The Formula One season will start a week earlier in 2019, with the Australian Grand Prix announcing its race will take place on March 17.
The Melbourne race has been held on the penultimate weekend of March for the last two years but has been moved forward, to give the event space either side of the Moomba Festival and the start of the Australia Football League season. The AFL is the Australia's biggest sporting code and avoiding a clash with its opening weekend will have been a big motivation in moving the date.
While it avoids overlapping with AFL, the new date sits in line with the World Endurance Championship's race at Sebring. That adds yet another interesting layer to Fernando Alonso's considerations for next year -- if he wants to win the 2018-19 WEC championship with Toyota, he will have to take part in that round. Should he elect to stay in F1 with McLaren, the team is likely to require a back-up for this opening round at least.
The date change will need to be ratified by the World Motor Sport Council in November, which is when the full 2019 calendar will be released. It will be the earliest start date for an F1 season since 2015, which started in Melbourne on March 15.
By avoiding a clash with AFL, organisers hope more fans will be encouraged to attend.
"To announce the Formula One Australian Grand Prix date more than eight months out from the event is fantastic news and we hope this will encourage overseas and interstate visitors to plan for a lengthy visit to Melbourne and Victoria," said race CEO Andrew Westacott. "We are immensely proud of the four-day spectacle Melbourne puts on on an honoured to raise the curtain on one of the world's most prestigious annual championships.
"The start of an F1 season, our Aussie superstar Daniel Ricciardo, a Supercars championship round and so much off-track action -- it's a must-attend event in 2019."
The race hopes to improve on its 2018 four-day crowd of 295,000 next year.