Hamilton’s F1 title defence delayed as Australian GP curtain-raiser pushed back

Lewis Hamilton’s tilt at a record eighth F1 world title will have to wait a little longer than anticipated after the new season was pushed back due to coronavirus restrictions.

The 36-year-old Brit equalled Michael Schumacher’s leading total of seven world crowns last season as he stormed to victory again with Mercedes.

But F1 chiefs have been forced to delay the 2021/22 campaign and re-jig the scheduled calendar to allow for strict travel restrictions in both Australia and China.

The traditional curtain-raiser at Melbourne’s Albert Park has now been moved to the back end of the season in November.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai Grand Prix, originally due in April, will only go ahead if another race is unable to be fulfilled.

Lewis Hamilton’s title defence will get started later than planned

That means two of the opening three rounds of races have been affected, with the season now set to get underway with the meeting at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain on March 28.

The circus heads to Europe for a race in Imola on April 18.

It is expected Portimao in Portugal will then host the third round on May 2 before the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona a week later.

Australia’s new date of November 21 means the season will be extended by one week, with the campaign closing in Abu Dhabi on December 12.

The British Grand Prix retains its original July 18 slot meaning it will avoid a clash with the Euro 2020 final at Wembley and the Wimbledon men’s final.

F1’s new boss Stefano Domenicali said: “It has been a busy start to the year at Formula One and we are pleased to confirm that the number of races planned for the season remains unchanged.

“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.

The traditional F1 curtain-raiser at Melbourne has been moved to November
The traditional F1 curtain-raiser at Melbourne has been moved to November

“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 One 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.”

The Chinese GP was the first race to be postponed in last year’s Covid-disturbed schedule, while the 2020 Australian GP was cancelled after a British mechanic from McLaren tested positive for Covid-19 following his arrival in Melbourne.

The sport commendably went on to navigate a 17-round season in just 23 weeks, with Hamilton clinching a record-equalling seventh world championship.

The majority of those races were staged behind closed doors but it is hoped fans could be present for the opening rubber in Bahrain and the following rounds.

Full schedule 2021 F1 race calendar

28 March – Bahrain (Sakhir)

18 April – Italy (Imola)

2 May – TBC

9 May – Spain (Barcelona)

23 May – Monaco (Monaco)

6 June – Azerbaijan (Baku)

13 June – Canada (Montreal)

27 June – France (Le Castellet)

4 July – Austria (Spielberg)

18 July – United Kingdom (Silverstone)

1 August – Hungary (Budapest)

29 August – Belgium (Spa)

5 September – Netherlands (Zandvoort)

12 September – Italy (Monza)

26 September – Russia (Sochi)

3 October – Singapore (Singapore)

10 October – Japan (Suzuka)

24 October – USA (Austin)

31 October – Mexico (Mexico City)

7 November – Brazil (Sao Paulo)

21 November – Australia (Melbourne)

5 December – Saudi Arabia (Jeddah )

12 December – Abu Dhabi (Yas Island)

*Revisions to calendar are subject to World Motor Sport Council approval

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