Flavio Briatore, Michael Schumacher, Damon Hill, TI Aida, 1995

The last time F1’s season-opening race was postponed

F1 history

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Today Albert Park should have thrilled to the echo of fans and Formula 1 cars.

We should know the name of the first F1 race winner of 2020: Verstappen? Maybe. Hamilton? Probably. Latifi? Stranger things have happened. And, indeed, are happening…

The Coronavirus has put paid to the season opener and more. The first four races on the 2020 F1 calendar have been wiped out. More are likely to follow, beginning with May’s Dutch Grand Prix.

The scale of damage wrought by the virus is of course much greater and much more serious than the loss of a few races. But this is a motor sport website, and we can measure its impact in the unprecedented effect it has had on Formula 1 and the rest of the motor sport world.

In the past, as now, it has taken major world events, such as natural disasters, to force the rescheduling of races. This was the case the last time the season-opening round of the championship was delayed, 25 years ago.

David Coulthard, Williams, TI Aida, 1995
Coulthard took pole for postponed Pacific Grand Prix
The Argentinian Grand Prix was due to be the season-opening race of 1995. The revived race, which had previously run on 16 occasions between 1953 and 1981, was originally scheduled to feature in the latter stages of the 1994 season. However renovations of the Autodromo Juan y Oscar Galvez ran behind schedule, so it was replaced with a round at Jerez in Spain.

However as 1995 began doubts remained that the Buenos Aires circuit would be ready in time to begin the championship on March 12th. The event won a reprieve after disaster struck in Japan.

On January 17th an earthquake struck Hyogo prefecture in Japan, near to the city of Kobe. Over 6,000 people were killed, and widespread damage was caused to buildings and infrastructure.

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The Tanaka International Circuit, around 100 kilometres west of Kobe, was also damaged. Within a few weeks it was decided its planned race on April 16th could not go ahead and the Pacific Grand Prix was postponed to October 22nd, running back-to-back with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka the following week.

Start, Melbourne, 2011
Melbourne replaced Bahrain as 2011 season-opener
That left a five-week gap in the calendar between the second round of the championship, at Interlagos in Brazil, and the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in Italy. It offered the championship the opportunity to give the Argentinian race promoter another month to finish build the track. The deal was done, F1’s season-opening race was put back to April 9th, and Brazil’s round became the new season-opener.

By sheer luck, the delayed Pacific Grand Prix ended up deciding the drivers’ world championship. Michael Schumacher won the race for Benetton ahead of the two Williams drivers, sealing his second world title with two races to spare. Damon Hill won the other postponed race in Argentina.

The start of the world championship was delayed more recently, 2011, but on this occasion the race was cancelled, albeit only after much wrangling.

The first scheduled race of 2011 championship in Bahrain was called off 18 days before practice was due to start at the track. The announcement came four days the Bahraini police forcibly broke up a group of protesters in the country’s capital, leading to several deaths and escalating the country’s political crisis.

The 2011 championship therefore opened in Melbourne instead – where it should have been racing today. Bahrain’s race was notionally postponed, but efforts to find a suitable replacement date later in the season failed, and F1 did not return until the following year.

Australian and Bahrain are two of the four races facing – at best – delays to their 2020 races. With Vietnam and China in the same situation, and the Netherlands and Spain likely to join them, it is virtually certain not all of them will be reinstated.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 16 comments on “The last time F1’s season-opening race was postponed”

    1. Flavio in a translucent wet shirt is an image I really didn’t need, Keith. Time to Clorox my eyes.

      The scale of damage wrought by the virus is of course much greater and much more serious than the loss of a few races. But this is a motor sport website, and we can measure its impact in the unprecedented effect it has had on Formula 1 and the rest of the motor sport world.

      We needn’t feel bad about discussing the impact of cancelled sporting events, simply because while the event at the very center is a sport, it is also an economic activity with multiple rings of very serious business hinging on it – hospitality, transport, etc. at the venue; manufacturing back at home base.

      1. @phylyp if you think that is bad, then I can only imagine how terrified you might be by the somewhat notorious photos of Briatore on holiday when he was wearing a thong…

        1. Stop. Just stop. :)

        2. Surely no worse than the Todt Thong

    2. Regarding the last paragraph: Yes, definitely not all of them can get reinstated for later this year, namely the temporary-venues except maybe for Hanoi Street Circuit. I reckon NL, Bahrain, and Vietnam have the highest chance of getting saved for this year.

      1. I reckon NL, Bahrain, and Vietnam have the highest chance of getting saved for this year.

        I concur – apart from practicality, each of them are valuable to F1, FOM and the race promoters in their own special way, and I can see every effort being made to facilitate those races. Probably add in China as well, if things on the ground are truly under control in the coming weeks, and China wishes to signal a return to normalcy.

    3. Makes you think again how different F1 was back in the 90s when the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix completed in its entirety given the 3 major events that occurred over the course of the weekend.

      1. Well, those were freak accidents, continuing the race wasn’t increasing the danger for the other drivers or the spectators, racing now would.

    4. Once cancelled race leaving a 5 week gap between races…

      Just shows how much more room for movement there is in a 16 race season over a 22 race season. The push for growth has only increased the difficulty in recovering any lost races.

      1. @eurobrun A problem that’s only going to become more problematic as they expand towards 25.

        And F1’s calendar expansion won’t be just an F1 problem because other categories tend to try & schedule around F1 but with F1 running more weekends there’s less room to avoid clashes. May not seem like too big a deal until you start to realize that other categories do see big hits in attendance & viewership when there up against F1.

        Similar the other way with F1 in the past trying to avoid going up against sports that have a larger, more mainstream appeal because even if it’s something totally different to F1 you still see a drop in the ratings as viewership gets split. Hence why some european broadcasters aren’t totally happy about race start times been an hour later now, Puts the tail end of the race & post race programs up against Sunday afternoon soccer games at times.

        There’s a lot of changes been done/likely to be done by people looking at F1 in isolation & not thinking about other categories, sports or any potentially negative consequences such as less down time for those involved or less room to reschedule if need be. This is all stuff Bernie actually did think about & which Liberty aren’t because again there looking at F1 largely in isolation which is fine to an extent but is going to cause issues down the road potentially.

    5. @gt-racer
      Exactly. IndyCar will have a bit of a dilemma too, because they’re meant to have a break so as to not clash with the Olympics (due to contracts with NBC Sports) and they’re meant to finish before the NFL season starts for similar reasons!

      And we already know how bad it is when FE and WEC clash. There could be more headaches for drivers with split priorities! F1 is merely the tip if the iceberg. Maybe the sensible thing should be just to leave cancelled as cancelled rather than try rearrange, although we all know why they want to do the latter!

    6. The Coronavirus has put paid to the season opener and more.

      It’s too early to be invoking hindsight, but maybe that statement is an understatement.

    7. Dieter – “This was the case the last time the season-opening round of the championship was delayed, 25 years ago.”

      Me – thinking we’re talking about the 80s, until we’re quickly reminded that 95 is already 25 years 😭

      1. @broke84 – assuming the 84 in your username refers to your year of birth, then, as someone a few years older than you, I share your pain. :)

        1. @broke84 – assuming the first part in your username refers to your financial situation, then, as someone who’s better at spending than saving, I share your pain. :)

      2. Oh you guys 😂

    Comments are closed.