Formula One moves the start of 2021 season to Bahrain after Australian GP postponed

F1 season opener Bahrain
Hamad I Mohammed - Pool/Getty Images
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LONDON — The 2021 F1 season opener was delayed by one week Tuesday to Bahrain after the Australian Grand Prix was postponed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

With the race in Melbourne moved from March to November, the season will 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 also has 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 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 that 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.

X44 Racing win 2022 Extreme E championship as Abt Cupra score first race victory

2022 Extreme E Uruguay
Extreme E
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Abt Cupra Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Klara Andersson scored their first win in the Extreme E Energy X Prix in the 2022 finale in Uruguay as Lewis Hamilton’s X44 Vida Carbon Racing drivers Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez survived a chaotic finale to edge the 2021 champion Rosberg X Prix team of Johan Kristoffersson and Mikhaela Ahlin-Kottulinsky, by two points.

“There are so many emotions,” Andersson said in Extreme E’s coverage. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. In my second race, first full weekend to be at the top of the podium: it’s big.”

Andersson was behind the wheel at the finish.

Rosberg Racing entered the event with a 17-point advantage over X44, but the standings were close enough that four teams remained in contention in Round 5.

“It’s a crucial weekend for us,” Loeb said in Extreme E’s coverage prior to the race. “We are not in the best position to win the championship, but the only thing we can do is try to win the race and score as many points as possible.”

The top two title contenders each crashed in qualification and were relegated to the Crazy Race, Extreme E’s version of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). For the moment, they had the steepest hill to climb, but then the other two championship contending teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Acciona Sainz Racing failed to advance from their heats.

Only one team advances from the Crazy Race, so the X44 drivers were in a must-win situation to simply keep hope alive.

More: Extreme E 2023 schedule

Ahlin-Kottulinsky and Gutierrez ran wheel to wheel into the first turn at the start of the LCQ.

The Rosberg racer experienced crash damage in that turn that damaged her front steering, but managed to limp back to the pits at the end of her two-lap stint. The team attempted to fix the steering, but incurred a penalty for having too many mechanics in the pit area.

Meanwhile, Gutierrez took the early lead, but knew she would need to sit through a five-second penalty for an incident earlier in the weekend. The female half of the gender equal pair erased the penalty by entering the Switch Zone with a five-second lead before turning the car over to Loeb.

That was all the nine-time World Rally Championship titlist needed to give him the advantage needed to win the Crazy Race.

But the championship was not over yet. X44 Racing needed to finish third or better in the five-car finale to earn enough points for the title and after advancing from the LCQ, they were forced to take the worst grid position.

A chaotic start to the Finale saw Loeb run as high the lead and low as fourth after getting pushed off course during his first lap. And that is how he entered to Switch Zone.

On her first lap, Gutierrez slammed into Molly Taylor. With one lap remaining, X44 and Gutierrez were still in fourth and the title hope was quickly evaporating, but it was announced halfway through the lap that the third-running Andretti United team would suffer a penalty for a Switch Zone infraction. The seven-second deduction for Timmy Hansen braking too late in the zone made the difference in the title.

Coming off a disappointing Copper X Prix when Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour crossed under the checkers first, but were relegated to fifth by penalty, the McLaren pair scored their first podium of the season in second.