Formula One 2021: A guide
After 3 months of anticipation and intrigue, F1 swings back into action with the first race of 2021 in Bahrain.
Here’s all you need to know on the upcoming season – what to expect, and why you shouldn’t miss out on what’s shaping up to be an absolute cracker of a year.
F1 2021 – What’s New?
On the surface, it’s easy to suggest that F1 2021 is in danger of repeating its 2020 season which, whilst producing highly entertaining racing, shock victories and gripping storylines, was ultimately dominated by Mercedes for the 7th year running, with Lewis Hamilton taking a record-equalling 7th world title to draw level with Michael Schumacher.
The cars are mainly carry-overs from 2020, with teams only allowed to make very limited developments in order to cut costs due to the pandemic. There have been some minor changes to the regulations, in which teams have had to remove certain areas towards the rear of the car in an attempt to slow the cars down and stop them from becoming ‘too fast’ for the circuits and the Pirelli tyres. Taking these factors into account, everyone assumed that Mercedes would walk the 2021 season.
That is until pre-season testing took place.
Mercedes struggled on all 3 days of the test with reliability woes, completing the least number of laps of any team, and the car looked unstable at the rear for both Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas. By contrast, Red Bull, the second quickest team last year, looked quick, reliable and comfortable – raising hopes that this could finally be the year that Mercedes’ dominance is finally broken.
Another new addition this year is sprint races, replacing Saturday qualifying at three events (Canada, Italy and Brazil) with qualifying for the sprint race taking place on Friday, in an attempt to provide more intrigue and action throughout the weekend. Many so-called ‘purists’ have condemned the idea, but there’s no harm in experimenting and trying it out at three of the most entering race track surely can’t be a bad thing.
2021 has also seen the implementation of a budget cap for the first team in F1 history, with a 145m dollar limit (with a few exceptions such as driver salary), and a sliding scale that allows the teams that finished lower in the 2020 championship to spend more time developing their cars in the wind tunnel and via the use of CFD (Computational Flow Dynamics).
The F1 Calendar 2021
F1 did an incredible job of fitting 17 races into the 2020 calendar between July and December, chopping and changing as it went along in order to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic worldwide. Old favourites like the Nurburgring and Imola returned, whilst 2 races were held at certain tracks including Silverstone and Sakhir (Bahrain).
This year, F1 is aiming even higher, with a record 23 races on the 2021 calendar, including a return to Zandvoort for the first time since 1985, and a first visit to the Jeddah street circuit in Saudi Arabia (amongst much controversy over the country’s violation of human rights).
Don’t expect the calendar to stay exactly as it is – the pandemic will inevitably cause issues at some point, somewhere. But F1 is well prepared and is hopeful that fans will be able to attend the majority of races across the year.
The Teams and Drivers
Seven of the ten teams have changed at least one of their drivers this year, leaving us with one of the most highly anticipated grids in recent memory.
Mercedes and Red Bull
Lewis Hamilton returns with Mercedes seeking a record 8th world title, once again partnered by the Finn Valtteri Bottas. Max Verstappen will be hoping to challenge Hamilton in the Red Bull, and is joined by Sergio Perez for his first year with a team capable of winning races on a regular basis.
Mercedes and Red Bull are highly likely to occupy the top two spots in the constructor’s championship, but the midfield is anyone’s guess. McLaren looks strong and will hope to consolidate last year’s third-place finish, with the promising Lando Norris joined by new recruit and proven race winner Daniel Ricciardo.
Aston Martin and Ferarri
Aston Martin returns to the sport for the first time in 60 years, with Lance Stroll – son of team owner Lawrence – joined by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on the back of a torrid season with Ferrari.
Ferrari themselves will be hoping for much better than their abysmal 2020 and have an improved engine that should aid their hopes. Charles Leclerc is one of the quickest drivers around, and new team-mate Carlos Sainz is certainly no slouch.
Renault and Alpha Tauri
Renault have rebranded as Alpine – a sub-brand of the French automobile giant – and retain Esteban Ocon for a second season. The return of double world champion Fernando Alonso has been highly anticipated after two years away from F1, and at 39 there are doubts as to whether he will still have the raw speed that make him one of the greatest drivers of the 21st century so far.
Alpha Tauri managed to sneak a shock win with Pierre Gasly last season and may spring more regular surprises this year, with an upgraded Honda engine and the highly regarded Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda. Don’t be surprised if they jump to the front of the midfield.
The Rest of the field
The three teams that finished 8th-10th in last years’ championship were well off the pace of the other teams, forming their own unofficial ‘Class C’.
Alfa Romeo will hope to edge into a midfield after a promising pre-season and keeping the same driver line-up in Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovanazzi, whilst Haas have already committed to writing off 2021 and not developing their car at all in order to focus solely on 2022 – leaving the controversial Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher (son of Michael) with a very difficult first season in F1.
Williams will be hoping to score points having failed to do so in 2021. George Russell enters the final year of his contract hoping to secure a seat at Mercedes for 2022, whilst Nicholas Latifi will aim to build on his relatively unimpressive 2020 season.
Final Thoughts on the Formula 1 2021 Season
The prospect of a fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the world title is mouth-watering, and pre-season testing suggests that Mercedes may finally have a battle on their hands to take another world championship. The midfield battle will be enthralling with an abundance of top-class talent in cars that won’t justify their ability.
Teams will also face the dilemma of developing their car throughout 2021 or switching focus to 2022 – in which there are hugely significant regulatory changes that may set the pecking order for years to come. Get it wrong and teams could be languishing at the back for the next 2-3 years.