Bahrain could snatch pole position from Australia on next year’s Formula One calendar.
Australia’s strict flight caps, combined with Victoria’s ongoing Covid lock-down measures and the likelihood of slow re-opening of the stage, have made F1 bosses nervous about granting Melbourne its traditional opening-round status for next year’s grand prix season.
Reports from Germany during the Eifel Grand Prix last weekend point to accelerated talks with Bahrain about staging the opening race in late March.
Bahrain International Circuit is already promoting March 18-21 as its dates for the 2021 grand prix year, meaning that Australia would most likely slot in around mid-April in a move to give more time for a Covid recovery, before the European leg kicks in and before winter takes effect.
With 29,000 Australians currently waiting to return home, with flight applications that stretch to October 2021, there could be difficulties in clearing the backlog before the international border can open for race personnel and officials.
F1 boss Chase Carey has stated that next year’s season will start later to give teams time to spend with their families after a gruelling six months on the road in isolation bubbles, saying that the season will most likely start at the end of March.
“We’re certainly planning on a 2021 that may not be completely business back to normal, but it’s pretty close,” Carey said.
He plans to announce the new calendar before the end of October as one of this final chores before handing over to Stefano Domenicali, who will be ending his time as Lamborghini boss to take over the leadership of F1.
“There certainly is a schedule which will be like we planned for this year, with 22 races, but 2020 turned into something very different. I don’t think it takes back from feeling, as we get through the virus, that we will be back on the course we were on early this year.”
There are 18 races currently confirmed for next season including Vietnam and Holland, while Spain, Brazil and China have yet to be locked-in.
Bahrain’s flexibility to hold a double-header this year on October 29 and November 5 after it received a request from the FIA has put their management team in favour with F1, while it looks like the Manama circuit could also hold the pre-season testing for 2021 that is being restricted to just three days before the opening round.
German publication, Auto motor und sport, claims that cheaper traveling costs and milder temperatures could sway Bahrain to win the three-day test over regulars Barcelona and Jerez, with the season kicking off soon after so that heavy, non-critical equipment such as pit-wall cladding, fuel rigs and information centres that normally travel by sea could remain in the Middle East before the first race.
Bahrain has previously held winter testing in 2006, 2009 and 2014, while it replaced Australia as the opening round in 2006 to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games and again in 2010.
The decision by the Daniel Andrews-led State Government to push the AFL Grand Final out of Melbourne for the first time as well as the paper-shuffling that ensued in the final minutes before this year’s F1 race was eventually cancelled were a few of the concerns raised in Germany about Victoria’s ability to hold the GP as the season-opener.
Support category chiefs are also waiting on the outcome with Supercars CEO, Sean Seamer saying that the domestic 2021 season hangs on the outcome of when F1 will come to Australia.
“Like everyone else, I’m awaiting confirmation that the event is going ahead and from there we will figure out what we’re going to do. The first thing we have to do is just to get the event confirmed,” he said.