According to Lawrence Stroll, the chairman of Aston Martin, which is the re-branded name for Racing Point, the season opener in Melbourne, Australia, set for March 21, will be postponed due to Covid-19. It may be a new year, but the coronavirus pandemic has no respect for the calendar or people's lives.
"Melbourne has been-it's not officially announced but it will be-not cancelled, but postponed," Stroll told Reuters. "We will go there sometime in the fall (autumn) and the first race will be Bahrain."
"I do believe we're in for a difficult two or three months."
The virus hasn't gone away simply because it is now 2021. This pandemic, which has shaped everyone's lives for more than twelve months, began in 2019, even though it wasn't until March 2020 that it became apparent it would halt and haunt people's lives throughout the year. In sporting terms, it almost brought all sport to a standstill.
For Formula 1, it had an impact on the first scheduled event, being the Australian GP in Melbourne. During the Thursday press conference back in March 2020, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton challenged why they were even there.
Sebastian Vettel, in what would turn out to be his sixth and last year driving for Ferrari, also questioned whether the race should go ahead, but noted the drivers trusted the FIA to safeguard he drivers and F1 personnel.
As it transpired, a McLaren mechanic contracted coronavirus and McLaren advised the FIA on the Thursday evening that it was withdrawing from the event. In the early hours of Friday morning, the team bosses were still discussing whether the race should be held.
At 3am Romain Grojean got a text from Vettel telling him that Ferrari were also pulling out and he was heading for the airport. He was joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen.
It soon became obvious the event would be called off and at 10am, Chase Carey, the CEO of F1 owners Liberty Media, along with an FIA and the Australian Grand Prix Corporation representative, announced the event was postponed. Days later as the pandemic took hold worldwide, Vietnam, China, and Baku were cancelled, as were Monaco, Canada and eventually Australia.
The first race was held in July in Austria but there were no crowds, there was social distancing in the F1 paddock, with restricted F1 personnel, compulsory Covid testing and mask wearing, and TV became the way the world would eventually enjoy a 17-race season that was restricted to Europe, the UK and the Middle East.
Sadly, as the pandemic continues to escalate in UK and Europe and the US, with new strains, it is likely the 23-race calendar will face similar restrictions to 2020.
Some teams would like to fast forward to 2022 when the rules and regulations undergo significant changes, including a capped budget, but for now, 2021 is likely to see Mercedes dominate for an eighth consecutive season, and probably Hamilton, who is to knighted, will win an eighth title as well. What team or driver is going to stop them?
The obvious answer is Max Verstappen and Red Bull, who beat Mercedes in the season ending Abu Dhabi GP. Just when the Red Bull partnership with Honda was beginning to pay dividends, the engine supplier announced 2021 will be its last season in F1.
Honda returned to F1 in 2015 with McLaren, which didn't work out. Red Bull could be distracted this year trying to find another engine supplier, which may mean returning cap in hand to Renault, or persuading Honda to let it develop their engine.
Verstappen has always made clear his ambition is to win races and championships, which is generally the aim of every F1 driver. But in reality, only a few have the talent and the opportunity to make it happen.
George Russell for example, is not going to win a race, yet alone a title, in a Williams that he usually qualifies in 15th or 16th place. But when Mercedes put him in the car when Hamilton missed the Sakhir GP through coronavirus, but for a rare team stuff up, he would have won.
We now know Russell in a Mercedes could, and most likely would, become world champion, although if Hamilton was in the other Mercedes, he would have something to say about it.
Verstappen doesn't care who his teammate is, because he believes he will beat them regardless. He was asked during an interview with Ziggo Sport if he was aware of the compliments his four ex-teammates had paid him?
"Well, they can't get around it, can they?" he cockily responded. "I beat all of them anyway, so that's good. Yeah, my father always said 'destroy them'."
This year he will be joined by Sergio Perez, who was the beneficiary of Russell's misfortune in Bahrain, celebrating a first grand prix win in 190 starts, knowing he had been replaced at Racing Point by Vettel. At it transpired, that victory convinced Red Bull to hire Perez for this season in place of Alex Albon. So, does Verstappen believe he will "destroy" Perez?
"Yeah, that's right, that's the target,' Verstappen confidently replied. "It's always important to be faster than your teammate and besides that, it's important for the team to join the fight in front with both cars, just like with Daniel [Ricciardo] back in the day."
Another interesting pairing this season will be at Ferrari, a team that had a forgettable 2020, where former McLaren driver Carlos Sainz will join Charles Leclerc, who won twice in his first year at Ferrari in 2019, and was consistently faster than Vettel last year in a Ferrari that may have been hobbled by an investigation into the legality of its engine by the FIA the findings of which remain confidential, but reeks of bias on the part of the governing body.
McLaren boss Zak Brown says Sainz turned out to be a better driver than the team expected when he joined them in 2019.
"He exceeded our expectations," Brown says. "We wouldn't have signed him if we hadn't been convinced that he was a great driver, but today we can say that he did better than we could have expected. It's a pleasure to have him in the garage."
So why, given McLaren finished third in last year's championship while Ferrari was only sixth, is Sainz leaving a team that is rising, to one that seems to be sinking?
Sainz says "nobody in the paddock would have done anything differently' in terms of signing with Ferrari.
"With all respect and admiration for McLaren, which is the second-best team in history, when Ferrari knocks on the door, plus being a team that won in 2019, there is no doubt," Sainz explained.
When reminded that Fernando Alonso and Vettel both failed to win a championship with Ferrari, Sainz had an answer.
"They left with a few victories and podiums, if you call that leaving empty ... I only have two podiums," he said. "Did they leave without a world championship? Yes. But the same has happened to 19 drivers every season for the last 10 years when Red Bull and Mercedes have dominated."
Carlos Sainz senior, a two-time World Rally champion, is proud of what his son is doing in F1 and says there was a party when they heard about the Ferrari signing. He is especially excited about his son joining Leclerc as a teammate.
"He and Charles Leclerc are two young talents who are very fast and intelligent, they can work well together, helping the red team to grow," Sainz Snr said. "I am convinced he will have a good relationship with his teammate."
Will that be said about Alonso's partnership at Alpine (formerly Renault) with Esteban Ocon, who was out–driven by Ricciardo last year?
Ocon says he aims to "do a bit like what Daniel did for his second year, which is step up". He may need to, given Alonso's reputation for destroying that of his teammates, with the exception of Hamilton at McLaren in 2007.
Former McLaren driver Pedro De la Rosa says Alonso will be motivated by his absence from the sport.
"These last few years away from the sport have made him appreciate F1. His return is going to be very positive for F1 in general, not just for him. He can win the world championship again."
Alonso has downplayed his ambitions, saying, "it is imaginable and it would be a dream to be on a podium with Carlos Sainz" and noting that would require some bad luck for the Mercedes pair. Speaking of which, Hamilton has talked sympathetically about his teammate Valtteri Bottas's ambition to win a championship.
"When I talk about people needing to give Valtteri his due respect, I think you've got to remember who he's up against - it's not easy being my teammate, you know," Hamilton not so modestly is quoted as saying on the Formula 1 website.
Imagine what would happen if Verstappen and Hamilton were teammates, with the former wanting to destroy him and the latter telling him how difficult that might be.
That, sadly, won't happen, but maybe the experience of Perez, Ricciardo and Alonso, all joining new teams, as well as the youth and enthusiasm of Leclerc and Sainz, might occasionally upset the confidence Hamilton and Verstappen have.