MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Formula One’s 2016 season will see the latest start to a championship since 1988, with the opening Australian Grand Prix scheduled for April 3.
Melbourne’s Albert Park street circuit has usually hosted the opener in March, though it was pushed back to April in 2006 to become the third round on the calendar when Melbourne hosted the Commonwealth Games that year.
“The 2016 Formula One Australian Grand Prix event dates are 31 March–3 April, 2016, with the later start date set to condense the season, which finishes in November,” local organisers said on Tuesday.
The 1988 season also started on April 3, in Brazil.
Media have speculated that Formula One Management is aiming to reduce costs for teams and shorten the downtime between races in a bid to maximise interest in the championship.
Pundits have also suggested a condensed season could be a bargaining chip for FOM to pack in more races into the calendar, with Azerbaijan scheduled to make its debut next year on what could be a 20 round championship.
The later date at Albert Park will also mean an earlier start for the race, given it falls after the end of daylight savings in the state of Victoria when clocks are switched back an hour.
The AGPC was unable to provide further comment but confirmed the move was a directive from FOM.
“It’s fantastic that Melbourne will again play host to the opening round,” said Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott.
“Over the past 20 years Melbourne has become synonymous with the start of a new Formula One season, and we look forward to again welcoming all the teams and drivers to our great city in 2016,”
A later start to the season in Australia could also see Bahrain, the fourth race of 2015, move up the order next year even if it will be hard to accommodate an earlier date.
Bahrain has never been later than April 26 on the calendar since the race made its debut in 2004 and local organisers said at this year’s April 19 grand prix that they were hoping for an earlier slot.
“Maybe the end of April when it gets pretty hot isn’t the time, so a few weeks here and there would help if we could change that,” Sheikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa told Reuters then.
Reporting by Ian Ransom/Alan Baldwin; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Justin Palmer