The two delayed races follow the suspension of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix this weekend after a member of the McLaren team tested positive for COVID-19. He and 14 other McLaren employees remain in isolation in Melbourne.
“Following the announcement of the Australian Grand Prix’s cancellation this week and the ongoing and fluid nature of the COVID-19 situation globally, Formula One, the FIA and the promoters have taken these decisions in order to ensure the health and safety of the travelling staff, championship participants and fans, which remains our primary concern,” the FIA said in a statement.
“Formula One and the FIA continue to work closely with the race promoters in Bahrain and Vietnam and the local authorities to monitor the situation and take the appropriate amount of time to study the viability of potential alternative dates for each grand prix later in the year should the situation improve.”
The two new postponements take the number of races currently off the schedule to four, including the Chinese Grand Prix, which was originally planned for mid-April but abandoned at the height of that nation’s outbreak in February.
The next race on the calendar is the Dutch Grand Prix on 1–3 May and the Spanish Grand Prix the following weekend, but the FIA cast doubt on the running of both events considering the deteriorating situation in Europe.
“Formula One and the FIA expect to begin the championship in Europe at the end of May, but given the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Europe in recent days, this will be regularly reviewed.”
The iconic Monaco Grand Prix is the last race of the month, on 21–24 May, but paddock speculation in Melbourne suggested the season is most likely start with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on 5–7 June.
Rescheduling all of what could be up to seven races in this scenario would be extremely difficult given the already packed nature of the Formula One schedule.
The prospect of cancelling the two-week August break — currently enforced in the regulations to guard against burnout — is an option to open up space on the calendar, but even this would allow for only one additional race without creating a triple-header of grands prix, which the teams are reluctant to try again after it was exhaustingly trialled in 2018.
Other events have thus far appeared reluctant to change dates owing to ticket sales and the lead time required to set up infrastructure, particularly for non-permanent race venues. The Australian Grand Prix is unlikely to be rescheduled for this reason, with the cost of setting up infrastructure at Albert Park a second time in the same year financially unattractive.
Local restrictions on mass gatherings may force the hand of some organisers to change dates or abandon races altogether given a reduction in proceeds from ticket sales will make several events economically unviable, with several European rounds receiving no government backing.