This Formula One season was meant to be a dull one. The regulations changes are small, which means the cars are basically very similar to the ones that raced last year. It would be easy therefore to think there would be a status quo in proceedings. However, fresh off the back of F1 testing (a very stripped-down event to seasons gone by with just three days in Bahrain, not the six days we have become used to), it is clear to see the year ahead is looking as exciting as a season has looked for quite some time. Read on to inform your 2021 F1 season predictions.
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I don’t expect the team to be languishing at the back this year – in fact, British young gun George Russell could well get into the top 10 at races that suit the car. It would be an unlikely event for either him or teammate Nicolas Latifi to get to a podium finish, but we are expecting a much-improved performance this season and for them to legitimately be in the midfield and not holding up the rear.
That honour is likely to go to Haas. The American team has had significant investment from Russia and has two rookie F1 drivers taking to the track. This is something that is usually avoided in motorsport – it’s preferable to have one driver who can lead the team with experience and feedback, and another who is young and hungry who can learn lots and be trained for the future.
Team owner Gene Haas has gone in a different direction. There is much excitement about Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, who joins the team fresh off the back of winning the junior category of Formula 2 and will look to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he might have to wait until next season when the car will be an all-new challenger and the tables of F1 will be reset with a huge rule change.
2021 F1 favourite: Who has the fastest car?Let’s turn our attention to the front of the field. Mercedes have dominated for the last seven seasons, winning the Constructor’s Title and the Driver’s Championship every year since hybrid engines came into F1 in 2014. Is there any change expected here? Honestly, despite their compromised running at testing which saw them lose time to a gearbox fault and then struggle with out and out pace, most believe that it’s still Mercedes’ title to lose.
The surprise of the season could well be the sister team of Red Bull – Alpha Tauri.
Having said that, the Red Bull car driven by Max Verstappen and his new Mexican teammate Sergio Perez looks impressive. Yes, I have said that before and then the campaign of the Milton Keynes-based team falters and we are all left thinking what might have been with the odd race win here and there (with Max’s brilliance meaning more often than not they are on the podium) - but this year could really be different.
The team’s Honda engines look robust with few reliability issues in testing. The new driver pairing also looks refreshing, and with two drivers able to compete for big points every race there is a chance (slim though it may be) that Red Bull could really push Mercedes for the title this year. Can anyone beat Lewis Hamilton to a record-breaking eighth title? I think it’s unlikely given his form and the car he pilots but this could be the year he is pushed the hardest, both by his teammate Valtteri Bottas and by Max and Sergio too.
The middle of the packAway from the top two, the battle to be the best of the rest is going to be fascinating and I think it will swing like a pendulum all season. We saw the race for third place go down to the wire last year with McLaren, Racing Point, and Renault all jostling for position until the last race in Abu Dhabi in December. The chance to get third spot, and with it more money from the prize pot, was only really possible because of the poor performance of Ferrari.
Will they be able to bring more to the table this season? Their fans, the Tifosi, will certainly be hoping so. There are signs of a better power unit, one of the reasons they were so poor in 2020 but for them to come back and challenge will be hard going. They also have a new driver, Carlos Sainz, who is moving from McLaren to the Italian marque. Let’s hope he can bring some impetus to the team and along with Charles Leclerc bring home some serious points, and maybe we’ll see both drivers on the podium from time to time.
British young gun George Russell could well get into the top 10 at races that suit the car.
McLaren look strong. They brought an innovative diffuser design to testing which many of the other teams were having a good look at. They have young Brit Lando Norris, a fans’ favourite and someone I expect to see back on the podium this season. They have Daniel Ricciardo joining the team and the Australian will be gunning for more success and more ‘Shoeys’ (the celebration he does when he wins a race).
Many have criticised me for backing McLaren so strongly, but this season sees them partner with Mercedes for their power unit and with the team structure, the drivers, and the technical collaboration with Mercedes, while they will be hard pressed to beat the ‘works team’, they will be able to challenge them, put pressure on them, and from time to time, win.
Renault (Ricciardo’s old team) have had a name change and come to 2021 as Alpine. Gone is the yellow and black of last season and in comes a new blue car with a wide airbox that looks a little like the Ligier of yesteryear. Also back is Fernando Alonso. After a two-year break from F1 he returns and is keen to challenge for a title again. He always said he had unfinished business and wanted more than just his two World Championships, but whether the team can give him a car to win again in is another matter.
A management shake-up sees old team boss Cyril Abiteboul leave and a whole host of men seem to now be leading the good ship Alpine. Hopefully, for Alonso, the team dynamics will work and he will get a chance to be back on the podium in F1 – a race win would take something exceptional but don’t discount the French team. Motorsport can be a funny old game sometimes and a freak race would leave Alonso and teammate Esteban Ocon with a chance to win the odd race here and there.
The best of the rest: Aston Martin return to F1There’s another big name coming to F1 this season – Aston Martin. After a break of 61 years the cars made famous through James Bond are coming back to the sport with a bang. The British Racing Green car will take the place of Racing Point – led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll.
The team’s drivers are his son Lance and a certain four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel. It will be fascinating to see if Vettel can regain some form. He looked uncomfortable and unconfident in the Ferrari but with a Mercedes-powered car beneath him can he get back to winning ways? Many think the Aston Martin will be the best of the rest. Let’s see, but their PR machine is certainly pulling no punches with the glitziest launch of the pre-season.
Kimi Raikkonen completes the older names having another season in the sun – he competes alongside the only Italian driver in the field, Antonio Giovinazzi. The pair pummelled the track at testing, doing a vast number of laps in their Alfa Romeo car. Having seen their form, there is hope that they will have improved this season, so expect them to be dicing with the lower end of the midfield with points on the table every now and then.
Could Alpha Tauri be the surprise package?The surprise of the season could well be the sister team of Red Bull – Alpha Tauri. Last year’s shock of the season was Pierre Gasly winning the race in Monza. It was an emotional affair and while many thought that was enough to see him win promotion back to Red Bull, team management had other ideas. Pierre will start the season in confident fashion, and he has a rookie alongside him, in the shape of Japanese youngster Yuki Tsunoda.
Yuki might only be 5ft 2, but his talent seems to know no limits. He arguably should have won the F2 Championship last year but for some unreliability and difficult weekends, but as a rookie he shone. Now, in testing he set the fastest time of anyone and the hype train is definitely loaded and ready to leave the station.
Could the Italian-based team throw a spanner in the works and challenge the big boys? They were one of the only teams to do a full qualifying simulation and run the car at full tilt with almost no fuel in but my word, they looked impressive and it would be nice to see the underdog on the podium from time to time.