Formula 1 2021 Season Preview
More than three months after the final race of the 2020 season, Formula 1 is back this weekend. Matthew Henderson takes a look at the season ahead, with drivers new and old returning to the grid.
With pre-season testing for the 2021 season complete, we now have a clearer idea of what to expect from each of the 10 teams in the Formula 1 paddock. It is worth mentioning, however, that the pace of a team in testing is not fully representative of their pace in the season ahead. For example, Mercedes have won the last six world championships but were only fastest in testing ahead of just two of those seasons, with Ferrari usually selling dreams with their testing pace. With that said though, testing does give us an idea of how stable and/or reliable a particular car is out on track.
The clear winner of 2021 testing was, by far, Red Bull. Coming off the back of the 2020 season, where they finished second, the RB16b is looking a lot more stable and predictable than its predecessor, the RB16. Throughout the 2020 season, the team struggled with rear-end stability with a car that, at times, was quicker than the Mercedes. This year’s car appears to have taken that raw pace from last year and made the car easier to drive. Both drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, seemed to be comfortable in the car that many feel can finally topple Mercedes.
Speaking of Mercedes, testing did not go as well for the German team. The car seemed to have a lot of the same troubles as Red Bull in 2020, with the rear of the car being unstable and difficult to control. Lewis Hamilton struggled with this instability, putting his Mercedes in the gravel on the second day of the test. The team also suffered from gearbox issues, meaning that the team had significantly less time for testing in an already shorter testing period. The team did bounce back on the second day despite the spin from Hamilton, but still fell short of the number of laps they would have hoped to complete.
Moving on to more Mercedes news, the iconic partnership of McLaren and Mercedes engines has returned, with the former switching engine suppliers for 2021. Both existing driver Lando Norris – who is about to start his 3rd F1 season – and new driver Daniel Ricciardo looked to be very comfortable in the MCL35M. Ricciardo has been in F1 for around 10 years, having made the move from Red Bull to Renault for 2019 and then to McLaren for 2021. McLaren finished 3rd in the Constructor’s Championship in 2020 and with two highly talented drivers, and the Mercedes engines, the future is bright – a lot like their striking orange and blue paintjob.
Formula 1 rookie, Yuki Tsunoda, has shown what he is made of in Bahrain, with the Japanese driver often trading fastest laps with Verstappen. The young driver has turned heads with his impressive jump from Japanese F4 to Formula One in just three years. This will be his first season in the top level of motorsport, joining Pierre Gasly at Alpha Tauri. The Frenchman has really come into his own ever since being swapped for Alex Albon by Red Bull, winning his first Grand Prix in Monza last year. With Gasly looking to build on his previous success, and Tsunoda looking to hit the ground running, Alpha Tauri are set to be a good watch this season.
Aston Martin (previously Racing Point) were another team to struggle during testing. They ranked second-lowest in terms of overall miles driven, citing gearbox and turbo issues as the main reasons for their lacklustre testing performance. This doesn’t bode well for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who joined the team from Ferrari. Despite his experience and pedigree, like any new driver, he needs time to get used to a different car and considering his massively underwhelming 2020 season, this hasn’t been an ideal start for the German.
A number of different new rules and regulations have been introduced by the FIA for the upcoming season. However, results from testing indicate that despite a new regulation that limits downforce, the pace of the cars seemed to be on par with that of last year.
Furthermore, with the rules surrounding the floor design of the cars being altered, various teams have taken several different approaches make the necessary adjustments. Both Mercedes and Red Bull, for example, have gone to great lengths to hide their new designs from prying eyes during their respective car launch events, with their designs in a bid to combat some of the new regulations.
Finally, Fernando Alonso made his return to F1 with Alpine (formerly Renault) after a two-year absence from the sport. His good performance in testing came despite suffering a fractured jaw just a few weeks before. Alonso won the 2006 and 2007 World Championship titles with Renault and many of the same people are still in the rebranded Alpine team. It only took him a matter of hours to show that he had not lost his talent during his time away.
Could this be the year Red Bull finally beat Mercedes? Testing has certainly given a lot of fans the belief that the status quo will be disrupted. However, many fans feel that a team as skilled as Mercedes will still pull through to win the Constructors’ Championship for the 7th year in a row, with Lewis Hamilton tipped to make history as the first ever eight-time champion come the season’s end.