The opening race of the 2021 Formula 1 season in Australia is set to be postponed due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19.
F1 named the Australian Grand Prix as the first race of a 23-round 2021 calendar late last year, and scheduled the event for March 21. Last year’s race in Melbourne was called off on the Friday morning ahead of first practice due to positive COVID cases, but the plan for 2021 was to circumvent quarantine regulations in Victoria by committing to a biosphere in much the way the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was executed.
In Abu Dhabi, all teams, drivers and personnel were forced to stay in hotels adjacent to the track that were closed to the public, with the whole area sealed off in order to separate the event from the rest of the UAE. That allowed local quarantine regulations to be bypassed, but plans to do similar in Australia appear destined to be thwarted.
All travelers arriving in Victoria must self-isolate for 14 days, meaning pre-season testing – scheduled for March 2-4 – would need to move to allow the sport to depart for Australia in time to complete the quarantine ahead of the race.
The Australian Open tennis tournament has already been delayed by three weeks and features the mandatory quarantine period, although those involved are then free from any bubble restrictions if they return five negative PCR test results during those 14 days.
Given those restrictions, the race is set to be postponed, and F1 is looking to find it a slot later in the season. That means the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28 is poised to become the new season-opener, having already displayed it can safely host an event despite the COVID situation.
The location of pre-season testing split opinions among the teams before it was agreed that the three-day event would take place in Barcelona, with some preferring a test in Bahrain on the way to Australia due to the favorable climate. Those plans could now change given the likely new location for the first race because under the new schedule the test could take place a week later, allowing teams more development time ahead of the season.
Finding a new slot for Melbourne will be a logistical challenge, as F1’s schedule is already backloaded to try and allow as many normal events as possible to take place later in the year, but the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia is a new event that has still to have its track layout confirmed. The race is currently subject to circuit homologation on the 2021 calendar.