Red Eye’s 2021 F1 Season Preview19 Mar
With less than a week to go until the opening round of the 2021 Formula 1 season at the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain, Red Eye Events casts an eye over the stars – and cars – ready to battle it out for the ultimate prize in motor sport.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team
Pre-season testing raised a few question marks over the Silver Arrows’ performance heading into the new season, but they remain the ‘team to beat’ as they look to extend one of the most relentless periods of success in the sport’s history.
Record-equalling seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton is back – for the next 23 races, at least – and is once again partnered by Valtteri Bottas, the Finn no doubt looking to make a statement after finishing over 100 points adrift of his title-winning team-mate last term.
Mercedes have appeared to be on the back foot in testing before, only to deliver a resounding answer in the season-opening race, so only time will tell if the Brackley-based team really are under threat as F1’s top team.
Red Bull Racing Honda
Optimism ahead of the new season has reached an all-time peak at Red Bull, as far as the hybrid era goes.
A strong showing in the three-day pre-season test at Sakhir – host venue for the opening race in Bahrain next weekend – has fuelled talk of a long-awaited title challenge for Max Verstappen.
The Dutch star came within 10 points of deposing Bottas for the runner-up spot in 2020, and Red Bull arguably ended the year with a car capable of taking the fight to Mercedes; whether that form has carried over the winter months is the next real question.
Alongside Verstappen is Sergio Perez, the Mexican now a race winner and back in one of the sport’s top seats for the first time since his McLaren departure at the end of 2013.
The duo make a strong pairing for the Constructors Championship; could this be the season we finally see the reigning champions pushed all the way?
Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow
There’s little escaping the disappointment surrounding Ferarri’s 2020 season, with just three podium finishes – two for Charles Leclerc and one for Sebastian Vettel – to add to the trophy cabinet at Maranello.
But with a new season comes new beginnings, and Leclerc – twice a race-winner in his first season with the legendary Italian marque – now moves into a Team Leader role.
The Monegasque has already marked his card as one of the stars of the future, and new team-mate Carlos Sainz’s stock has only risen over each of the past two seasons with former team McLaren.
For Sainz, the switch to the Prancing Horse could finally bring the rewards his track record to date suggests he is more than capable of, but both drivers will need to work together to restore the red cars to the front of the field.
For the first time since the inaugural year of the hybrid era, McLaren are Mercedes-powered once again, and with a real air of quiet confidence ahead of the season’s start.
The Woking team have successfully weathered a turbulent patch in the sport’s midfield and really started to build some forward momentum over the last two years with the Ferrari-bound Sainz and fan favourite Lando Norris.
Norris enters his third campaign with the team as an established top-ten finisher, already with his first podium finish on his CV.
On the other side of the garage, he now has multiple race-winner Daniel Ricciardo, in a real statement of intent by McLaren to keep both papaya cars at the sharp end of the grid.
If the return of Mercedes power can provide the boost in performance they need, there’s real reason to suggest McLaren will win the midfield battle this year – at least.
Alpine F1 Team
Renault have undergone quite the change over the winter; the name above the door now reads ‘Alpine’, and the French outfit have coaxed two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso back to the grid.
The A521 – arguably the best-looking car on the grid – has already sparked discussion with its unconventional airbox design – but looked solid in winter running in the hands of Alonso and Esteban Ocon.
Alpine has two very capable drivers and the sole attention of Renault’s engine supply now, and could be in the frame for one or two headline results in 2021.
Regardless, it’s great to see Alonso back in F1, isn’t it?
Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team
Aston Martin makes its long-awaited return to the sport in 2021.
The team’s launch was certainly a spectacle to behold, with cameo appearances from James Bond and Tom Hardy, as well as a striking new livery – British ‘racing green’ with pink highlights to reflect a continued association with BWT.
The addition of Sebastian Vettel to the team will make an impact in terms of car development, whilst Lance Stroll provides much-needed continuity and has really put in some headline performances in recent times, not least his maiden pole position in Turkey last year.
If the team can pick up where Racing Point left off at the end of 2020, that will be no bad place at all to start the return’s marque to top-tier single seater racing.
There are real signs that Williams might finally have made some progress back towards the rest of the field in 2021, but by how much remains to be seen.
George Russell will be absolutely vital to that push; his stock has risen even further after his heroic drive on the Sakhir outer loop at the back end of last year, and discussions are already starting to swirl about whether he will finally be rewarded with a Mercedes seat in ’22.
Team-mate Nicholas Latifi is back for a sophomore season; the Canadian put in a number of solid drives in his rookie year, and consistency in their driver line-up will be no bad thing for Williams at all.
The livery is a real call-back to the team’s triumphant past; will the resuls on circuit start to follow suit?
Red Bull’s sister team found a place in the hearts of every F1 fan after Pierre Gasly’s iconic victory at Monza last season.
The AT02 – every bit as eye-catching as it’s predecessor – has looked really solid in winter testing, and in both Gasly and Formula 2 star Yuki Tsunoda, the Honda-powered outfit looks in good shape.
The midfield battle is set to be closer than ever this season, so it’ll be interesting to see if AlphaTauri can establish themselves amongst the big-hitters on a more permanent basis.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen
Twenty years ago, a fresh-faced Finn called Kimi Raikkonen arrived in the F1 paddock from Formula 3 and started to take the sport’s top tier by storm.
Fast forward to the present day and Raikkonen remains one of the grid’s stars, a real fan favourite and more than capable of helping Alfa Romeo boost their fortunes.
Alfa are another team to stick with their 2020 line-up, retaining the services of Antonio Giovanazzi alongside Raikkonen.
Testing offered few clues as to where Alfa Romeo will be in the pecking order this season, but the signs are positive.
Uralkali Haas F1 Team
It’s an all-new rookie line-up for Haas in 2021, as Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher both make the step up from Formula 2 to the big time.
Seeing the Schumacher name back in F1 is big news in itself, but Mick’s performances en route to the 2020 F2 title will fuel excitement amongst the fans that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, ability-wise.
Mazepin was a multiple race-winner in the primary F1 feeder series last season, and both drivers ran consistently through pre-season testing.
Points finishes were few and far between for the US team last year; both Mazepin and Schumacher will be aiming for an immediate upturn in their fortunes this time around.
So, there we have it – 20 drivers, 10 teams and 23 races in prospect. Formula 1 is back.