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Start of F1 season pushed to mid-June by Azerbaijan postponement

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was postponed Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, delaying the start of the Formula One season until the middle of June at the earliest.

The first eight races of the 2020 season either have been postponed or canceled because of the virus.

The race at the Baku City Circuit was scheduled for June 7 but has been called off after discussions between governing body FIA and the local government.

“This comes as a direct result of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and has been based entirely on the expert guidance provided to us by the relevant authorities,” organizers said in a statement.

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They said a new race date would be announced later in the season.

F1 races have been staged in Azerbaijan since 2017.

The season-opening Australian GP in Melbourne was called off only hours before racing was to start on March 13. The Bahrain GP, scheduled to start the following week without fans, and the inaugural Vietnam GP on April 5 were then quickly called off. The Chinese GP in Shanghai on April 19 had been postponed in February.

Last week, the iconic Monaco GP was among three races called off. While races in the Netherlands and Spain were postponed, the event in Monaco was scrapped for 2020.

The next race scheduled after Azerbaijan is in Canada on June 14 at the Circuit Gillies Villeneuve in Montreal.

F1’s midseason break also has been moved from August to March and April and extended from 14 to 21 consecutive days, to help with scheduling.

The season is scheduled to end with the Abu Dhabi GP on Nov. 29 but could be extended to accommodate some postponed races.

A total of eight races with 12 cars must be completed for the championship to be validated, FIA has said.

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994