The start of the 2021 Formula 1 season will be delayed following a decision to postpone the Australian Grand Prix over COVID-19 concerns. 

Australia was due to host F1’s opening round of a record-breaking 23-race calendar on 21 March but the event has been postponed amid tough coronavirus restrictions in the country. 

The 2021 season will instead get underway with the Bahrain Grand Prix on 28 March, while pre-season testing - originally scheduled to take place at Barcelona on 2-4 March - is also likely to be moved to Bahrain, though an official announcement is yet to be made. 

Bahrain staged two rounds of the revised 2020 world championship on alternative layouts of the Sakhir International Circuit in November. 

Doubts over the viability of the Australian Grand Prix going ahead have escalated with rising global concern over the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19, with strict travel rules currently in place across the country that force all arrivals to undergo a 14-day period of mandatory self-isolation in designated quarantine hotels. 

The race would have proved a huge challenge from a logistical point of view in the current climate, with the construction of the temporary circuit required to start before the end of January to ensure the event could take place on time creating additional hurdles. 

A decision to postpone the race was expected and formally confirmed on Tuesday morning by F1. 

It is the second time in two years that F1’s traditional curtain-raiser in Melbourne has been affected by the pandemic, which forced the first 10 races of the 2020 season to be called off and resulted in a revised 17-round schedule which did not get underway until July in Austria. 

However, unlike in 2020 - when the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled altogether at the 11th hour following an outbreak of coronavirus in the paddock - F1 has re-arranged the race for a 21 November slot. 

F1 has also announced the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix, which was meant to take place on 11 April as the third round of the season. Like Melbourne, the championship hopes to re-arrange the Shanghai race for later in the season. 

As such, the 2021 schedule will look different to the one originally announced by F1 back in November, with Imola making an unexpected return to the calendar, having filled in as an additional race on the re-written 2020 calendar. 

Imola will host a race on 18 April to kick off an earlier than expected European leg of the season, while Portimao is also expected to return with the Portuguese Grand Prix taking place in the current 'TBC' 2 May slot to form a back-to-back with the Spanish Grand Prix on 9 May.

If it can avoid further disruption from the pandemic, it is set to remain F1's largest-ever calendar with 23 races. 

“It has been a busy start to the year at Formula 1 and we are pleased to confirm that the number of races planned for the season remains unchanged," said incoming F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali.

"The global pandemic has not yet allowed life to return to normal, but we showed in 2020 that we can race safely as the first international sport to return and we have the experience and plans in place to deliver on our season.

"It is great news that we have already been able to agree a rescheduled date for the Australian Grand Prix in November and are continuing to work with our Chinese colleagues to find a solution to race there in 2021 if something changes.

"We are very excited to announce that Imola will return for the 2021 season and know our fans will be looking forward to the return of Formula 1 after the winter break and our revised season opener in Bahrain.

"Obviously, the virus situation remains fluid, but we have the experience from last season with all our partners and promoters to adapt accordingly and safely in 2021.”

Australia's re-arrangement as a standalone event means Brazil's newly-named Sao Paulo GP will be moved forward a week, creating a third triple-header in the space of 11 weeks, following directly after the US and Mexican races. 

The 2021 season will now finish a week later than planned with back-to-back races in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia and the season finale in Abu Dhabi taking place on 12 December. 

Revised 2021 F1 calendar
RaceDate
Bahrain GP (Sakhir)March 28
Emilia Romagna GP (Imola)April 18
TBC (Expected Portuguese GP)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 (Sao Paulo)November 7
Australian GP (Melbourne)21 November
Saudi Arabian GP (Jeddah)December 5
Abu Dhabi GP (Yas Marina)December 12
  
TBC - Chinese GP