F1 2021: pre-season tests, car launch dates, full schedule and calendar
Last year’s Formula One season was heavily disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, but the FIA and F1 still managed to put on a season of 17 races. The pandemic is ongoing but that has not stopped a record 23-race season being planned.
That said, the Australian Grand Prix, planned for mid-March, has already been postponed until November. This means that the season now starts on March 26 with first free practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Read below for more information about the season, including winter testing, car launch dates and the full calendar.
When do the pre-season tests take place?
Testing has been further reduced for the upcoming season and pre-season testing now takes place over just three days. It had been originally due to take place in Barcelona at the start of March, as usual, but the location and dates have been moved.
The three days of testing will now take place in Bahrain – well, it makes sense now – from Friday March 12 until Sunday March 14 at the Sakhir Circuit. The morning session will begin at 7am BST and the afternoon session will end at 4pm. So a total of eight hours’ running with an hour for lunch in between.
Each day will be broadcast on Sky Sports F1 from 6.50am until 4pm. And, of course, we will be liveblogging throughout each of the three days with live updates and analysis.
What’s new for 2021?
A fair bit and not a lot. You should remember that 2021 was supposed to be the start of a new era for F1 as significant regulation – and budgetary – changes came into play. With the financial damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, however, F1 decided to put back the regulation changes until 2022. Budgetary requirements have still come in (more about that here) but the cars will, largely, be the same as last season with a few small but significant tweaks. Do not expect a significant reshuffle in the pecking order.
First and foremost, though, there are two “new teams”. Or rather two teams that have new names. Renault have become Alpine and Racing Point have become Aston Martin.
The biggest and most significant change is the potential for three qualifying ‘sprint’ races, which would decide the grid order for Sunday’s Grand Prix at the Canadian, Italian and Brazilian rounds. A bit more on the proposal here.
Excluding any sprint race trials, the traditional four-day weekend – with Thursday usually reserved for various media duties – has been turned into a three-day event. The days of four hours worth of free practice are gone, too. Free practice one and two – previously 90 minutes each – will now only run for an hour. The 60 minutes of final practice on Saturday remains unchanged, though parc ferme rules will now apply after that session rather than after qualifying.
There are a couple of new and returning circuits for this season, too. The first comes with the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on September 5 (this was due to run in May last season) and also the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on December 5 on the Jeddah Street Circuit.
On the driver side of things, Fernando Alonso returns for Alpine, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin make their debuts with Haas. Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda becomes the first full-time F1 driver to be born in the 21st century. Elsewhere, Daniel Ricciardo moves to McLaren, Carlos Sainz moves from McLaren to Ferrari and Sergio Peréz lines up alongside Max Verstappen at Red Bull.
When are the teams’ car launch dates?
The flurry of launch dates has yet to fully kick into gear. There are a few quirks with the chassis names, too, due to the about-face when it came to the 2021 regulations being moved back to 2022.
Proudly representing the colours of the French and British flags, as well as Alpine’s illustrious and historic racing colours of blue, white and red… Here is our 2021 F1 car, the A521!#A521Launch 💙 pic.twitter.com/AwDI1RNtaE
Naturally, the below dates come with the caveat that, due to the global coronavirus pandemic, these locations and dates could change. The Australian Grand Prix has already been postponed until November. Last season showed that circuits and organisers are there to step in at the last minute, so it is not unrealistic to expect a season as full as planned.
The current plan is also for fans to be allowed, in some capacity at least, but we will have to see how that goes. At the moment only those who have been fully vaccinated or who have recovered from Covid. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix will take place behind closed doors.