Kurt Verlin
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Preliminary 2021 F1 Calendar Moves Australia to Season End

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Mercedes during F1 2019 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying
Photo: Yas Sezaki via CC

Formula 1 has released a preliminary calendar for the 2021 season that features a record 23 races and some interesting changes for longtime viewers of the sport.

The Australian Grand Prix traditionally kicks off the year at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, though last year’s race, which was to be held on March 15, was canceled on short notice because of the COVID-19 outbreak — and never reappeared on the improvised and memorable 17-race calendar that F1 eventually put together for the rest of the year.

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This time, Australia has returned, except not in its usual spot. It has swapped places with the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain, where both the penultimate and antepenultimate races were hosted in 2020. That said, Bahrain normally comes right after Australia in a typical year, and with Australia having been moved to the end of the calendar for 2021, it is in Bahrain that the season opener will take place.

But the preliminary 2021 F1 calendar is not set in stone — big shock, we know. F1 says that the race in Melbourne and the one in Imola — which made a surprise return to the sport last year after more than a decade off the calendar — are both still subject to revision, pending approval by the World Motor Sport Council. Additionally, the new Jeddah circuit intended to host the controversial Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has yet to meet homologation.

According to F1 commentator David Croft, the “TBC” race to be held on May 2 is likely to be the Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimão, which was well received in 2020 when it hosted its first-ever F1 race. It hadn’t originally been on the calendar, but many new and forgotten tracks got their chance in the spotlight thanks to COVID, and it’s clear that F1 wishes to keep a few of them around.

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Preliminary 2021 F1 Calendar

Two of the countries that were slated for a 2020 race and have not reappeared on the preliminary 2021 F1 calendar are China and Vietnam. The former was the first race to have been canceled because of the pandemic and still cannot be held because of continuing restrictions. Unless a race drops out later in the season, it’s not likely to appear in 2021.

As for the latter, it has the unfortunate distinction of having appeared on an official F1 calendar yet never actually hosted an F1 race. Vietnam’s 2020 debut was spoiled by the coronavirus, and after Hanoi People’s Committee chairman Nguyen Duc Chung was charged for corruption, the race was dropped entirely. Chung’s charges had nothing to do with F1, but he was the key figure promoting the race and in his absence, the Vietnamese government stated it had other concerns than F1 on its mind at the moment.

When Liberty Media bought F1 and extended the F1 calendar to include 21 races, concerns were raised about logistics and team members being away from their families for longer periods of time. This hasn’t seemed to stop the sport from going ahead with more races anyway, attempting 22 races in 2020 and now releasing a preliminary 23-race schedule for 2021. Pandemic allowing, expect to hear more from team bosses about the incredible difficulties associated with racing at 23 different locations, all across the globe, over the course of just nine months.