With the announcement of the Australian Grand Prix’s postponement imminent, Formula 1 is preparing for yet another significant overhaul of its 2021 season.
Only 12 months ago, a 17-round schedule was somehow able to be squeezed into the year despite the global pandemic causing the sport to reshuffle its initial plans.
F1 had then hoped that a largely ‘normal’ 2021 championship season would unfold, starting with the usual curtain-raiser in Australia in March.
However, with teams and drivers reluctant to the idea of spending two weeks in managed isolation in Victoria, the Albert Park opener is now almost certain to be postponed until October/November.
A knock-on result is that pre-season testing will be moved from Barcelona to Bahrain. The Sakhir circuit is now poised to become the new season opener.
Likewise, the third round of the championship in China is understood to be at risk of cancellation for the second year in a row.
What it means is that following a Bahrain opener, there would be two free slots with no set venue – given that a TBC round had been pencilled in to host an event after the Chinese GP.
After their shock return to the calendar last season, Imola and Algarve could find a place on a new 2021 schedule.
Imola would host its round three weeks after Bahrain and essentially open an extended European leg, with Portugal and Spain hosting back-to-back rounds.
Turkey and Mugello have also been mooted for possible returns after their last-minute addition to the 2020 calendar.
The FIA’s President Jean Todt admitted earlier in the week that he expected the first half of the 2021 calendar to undergo numerous changes as the world continues its battle with the virus.
“Unfortunately, it is not over — it is not like the season is ending and we start from a (clean) piece of paper, because lockdown is still going to happen, confinement — the virus is there,” Todt said.
“But I am sure that we will hear quite a lot of potential changes on the different calendars. And not only to Formula 1 but on other calendars.
“So…I think half of (2021), in my opinion, will not be as we could have expected to have in a normal season.”
Unlike last year, it seems the FIA and F1 are confident that a race in Australia can go ahead in 2021, albeit at a later date.
The usual run of Asia, American and Middle Eastern races in the second half of the calendar opens Melbourne’s opportunity to slot back onto the calendar.
Last year, we saw that circuits and race organisers were very flexible in their re-scheduling of races. There is no reason why F1 cannot shift Australia back until the later part of the year.
The most likely date has appeared as November 21, with Australia slotting between rounds in Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
The race in Saudi Arabia and the season finale in Abu Dhabi will then be shifted back one week to compensate for Albert Park’s addition.
A decision on the status of the Australian Grand Prix is expected to be made sometime next week.