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.
Martin Pakula, the minister for tourism and major events in the Victorian state government which backs the Melbourne race, said it was a sensible decision which potentially could mean international fans attending — if Australia’s borders re-open in time.
“This is the right decision and we thank Formula 1 management for their co-operation in setting a new schedule,” he said. “The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix is one of the great events in the world and we’ll make sure it can be run safely and successfully in November.”
The pandemic has disrupted the F1 season for a second year. Last year’s race in Australia was canceled after one team member tested positive for the coronavirus. Fans were preparing to enter the circuit for Friday practice when organizers announced the cancellation.
That started a cascade of postponements and cancellations which meant the rescheduled 2020 season didn’t start until July. There was a compressed 17-race schedule through December with all races in Europe or the Middle East.