Formula 1 2021: Season-opening Australian GP set to be postponed
Australian GP was set to open 2021 season on March 21 but strict quarantine restrictions mean race is likely to be postponed until later in the year; Bahrain GP poised to become first race on March 28
By Matt Morlidge and Craig Slater
Last Updated: 05/01/21 6:08am
The Formula 1 2021 season is unlikely to start with the Australian GP as planned, with the scheduled opening race set to be postponed.
After a disrupted 2020 campaign because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Albert Park's Australian GP - which was cancelled last year - was due to kick off a record 23-race 2021 season on March 21.
But Sky Sports understands it is now set to be postponed until later in the year due to strict new quarantine restrictions in Melbourne.
The Bahrain GP, set for March 28, is poised to replace Australia as the season-opener.
Melbourne is preparing to host its first major international event in almost a year in February with the Australian Open tennis tournament, and the Victorian government has made a 14-day quarantine mandatory for all personnel.
It is believed F1 would be subject to the same rules - and a Grand Prix would be unviable in those circumstances.
A two-week quarantine for F1 personnel would likely require them to travel three weeks prior to the race date, and F1's sole three-day pre-season test is currently set for March 2-4.
An official postponement appears inevitable, meaning the Bahrain GP is likely to open the campaign. Bahrain's Sakhir circuit hosted two of the last three races of 2020 without issue.
"It hasn't been postponed yet - and I don't expect an official announcement today or in the next few days," said Sky Sports News' Craig Slater. "But one insider has told me that it is impossible that it can take place under the current Covid restrictions in force in Australia."
An F1 statement added: "In 2020 we proved that we could return to racing safely and delivered what many thought was impossible in March.
"We have set out our 2021 calendar and look forward to the return of F1 in March this year."
What would postponement mean for F1 2021 calendar?
After somehow pulling off a 17-race calendar from July to December last year, a disrupted start to the 2021 season is the last thing F1 would have wanted - and the sport confirmed Australia as the season-opener only a matter of weeks ago.
It is believed F1 was confident the race would be possible in March due to the local government's handling of the pandemic so far, and confident in its own biosphere-based protocols which worked so well in 2020.
But a two-week quarantine would not be viable for any of its 23 races, the most in an F1 season in the sport's history, given the amount of personnel travelling - around 1500.
The Melbourne event was cancelled last year just before Friday practice, sparking a flurry of postponements and cancellations - although F1 are confident there will not be a repeat in 2021.
A bigger concern is how they would fit in a rescheduled Australian GP into an already congested 2021 calendar.
F1 would likely have to wait until after the August summer break because of the weather in Australia. The second half of the season starts with two triple-headers - the first in Belgium, Holland and Italy, followed by another in Russia, Singapore and Japan, separated by a week's break.
A free weekend follows in October before back-to-back races in the United States and Mexico, with Brazil a fortnight later on November 14. A Middle East double-header is then set to conclude the campaign with races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi on November 28 and December 5.
There is also still a 2021 question mark surrounding the fourth race - or third race if Australia is postponed - of the season with Vietnam's replacement yet to be confirmed.
Circuits such as Imola and Portimao have been linked with taking the April 25 slot on the calendar.
A Sakhir season-opener could also result in pre-season testing - currently set for Barcelona - being moved to Bahrain to help travel concerns. It could also feasibly be pushed back to closer to the March 28 race date.