Formula 1’s traditional pre-season testing is set to be rescheduled and relocated if the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is postponed, which looks increasingly likely to happen.
Australia is currently scheduled to open the 2021 season on March 21st, with pre-season testing two weeks prior at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Given the cars are near identical to those raced last year, testing has been cut down to just three days.
However with COVID-19 infections still rising rapidly, particularly in the United Kingdom where a new highly-transmissible strain has emerged, the Australian government is wary of opening its borders to international travellers without a strict two-week quarantine period.
This would scupper any hopes of the F1 race taking place as the second round is scheduled to take place just a week later in Bahrain. To get around this in 2020, F1 created a biosphere environment which meant it could circumnavigate quarantine rules, but this has been deemed unfeasible for ’21 given the longer calendar.
Therefore it’s almost certain that Australia will be pushed back to the second half of the calendar, with Bahrain becoming the opener on March 28.
Plans to host pre-season testing in Bahrain were floated last year, however the teams rejected the proposal given the need to return to their factories before heading to Melbourne, which would have made it difficult logistically.
But with Australia out of the picture, teams are now open to the idea of moving testing to Bahrain as they would then be in position for the first race of the new season, with no need to return to ‘base’.
Testing will likely be shifted to March 12-14, instead of March 2-4, giving teams an extra week to prepare and cutting the time between testing and the first race to just over a week, which is sufficient time for the second car and ‘race’ crews to arrive in time.
No agreement has been reached, but the proposal has been put to the teams with a generally positive reaction. It’s expected should official confirmation of Melbourne’s postponement arrive in the next few days, then these alternative plans will be put into action.