Melbourne – A final call on staging the Australian Grand Prix will be made in the “coming weeks,” organizers said Tuesday following reports it could be postponed over strict travel restrictions and the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19.
Website autosport.com said the Melbourne-based race, which is due to kick off the new Formula One season on March 21, would likely be pushed back to later in the year, with Bahrain poised to open the 2021 calendar on March 28.
It pointed to Australia’s tough coronavirus restrictions, which require international travelers to quarantine for two weeks, as posing significant logistical and financial obstacles.
Many of Formula One’s teams are also based in England where surging cases, spurred by a more infectious new variant, are further complicating matters.
Australian organizers said they were working through the issues.
“The Australian Grand Prix Corporation continues to work closely with the Victorian (state) government and Formula 1 on conditions and arrangements relating to the staging of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in 2021,” they said in a brief statement.
“Further detail will be provided upon finalization of arrangements with all parties in the coming weeks.”
Construction around the temporary Albert Park circuit is yet to start and tickets are not currently on sale.
The Australian race, the traditional season curtain-raiser, was called off last year just hours before the first practice session after a McLaren team member tested positive, with drivers scrambling to leave the country.
The pandemic threw the season into chaos and racing only started in Austria in July, with the Melbourne event not rescheduled.
Despite concern about the fate of this year’s race, hundreds of the world’s top tennis players are set to arrive in Melbourne from Jan. 15 for 14 days’ quarantine before the Australian Open.
After months of wrangling, authorities allowed them to train for five hours a day in a bio-secure bubble, shuttled between designated hotels and Melbourne Park, where the tournament is held.
Australia has fared much better than many other nations in dealing with the virus following swift action to close its borders to the world and carry out widespread testing.
Life had been returning to relative normality around the country before a new cluster emerged in Sydney last month.
It has since spread to neighboring Victoria, forcing the closure of some state borders.
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