Only three F1 teams have retained the same driver line-up from 2020. Mercedes, Alfa Romeo and Williams. We have three rookies for 2021 namely Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri), Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher (both HAAS). We have Mclaren changing PU supplier from Renault to Mercedes. We have Renault changing their name to Alpine and we see a return to F1 racing for Aston Martin after 61 years.
Daniel Ricciardo moves from Renault to Mclaren
Sebastian Vettel moves from Ferrari to Aston Martin
Fernando Alonso returns to Alpine
We have lost Albon, Grosjean and Magnussen. Albon to DTM and both ex-HAAS drivers are plying their trade stateside.
All things being equal, we should have 23 F1 races in 2021. I do not expect that we will achieve this number. I’m not being pessimistic but rather realistic. With Covid-19 still very much around, unless vaccine roll outs are improved significantly, I suspect that a few races might get the chop. I do hope that I am wrong.
Rule Changes for 2021
We should remember that 2021 was supposed to be the major rules change in F1 but due to Covid, this has been pushed out until 2022. The FIA and F1 have scrambled to implement some new regulations for 2021 to try and improve the spectacle of F1. I find F1 always spectacular but the Mercedes domination is getting rather tedious and boring. We need some spice and by that I mean closer racing and teams with equal power delivery. As George Orwell said “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”
There are some significant rules changes for this year which should make the cars slower than 2020. I know what you are thinking, “but we want them quicker etc etc” Just btw, Pirelli recorded the highest ever turn in and exit speed coupled with G-force at Silverstone in 2020. These cars are incredibly quick, and we do not see the full perspective from our couches at home.
Here is a little anecdote about a friend of a friend who went to Abu Dhabi a few years back. He had watched F1 on TV in the past, but this was his first F1 live race. He was sitting at the end of the main straight and when he saw the cars coming at him, he got such a fright that he jumped away as he could not believe that the car would be able to stop in time to make the corner. He said he was astonished at the speed and braking of F1 cars. They are very very quick.
In a nutshell there is a graphic below to explain the Regulation Changes for 2021. The cars will be heavier, the tyres slower, the aero cut dramatically and there is the introduction of the budget cap. In theory this is all great news but F1 engineers are brilliant at working out ways to negate these rules legally. Although I do not expect huge development in 2021 from any team due to the 2022 regulations, I do anticipate that the 2020 cars will get significantly quicker as the season progresses.
2021 F1 Car Launches
We no longer have the flamboyant car launches of the 1990’s and 2000’s, rather we have dull car livery reveals. Besides 007’s Daniel Craig gracing our screens, the reveals have been awful and at times amateurish (Williams)
Here are the nine cars that have been shown to us thus far. Only Ferrari have yet to show us their livery. Only Mercedes showed us some significant changes to their car, the rest were rather secretive with HAAS just changing their livery to the Russian Flag colours and Red Bull not showing anything at all.
Most teams have opted to use their tokens for the season to re0desing the front wing and nose of their cars in lieu of the 2021 regulations. The floor has to be re-designed on all cars but these are rather difficult to see from the pictures so far. Mercedes again seems to be miles ahead of the rest.
Ferrari on the Podium
Before the Ferrari fans get too excited, let me explain. For many years Champagne has been the preferred drink to be sprayed on F1 podiums but in 2021 we see Ferrari Trento taking up that position. They replace Carbon as the preferred supplier.
Sprint Races – Super Qualifying
The current plan is to trial a “sprint” race at the Canadian, British and Italian GP’s during 2021. Is this a good idea? It is the lesser of the two evils and the second being reverse grids. This is F1 for goodness sake. We don’t need gimmicks.
What do I think about sprint races? Will this attract more viewers as opposed to qualifying?
I do agree with the decision to reduce Free Practise on a Friday from 90 minutes to 60 minutes. I am sceptical about Friday qualifying and a sprint-race on Saturday for the following reasons.
· F1 is about one race – Sunday
· Will the “sprint” race dilute the meaning of the main race?
· The teams are restricted in terms of PU for a season. This means more stress on the engines and perhaps more reliability issues. Will the FIA allow more engines?
· What if there is a big crash and many cars need to be re-built before the Sunday race? Will the teams be allowed to change parts without incurring penalties?
· What happens to parc ferme conditions?
· What if a team realises that they have gone for a wrong set-up, will they just retire a car and explain that they need to work on it?
I would like to know a lot more about these “sprint” races before I am convinced by its merits. At this stage I have too many questions that have yet to answered or perhaps even considered.
Teams and Drivers for 2021
Without a doubt the stand-out team since the introduction of the Hybrid-era of F1. This team is so professional and so focussed that in 2021 it will be difficult to beat them again. I know it might seem boring but they have managed to keep everyone motivated and hungry and that is a testament to how well this team is run. With Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas as their two pilots, they have consistency and a 7 time World Champion. Although Bottas and Hamilton only have one year contracts, don’t let this fool you into believing that either of them are ready to exit the sport. Can Bottas challenge Lewis? Unlikely but on his day Bottas is as quick as anyone. He needs consistency and perhaps a lot of luck.
The Pearl Harbour moment of 2020 was when Honda announced that there were withdrawing from F1 at the end of 2021. This left RedBull in a serious predicament. They had an acrimonious split with Renault a few years earlier and there was no way they were going to ask Ferrari or Mercedes for engines going forward. A deal was struck and RedBull now will continue with Honda Power Units for the foreseeable future after securing the IP from Honda. They have also managed to convince all the teams to agree to an engine freeze on development from 2022 until the end of 2024. That is another topic to be discussed in another article soon. By all accounts, Honda are going full tilt in 2021 and are supposedly providing RedBull with a 2022 spec engine.
Sergio Perez moves from Aston Martin to partner Max Verstappen at RedBull this year. Just as Bottas at Mercedes, Perez has the unenviable task of partnering one of the great drivers in F1. Perez, unlike Gasly and Albon comes with great experience and is not easily intimidated. I rate Max Verstappen as one of the quickest, exciting and greatest drivers I have seen in F1. It is up to RedBull to provide Max with the right tools in order to take the fight to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes.
Besides the most jovial pairing in F1, Mclaren mean business and their improvement after the past few seasons shows what this team is all about. Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo have to step up this season and there should be no reason why podiums become regular for this team. One BIG caveat though: Mclaren change engine supplier and there are usually teething problems. I do hope that they are few and get sorted quickly. With Zak Brown at the helm and the likes of Andreas Seidl, Andrea Stella and James Key, this team has all the makings of being at the top again.
Ricciardo is quick enough to be a world champion. This could be his last chance and he needs to make the most of it.
Welcome back to F1 Aston Martin. 61 years is a long time. I have been so impressed with the way Lawrence Stroll has embraced this new business of his. Stroll does have a passion for cars and has flirted with F1 in the past through Tommy Hilfiger and other brands as well. He is the right person to lead Aston Martin both in the F1 world and with their road car business. Had there not been the budget cap implementation this deal would not have happened.
Stroll has also thrown a bone to Sebastian Vettel. I am a massive Vettel fan and his last two years at Ferrari really saddened me. Vettel could not get to grips with the car and it made him look like an average driver. He is not average, and Aston Martin might be the car to elevate his confidence again. Lance Stroll gets a lot of flack from the press like Latifi and Mazepin because of the dad’s money. Most racing rivers come from money, whether it be sponsors or family. There is no difference. Stroll can match any driver on his day. He needs to improve his single lap pace and he will be fighting hard this year.
New name, new colours, new team boss and the return of Fernando Alonso. What a treat for us. I was surprised to see Cyril Abiteboul get the bullet as I think he was doing a good job at Renault. He was a tough negotiator and didn’t suffer fools easily. His replacement is the highly rated Suzuki MotoGP boss Davide Brivio. Brivio knows how to get people to work together and perhaps that was Cyril’s downfall.
There is a lot expected from Alpine this season. They will not be supplying any other teams with engines which has its pros and cons but their focus has to be to provide Alonso and Ocon with a car that can challenge the top teams. When the Alpine car rolled out of the garage a few days ago at Silverstone I was very impressed with the way it sounded. Does that mean anything? I doubt it but I really believe that this will be a strong season for them.
2020 was an annus horribilis for the Scuderia. Whatever punishment was dished out to the team for their 2019 indiscretions, 2020 surely upheld those decisions. It was desperate to watch and rather sad to see Ferrari battle so badly. I applaud the team for trying to keep their morale up but I believe they knew from the beginning of 2020 that they were going to suffer. Le Clerc lucked in with a podium in the first race of the season but for the rest, the stats will show that 2020 was the worst year in 40 years for Ferrari. Even worse than those awful days of Berger and Alesi. Wow.
2021 sees two young guns in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as their drivers. These two guys are very committed and exciting to watch. If we are to believe that Ferrari have found a lot of their power that they lost in 2020, then we should see Ferrari back in the top 3 or 4 this year.
What a year 2020 was for this team and especially Pierre Gasly. After a very tough 2019 at RedBull where he got demoted, the way this young man bounced back and raced in 2020 was just wonderful to watch. His name is on other team’s radar besides the RedBull organisation. His teammate in 2020 is one of the rookies and the diminutive Yuki Tsunoda. I predict that Tsunoda will be a star this season and will be the rookie of the year. Also, what a win for Alpha Tauri having the lightest driver in their team. They can adjust ballast around their car at will. Watch this kid.
The same can be said for the HAAS team. If Ferrari provides both of these teams with a much improved PU compared to 2020 then we should see some great mid-field racing between Alfa Romeo, Alpha Tauri, Williams and HAAS. If the Ferrari PU is not a vast improvement, then Alfa Romeo and HAAS will battle it out for the wooden spoon this year. Alfa Romeo keep Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi has got to beat Kimi if he was a significant future in F1. Kimi showed in 2020 that he is as quick as anybody if he has the right machinery. When it comes to his skill and reflexes just go back and watch the Portuguese F1 race of 2020.
There is something brewing between Ferrari and HAAS. A special area at Ferrari allocated to the US Team. Loads of Ferrari personnel moving over to HAAS. And yet I ask myself, why not Alfa Romeo? Perhaps the shareholders at Sauber do not want to be owned by Ferrari? HAAS have admitted that there will be no development on the 2021 car. This car is basically the 2020 car with slight modification in terms of the regulations and that’s it !!! With two rookie drivers and no development, welcome to F1 for Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Enjoy racing for 19th and 20th. Ouch! Mick Schumacher has shown great racing craft but single lap pace is his Achilles. For Mazepin, at this stage, the less I say the better.
A new era at williams from 2020. No Williams family member involved and ex head of VW Motorsport, Jost Capito takes charge. Budget cap or no budget cap, Capito has an Everest to climb and I wish him well, but I do believe Williams need some backers who are motorsport people and not venture capitalists. That’s my opinion but I am still very grateful that someone (Dorilton Capital)
With one of the most exciting drivers in F1 in the team, Williams has little hope in retaining George Russell going forward unless this 2021 car fights in the points regularly. Besides that, if this car is not a vast improvement in 2021, I also think Mr Latifi snr will re-consider his investment in this team. Sad but true. This might seem very harsh but when a driver like Russell comes out and says he is disappointed that Ferrari seem to have found extra power for 2021, this smacks to me that the Williams is not going to be very strong this year.
Ferrari will release their car later this week and testing will commence on Friday 12th March for three days at Bahrain.
What can we expect from testing. With new regulations and teams not wanting to give too much away, I’ll be focussing on the new drivers and see how they perform. I’ll wait for the end of March to find out who is really quick.