streets of Monaco (1983), Dallas (1984), and Detroit earlier in the 1985 season.
On the penultimate lap, Ligier-Renault driver Philippe Streiff tried to overtake his senior team-mate Jacques Laffite for second place and, as result of this manoeuvre, Streiff's front wheel axle was severely damaged. With fourth placed Ivan Capelli a lap down in his Tyrrell-Renault, Streiff managed to limp his Ligier JS25 home and retain third place despite only have three wheels firmly attached to the car, with the front left wheel bouncing up and down over the course of the last lap, but somehow remaining attached to the car. It would remain a career best finish for Streiff. Ligier team boss Guy Ligier, not impressed that Streiff had almost taken out both team cars at the end of the race when they were both assured of a podium finish, would not offer the Frenchman a drive for 1986.
A delayed Stefan Johansson finished fifth in his Ferrari ahead of Gerhard Berger in his Arrows-BMW. Berger at that stage of his career was also a part-time factory touring car driver for BMW in the European Touring Car Championship (he had won the Spa 24 Hours for BMW's Schnitzer Motorsport in July 1985). He performed double duty during the AGP weekend, also driving a BMW 635 CSi during the Group A support race. This was actually a breach of Formula One's driver rules which stated a driver must not drive another type of race car or in another motor race within the 24 hours before the start of a Grand Prix. As the Group A race was scheduled to start on the Saturday afternoon one hour after F1 qualifying had finished, Berger had to obtain permission from the FIA, FOCA and his Arrows team to race the BMW. As it turned out, his touring car race lasted 3 laps before he was punted into the gravel trap at the end of the pit straight by the Mobil Holden Dealer Team Commodore V8 of Australian veteran John Harvey. The only other race finishers were Huub Rothengatter (Osella) and Pierluigi Martini (Minardi), both of whom were four laps behind Rosberg. Martin Brundle's Tyrrell was running at the end, but Brundle was 33 laps down on Rosberg and was not classified as a finisher.
Renault had a largely forgettable weekend in their last Grand Prix as a manufacturer (until 2002). Patrick Tambay, whose Renault RE60 was fitted with an on-board camera during Free Practice, qualified 8th while Derek Warwick qualified in 12th place. After Friday's qualifying, Tambay visited Adelaide's major dirt track racing venue Speedway Park which was hosting the inaugural Australian Sprintcar Masters meeting and while there turned a few laps of the ¼ mile clay oval track in a 700 hp (522 kW; 710 PS) V8 Sprintcar. Warwick did the same thing on the Saturday night of the two night meeting. However, unlike Berger in the Group A race, Warwick did not have permission to drive the Sprintcar within the 24 hours before the race time period and was hit with a hefty fine by the FIA (despite Warwick only driving a few laps and not actually racing). In their last race both Renaults retired with transmission failure, Tambay on lap 20 and Warwick on lap 57.
All 25 cars present qualified for the race. With RAM Racing (who pulled out of F1 altogether after the European Grand Prix) and Zakspeed (who only ran the European races in 1985) not making the journey to Australia, there would not be a cut-off based on grid numbers. Early in the race Elio de Angelis, driving in his last race for Lotus, was disqualified for regaining his original grid position after being delayed on the parade lap. de Angelis later confessed that in the heat of the moment he simply forgot the rules.
The race was the 100th World Championship start for 1980 World Champion Alan Jones. Jones (along with Alain Prost) was one of two drivers to have won the Australian Grand Prix previously (Jones in 1980 and Prost in 1982). Jones' Lola retired on lap 20 with failed electrics following a typically fiery drive through to 6th place after stalling at the start and being dead last at the end of the first lap, while Prost retired with engine failure on lap 26. It was also the last race for outgoing world champion Niki Lauda. His McLaren ended in the fence with damage to the front left after a brake failure at the end of the long Brabham Straight.
Fittingly Lauda's career ended while he was in the lead of a Grand Prix. Lauda and race winner Rosberg were the only drivers in the field who had actually competed in the non-championship 1984 Australian Grand Prix which was held for Formula Pacific cars. Lauda had also failed to finish the 1984 race while Rosberg had finished second behind Brazilian Roberto Moreno.
Both Alfa Romeo and Renault had their last Grand Prix as a constructor in the turbo era. As of 2017, Alfa have never returned to Grand Prix racing (the Alfa team that competed in F1 from 1982-1985 was actually a pseudo-factory team actually run by EuroRacing with support from the Alfa factory). Renault would return in 2002 following their purchase the Benetton team. It was also the last Grand Prix for the Toleman team under the Toleman name. The team would continue in 1986 but would be renamed Benetton after being purchased by their main sponsors, the Italian clothes manufacturer Benetton Group. All six cars (the Alfa Romeo 184TB's of Riccardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever, the Renault RE60's of Patrick Tambay and Derek Warwick, and the Hart powered Toleman TG185's of Teo Fabi and Piercarlo Ghinzani) failed to finish the last F1 race for their teams.
McLaren-TAG Porsche and Ferrari came into this race fighting for the Constructor's ChampionshipMcLaren-TAG Porsche (90pts) needed either
2nd (or 3rd and 6th) or better
4th (or 5th and 6th) with the Ferraris 1st and 3rd or lower
5th with the Ferraris 1st and 4th or lower
6th with the Ferraris 1st and 5th or lower
the Ferraris scoring 1st and 6th or lower
Ferrari (80pts) needed either
1st and 2nd with the McLarens scoring fewer than 5pts
1st and 3rd with the McLarens scoring fewer than 3pts
1st and 4th with the McLarens 6th or lower
1st and 5th with the McLaren 7th or lower
Lap Leaders: Keke Rosberg 71 (1-41, 44-52, 62-82); Ayrton Senna 9 (42-43, 53-55, 58-61); Niki Lauda 2 (56-57)
Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings. Only the best 11 results counted towards the Drivers' Championship. Numbers without parentheses are Championship points; numbers in parentheses are total points scored.