The new F1 season is nearly upon us. Excited? You should be! 2021 is going to be a good one!
A Year of Transition
Next season, 2022, sees the delayed introduction of a major overhaul of the F1 technical regulations—mainly to allow for closer racing. Consequentially, for this season we’ll see very few regulation changes. Nonetheless, we do see a slight change to the rear of the cars—the floor, diffuser, and brake ducts— to reduce downforce in the car. This should increase the tyre life—remember Silverstone’s blowouts last season?
Perilli too have tweaked the tyres to make them more durable. The season before major changes is always a little odd and interesting: who is going to continue developing a car that won’t be used next year? But then again, who can afford not to develop a car and be left behind as the season progresses? It is a balancing act and we’ll see who plays it right through this season and next.
Measures to Bring About Closer Racing
2021 sees the introduction of a cost cap and aerodynamic handicap, with both measures being introduced on a sliding scale over the forthcoming years. The idea is to increase sustainability as well as create a more level playing field for competitors and—hopefully—closer racing. Also, it makes F1 more accessible to new teams…well, if you have a spare hundred million dollars or so kicking about!
Cost Cap: This places an upper limit on the team’s budgets. Set this year at $145 million (£116.73 million), it will gradually decrease to $135 in 2023 to give larger teams time to adjust. A few things are excluded in the price cap, including driver’s salaries, engine supply deals, the wages of the three highest-earning members of the team, marketing, employee bonuses and travel expenses. But, it is a start! Further—as yet not agreed upon—spending limits are due to be introduced over the next few seasons.
Aerodynamics Handicap: Put simply, this means the higher you finish in the constructor’s championship, the less time you will be allowed to develop your car in the wind tunnel for next year. Again, it is introduced on a sliding scale over the next few years—I’m not going to bog you down with the ins and outs, but if you’re interested, this article explains it well: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.how-f1s-new-sliding-scale-aero-testing-rules-work-and-what-impact-they-will.pn0sG8N4A0cjbNRbdYx8a.html
Although it may not mean radical changes for this season, they are interesting changes that sow the seeds for the upcoming years of F1 and will hopefully, over time, bring us closer to more competitive racing.
Sprint Race Trials
In an attempt to make F1 more “exciting”, there’s an idea of creating short Saturday races, the result of which would be used to determine the grid for the main race on Sunday. This will be trialled in 2021 at three races; one being Silverstone, the others being Monza, Brazil, or Canada. At these weekends we’ll see a qualifying session on Friday to set the grid for the mini race (100km) on Saturday. The result of the mini race will then set the grid for the main event on Sunday.
I like the idea of this—more racing is always good! I think having short races could bring a new dynamic to F1 and we could really see drivers go all-in on them if they do not have to manage tyres too much. Sprint grid races have had proven success—World Superbikes have a sprint race to create the grid for the second main race and it works well. I like that F1 is trialling it and testing out new ideas. If it works, great. If not—well, nothing lost. But it will definitely another interesting element for those three races.
The Teams and Drivers
As I see it, this year’s grid is roughly divided into three groups—top, middle, bottom—within which there will be some extremely close and competitive racing.
The Top Two: Mercedes vs. Red Bull
People have been banging on about Hamilton vs. Verstappen for years now, but the Mercedes has just been too fast for the Red Bull to fight with. So, could this be the year? Potentially.
The previously mentioned technical changes to the rear end of the cars seem to have put Mercedes on the back-foot a little. The team had poor pre-season testing, struggling with reliability and rear instability with the car. Hamilton himself has said that Mercedes are not the fastest, leading to the prospect of a closer title fight—a challenge he finds exciting.
Red Bull, on the other hand, have had their best pre-season test, and the car looked consistent, stable, and quick, Verstappen clocking the fastest lap of the testing. Be in no doubt that Mercedes will be working feverishly on their car to ensure it can perform—and they will get results. Mercedes are still the favourites, and even if it takes a few races, they’ll fix the issues with their car, so Red Bull need to hit the ground running and make the most of any potential Mercedes issues before they fix them. Nevertheless Red Bull do look like they have the car that could take it to Mercedes this year, and we may get the much anticipated Hamilton vs. Verstappen battle.
Mercedes retain Hamilton and Bottas. I expect Hamilton to take his record-breaking eighth world title this year, but I think he may have to work hard for it. Red Bull retain Verstappen, and the new kid coming to play at the top is Sergio Perez. After a stunning season with Racing Point and a maiden victory, the Mexican deserves the shot at the big seat. It is a notoriously difficult seat; expectations are high to keep up with Verstappen, what with both Gasley and Albon losing the seat with Red Bull deeming them not fast enough. But if anyone can rise to the challenge, it is Perez. Many think he will do well to keep up, but I think he could outscore the Dutchman—once he is used to the car. Verstappen is hit or miss. For every win, it seems he has a DNF (or two). Perez, on the other hand, is Mr Consistent; expect to see him coming in consistently in the top five and steadily—but surely—racking up those points.
Down at the Bottom: Williams vs. Alfa Romeo vs. Haas
A lot of teams are pinning their hopes on the change in regulations next year to really shake things up—none more so perhaps than Williams. I see this as a sort of holding year for them to be honest; they are just waiting for these fallow years to be over. With Russell and Latifi remaining in their seats, there is a continued connection with the drivers and car which helps with the stability of the team and development. There is absolutely no doubt that Russell is the real deal—consistently outperforming the Williams last year and silencing any doubters with his guest appearance in the Mercedes. If anyone can drag a couple of points out of that car, it is him.
Alfa Romeo are to stick with last year’s driver lineup of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen, whose experience is surely invaluable to the team. Alfa has said they are not going to develop this car as the year progresses, turning their attention instead to next year’s major rule changes. So, we may very well see the team slowly slide down the order if those around them continue to develop their cars.
Haas has opted for a completely new lineup with two rookie drivers. Perhaps it will offer a breath of fresh air and vigour, but inexperience, I feel, will inevitably be an issue here. Mick Schumacher—you may recognise the name—enters F1 with a weight of expectation on his shoulders. Son of seven times world champion Micheal, Mick has been quick in lower formulas, taking home last year’s Formula 2 championship.
Alongside him is controversial Mazepin, whose father is the main sponsor of the team, and has a chequered history, to say the least. It seems he has displayed casual racism, homophobia, physically assaulted another driver in F2, been given penalties for dangerous driving in lower formulas, posted borderline xenophobic ‘jokes’ on social media, harassed a female fan online by asking for crude pictures and messages in return for paddock passes, and uploading an Instagram story of him groping an intoxicated woman.
A petition to remove him from F1 has almost 47,000 signatures and counting, and a popular hashtag has been #SayNoToMazepin. So why is he in F1? Put simply, his dad is incredibly rich. His seat has essentially been bought for him. Needless to say, he will have to do a hell of a lot to get the fans onside.
In The Middle: A Very Tight Race for the Best of the Rest!
Here is where the fun is going to be! Last year, the mid-field was where all the action was and it’ll be even more intense this year with Ferrari, Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point), Mclaren, Alpine (formerly Renault), and Alpha Tauri all vying for that third “best of the rest” spot.
Who’s going to get it? I’m going with Mclaren. But it’s going to be incredibly competitive.
McLaren has moved to Mercedes engines, which can only be a good thing for them. Of course, just plonking a Mercedes engine in any old car doesn’t mean it’ll win—as Williams has, unfortunately, but convincingly, proved. But McLaren came third in the constructors last year, they had podiums, and a genuine shot at a few victories—granted, those races were a bit wild—but McLaren was there. They had genuine speed in their 2020 car and—with few changes to the 2021 cars—that speed should transfer over to this year.
Driver wise, how-wee! Lining up in the papaya car is Lando Norris—who proved himself very fast in that car last year—and Daniel Ricciardo, race winner, out-braking master, and a driver unlucky not to have a world title under his belt. Lando must rise to meet the challenge of such an excellent teammate, and I think he will—so together, they should bring home bucket loads of points.
Ferrari seems to have made progress from their woeful car last year, and with the talent of Charles Leclerc, they have a great opportunity to win big points and perhaps even the odd race win—if the Red Bull and Mercedes tangle!
Also in the mix is the often overlooked Carlos Sainz—super determined, very quick, and not to be messed with on the track. I for one am very glad to see his talent in a top car, but he needs to prove himself against Leclerc so as to not be a permanent Ferrari rear gunner.
Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, had a very quick car last year and, with few changes, they should be quick again. Stroll retains his seat, a driver who I feel has good potential and displayed flashes of brilliance last year. 2021 could be a good year for him.
Alongside Stroll lines up four-time world champion Vettel. Which Vettel will we see? The four-time world champ or the disheartened Vettel of later Ferrari years? Well, I think the move will rejuvenate him; the team seems a better environment for him than the last few years at Ferrari were. Also, the car looks like it suits his driving style better. However, I do think the team will miss the consistently good results that Perez brought them last year.
Alpine is another team I feel is focusing more on 2022 and a longer-term plan, but in the meantime, they still look good to score points. Possibly not quite up there with Ferrari, McLaren, and Aston Martin, but competitive in the midfield nonetheless.
Here we see yet another formidable driver line up with Ocon and Alonso. After a two-year hiatus, the brilliant talent that is Alonso returns to the paddock—his speed, skill, and experience will be utterly invaluable to the team. Ocon will have a hard time proving himself against such a talented opponent. Towards the end of 2020, we saw flashes of excellence from the Frenchman that he showed more convincingly and consistently than during his few years at Force India. Hopefully, last season was a settling-in year and this time around we will see Ocon able to really showcase his talent.
Not only do they have a formidable driver line up, they also have new racing director, David Brivio—one of the most successful team managers in motorbike racing.
Alpha Taura is, again, another quick car from last year with few changes, and the team retain their race winner Pierre Gasly. Gasly deserves a shot in a bigger team, but it’s hard to see where he would fit in with the current driver lineup.
Nonetheless, he works well in that car, consistently getting the best from it last year. He should be quick, consistent, and competitive again in 2021. Alongside Gasly lines up F1 rookie Tsunoda. With wins in lower formulas and finishing third in the 2020 F2 championship, the Japanese driver evidently has pace and talent. We’ll just have to wait and see how he fits into F1.
Currently, we have a twenty-three race calendar—though the shadow of Covid is ever looming and already we have had the Australian GP moved from March to November.
Starting in Bahrain on March 28th, we see the return of many regular tracks—Silverstone, Spa, and Imola— as well as familiar tracks we missed last year, such as Monaco, Melbourne, and Canada. Portimao gets returns for a second year, Saudi Arabia has a brand new track, and Zandvoort returns after a 36-year hiatus. Personally, I can’t wait for Canada, Japan, and Brazil.
Head to https://www.formula1.com/en/racing/2021.html for the full calendar.
For me, F1 trying to promote diversity whilst allowing Haas to employ a driver who has displayed racist and sexist behavior is a little contradictory. On top of this, we visit countries where women’s rights are pretty much non-existent—Saudi Arabia—or actively being rolled back—Turkey—as well as places where LGBTQAI rights are being curtailed, such as Russia. I know no country is perfect, but it seems to me F1 is showing that, ultimately, it is a business and money is more important to it than equality. #We RaceAsOne seems a little hollow currently.
So, there you have it: killer driver line ups, classic tracks, a close pack—well, three groups of close packs! It’s going to be a great year, so don’t miss out—tune in this weekend for the first race.
How to watch-
USA- Live on ESPN2 Sunday, March 28th. Race start— 10:55 am EST
UK- Live on Sky Sports F1 Sunday, March 28th. Race start— 3:55 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky1 at 7:30 pm and Channel 4 at 8:30 pm Sunday 28th March.