Australian GP chief open to keeping November F1 date, talks track changes

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The Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix could keep its November 2021 date beyond this year, CEO Andrew Westacott has suggested.

Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the race, originally set to resume as the season-opener, was pushed back to give more time for the situation to improve.

Of course, Australia is no stranger to hosting end-of-year races, with Adelaide previously the traditional season finale.

And Westacott, who also oversees the MotoGP race at Phillip Island, which is held in October, sees an opportunity to re-evaluate Melbourne's racing schedule.

“We always enjoy the opening race position with Formula 1, it suits us and it’s a major pillar of Melbourne’s major events calendar," he told recently.

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“But what I’ve also said is that with a change of the nature we have now, with a November [Formula 1] event, gives us the opportunity to look at four very distinct scenarios.

“One is that both events [F1 & MotoGP] are in an early-season slot, February or March. Another is both races being in a late-season slot, October or November. The traditional F1 at the start and MotoGP at the end, or, the flip – MotoGP at the start and F1 at the end.

“I’ve got a very open mind about all of those four scenarios, and the pros and cons and opportunities they present to the sport, and the value those events deliver for Melbourne," Westacott added.

“All of them are on the table and a combination will be decided on when the calendars are finalised during the middle of this year."

Since the postponement, Melbourne has taken the opportunity to bring forward changes to Albert Park, including a full resurfacing and a number of design tweaks to certain corners in an effort to improve overtaking.

“We approached it in a very holistic way, broad and driven by consultation,” the Australian GP boss stated.

“The track was built in 1995 and is therefore very dated, not only in terms of the asphalt layer, but the cars have now also evolved a lot further.

“The circuit itself has been subject to what I call a level of evolution and evaluation. Drivers often say it’s a great city and a wonderful place to stay, with a great crowd. They think it’s a great place to open the season, but the racing sometimes looks a bit like a parade.

“What we are doing is working with the existing physical environment and limitations to develop a circuit best positioned to improve racing once the 2022 cars come into play.”

The biggest change will see the Turn 9 & 10 chicane redesigned into a high-speed section which then increases the approach speed to the traditional fast chicane at Turns 11 & 12.

It is hoped this move will make a wider, reprofiled Turn 13 into the track's main overtaking opportunity.

“We wanted to offer opportunities to reward courageous driving and punish sloppy driving,” said Westacott.

“The camber of the corners is not always conducive to Formula 1 races and simulations showed you can make Turn 13 a real overtaking opportunity by arriving at the bend at more speed and slightly adjusting the geometry of the bend,” he added.

“It also makes Turns 11 and 12, part of the circuit that the drivers love, a lot more challenging.”

Of course, for all the optimism, there is still some uncertainty hanging over the 2021 race should restrictions continue.

But after a successful Australian Open, which did see a Covid interruption roughly halfway through, Melbourne is confident of hosting the race.

“It’s always complex, you only have to look at the tennis and how they’ve approached it,” he noted.

“But my view, and the view of the government, is that we have the opportunity to continually develop and continuously improve the approach to staging events.

“We’ve got time now to do that, based on learnings from the tennis, from vaccine rollouts, from hotel quarantine, from all sorts of other health-related approaches. It’s going to stand us in better stead to stage the event in November.”