We are just a week into the start of the new year and there is already a growing sense of déjà vu surrounding the prospect of disruption to the 2021 Formula 1 season. 

The coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the 2020 schedule - forcing the opening 10 rounds to be cancelled and resulting in a rejigged 17-round calendar being created - and it is looking increasingly unlikely that this year’s calendar will get away without some form of disturbance. 

F1 had hoped to return to some form of normality in 2021 despite the continued global pandemic, having announced an unprecedented 23 races for the upcoming season in November, but that plan is already coming under threat. 

Amid global fears over the emergence of a new fast-spreading strain of COVID-19 that has resulted in the United Kingdom entering a third national lockdown, and Australia still enforcing strict travel restrictions, the intended season opener in Melbourne looks set to be postponed from its 21 March date. 

The postponement of this year’s Australian Grand Prix is set to be made official by F1 and local organisers imminently, with the 2021 F1 season instead getting underway a week later in Bahrain on 28 March. 

"Melbourne has been - it's not officially announced but it will be - not cancelled but postponed,” Aston Martin team owner told Reuters ahead of the announcement of new title sponsorship with American IT company Cognizant last week. 

But unlike in 2020, when the Melbourne event was shelved altogether, F1 is hopeful of re-arranging the race for a later slot in the season, most likely in November if an agreement can be struck.

In the wake of Australia’s pending postponement, the three-day pre-season test is poised to move from its original location at the Circuit de-Barcelona Catalunya in Spain on 2-4 March to a slot later in the month at the Sakhir International Circuit, though an exact date is yet to be agreed on by the teams.

F1’s sporting regulations state that the pre-season test must take place “between 1 February and 10 days before the start of the first event of the championship”, meaning testing could theoretically finish as late as 16 March. 

It has since emerged that the Chinese Grand Prix is also at risk of being postponed, with the race promoter calling for F1 to move the Shanghai race - which was the first race to fall from the 2020 calendar - to the second half of the year. 

China is due to stage the third round of the 2021 F1 world championship on 11 April but the original date is no longer looking viable. 

The re-scheduling of not one, but two races, into an already crammed second half of the season which features two triple-headers as it stands would provide F1 with yet another headache to work around. 

A postponement would also mean F1 would have two free races to replace in April, with China joining the already ‘TBA’ fourth round of the season on 25 April - a date which had originally been reserved for the delayed inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix that will no longer happen. 

It is understood that F1 is currently drawing up a contingency plan that would see both Portimao and Imola once again returning to fill the gaps after the two venues stepped in to host successful substitute races on the re-written 2020 calendar.

According to reports including RaceFans, Imola will replace China but on the later date of 18 April to become the first European round of the year, with Portugal assuming a 2 May slot to form a back-to-back with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on 9 May. 

It is also claimed that the Australian GP will be delayed to 21 November, with the Sao Paulo GP moved forward by a week to create a triple-header of races in the Americas with the US and Mexican GPs following. 

Such a move would also require F1’s first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the streets of Jeddah to be moved back to 5 December, with Abu Dhabi retaining its end-of-season slot but on the new date of 12 December. 

With F1’s traditional summer break returning this year in August, it is hard to see where China could fit into the picture.

Potential revised 2021 F1 calendar
RaceDate
Bahrain GP (Sakhir)March 28
Emilia Romagna GP (Imola)April 18
Portuguese GP (Portimao)May 2
Spanish GP (Barcelona)May 9
Monaco GP (Monte Carlo)May 23
Azerbaijan GP (Baku)June 6
Canadian GP (Montreal)June 13
French GP (Paul Ricard)June 27
Austrian GP (Spielberg)July 4
British GP (Silverstone)July 18
Hungarian GP (Budapest)August 1
Belgian GP (Spa)August 29
Dutch GP (Zandvoort)September 5
Italian GP (Monza)September 12
Russian GP (Sochi)September 26
Singapore GP (Marina Bay)October 3
Japanese GP (Suzuka)October 10
United States GP (Austin)October 24
Mexican GP (Mexico City)October 31
Sao Paulo GP (Interlagos)November 7
Australian GP (Melbourne)21 November
Saudi Arabian GP (Jeddah)December 5
Abu Dhabi GP (Yas Marina)December 12
  
TBC - Chinese GP