Formula 1 season starts 4 months later in a different world

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FILE - In this March 12, 2020, file photo, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain speaks during a press conference at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. Four months after the opening race was called off amid last-minute pandemonium the Formula One season finally gets underway this weekend in Austria. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

SPIELBERG – Four months after the opening race was called off at the last minute, the Formula One season finally gets underway this weekend on another continent and in a different-looking world.

There will be no fans on hand at the remote Spielberg track in Austria, with the coronavirus still creating uncertainty over how many races can actually be held — and where.

That may not be the only unusual sight, as drivers are discussing whether to take the knee together on the grid before Sunday’s race in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton has been an outspoken supporter of the movement and will be competing in an all-black Mercedes car — instead of the usual silver — as a statement against racism.

“It is so important that we seize this moment,” said Hamilton, the only Black driver to become F1 champion.

The truncated campaign kicks off with back-to-back races in Austria, as part of a hastily reworked schedule. It was meant to start nearly 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) away in the Australian city of Melbourne.

But the fast-spreading impact of the coronavirus pandemic led to the Australian GP being canceled on March 13, two days before the scheduled race, while people were still queuing for the first practice sessions. Several other races, including the showcase Monaco GP, were also canceled.

A rescue package with eight European races squeezed into 10 weeks, culminating with the Italian GP on Sept. 6, was scrambled together. F1 still hopes to rearrange some of the postponed races in order to finish the season with 15-18 of the scheduled 22.

There will also be two consecutive races at the British GP. If the season continues beyond Europe, it will end with races in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in December.