The Australian Grand Prix will be postponed to the back end of the Formula 1 season with Bahrain replacing it as the opening race in March, according to Aston Martin team owner Lawrence Stroll.
The move, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine restrictions, has been widely flagged in the media but is yet to be confirmed by Formula 1 or local organisers.
“Melbourne has been — it’s not officially announced but it will be — not cancelled but postponed,” the Canadian billionaire told Reuters.
“We will go there sometime in the fall [northern autumn] and the first race will be [in] Bahrain.”
Formula 1 has been promoting on social media the existing 2021 schedule, which has the season starting with the Melbourne race on March 21.
However, there has been speculation that current restrictions requiring international arrivals in Australia to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine period would make it logistically difficult to get F1 teams and support staff in place in time to allow the race to proceed.
Earlier this week, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation said it was working closely with the Victorian Government and Formula 1 on “conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021”.
Last year’s race was cancelled just hours before the first Friday practice session was due to begin, due to coronavirus concerns.
Stroll was speaking ahead of the announcement of a new team title sponsorship with IT company Cognizant.
Formula 1 teams agreed to the change in a virtual meeting with Formula 1’s new chief executive Stefano Domenicali on Monday.
Sources said the same meeting also agreed for pre-season testing to move from Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya to Bahrain, without setting a date.
Last season’s race calendar had to be re-written due to the global pandemic, with an eventual 17 rounds in Europe and the Middle East and some circuits including Bahrain hosting two Grands Prix.
Stroll, also executive chairman of sportscar maker Aston Martin — which is returning to F1 as a constructor for the first time in 60 years in a rebranding of the Racing Point team — said he expected lingering difficulties.
“I do believe we’re in for a difficult two or three months,” said Stroll.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine. I think the first few races will be slightly challenging.
“But Formula 1 management and the FIA, I really take my hat off to them to deliver 17 races as we did last year in 23 weeks, without really any major hiccups, in a very impressive manner.
“I think the worst is behind us and we’ve learnt through last year how to proceed with this year.”
Stroll and his son Lance, who drives for Aston Martin, both tested positive for the virus last year.
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