F1 season to start in Bahrain after Australian GP postponed

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In this March 17, 2019, file photo, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain waves as the drivers parade begins ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Australia. The start of the 2021 Formula One season has been delayed after the Australian Grand Prix was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Australian race in Melbourne has been rescheduled from March 21 to November 21. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

LONDON – The start of the Formula One season was delayed by one week on Tuesday after the Australian Grand Prix was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the race in Melbourne moved from March to November, the season will now start in Bahrain on March 28.

The Australian race, initially set to open the season on March 21, has been rescheduled to Nov. 21 with F1 organizers citing “the ongoing situation regarding COVID-19.” The Chinese Grand Prix has also been postponed but no new date has been set. Strict travel restrictions for the pandemic make Australia and China among the hardest countries for F1 teams to enter.

The season will instead start with the Bahrain Grand Prix less than four months after the Sakhir venue held two races as part of the 2020 season.

A race has been added at the Imola track in Italy on April 18, a week after the scheduled date for the Chinese GP. There is a vacant slot on May 2, with the Portimao circuit in Portugal among the leading candidates for that weekend.

“Discussions with the promoter and authorities in China are ongoing with the potential to reschedule the race later in the season if possible.” F1 said in a statement.

There is no obvious back-up date in the calendar. Races in the second half of the season are organized back-to-back in three-week blocks, putting heavy strain on team staff.

Postponing the Australian GP already means pushing back the end of the season in Abu Dhabi by a week to Dec. 12. The calendar stays at 23 races, the most ever.