11:43 AM ET.
- Lawrence Edmondson
– At ESPN since 2009
– F1 journalist accredited by the FIA since 2011
- Nate Sanders.
F1 Deputy Editor
– He has previously worked in rugby and British Superbikes.
– Studied history at the University of Reading
– Member of ESPNF1 in February 2014
The Formula One season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix on the 28th. March.
Although little has changed on the outside, with Covid delaying major aerodynamic changes from this year until 2022, the stakes are high this season. On the one hand, preseason testing pointed to the next fight for the current title.
Every team has something important this year. In the order of last year’s championship, we will discuss the most pressing issues each team faces before embarking on a new campaign.
Preventing the end of the era
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes showed rare signs of weakness during pre-season testing. Clive Mason/Getty Images
Mercedes’ dominance in Formula 1 is starting to be threatened. We’re not talking about the team’s lack of performance during pre-season testing – although that didn’t help – we’re talking about what’s to come after 2021 and how certain aspects of the team’s performance seem committed.
Firstly, Lewis Hamilton’s decision to limit his final contract to one year earlier this year was a big surprise. A two-year deal was expected, and while there were factors that precipitated the negotiations, such as the COVID pandemic and a late meeting with team president Toto Wolfe before winning the championship, there seems to be more to it than that.
If Hamilton decides to leave at the end of the year, Mercedes will lose a key element of its period of F1 dominance and its most valuable marketing asset. That’s not to say that a team can’t win titles without him, but those periods of dominance in the sport are almost always tied to the driver – think McLaren’s Ayrton Senna, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel – and when things start to fall apart, the driver often leaves shortly after or shortly before.
Wolff has agreed to stay with the team for another three years, but under a restructured ownership model that will see the company split into three parts: Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, the chemicals giant Ineos and Wolff itself. Mercedes has made it clear that it will remain involved in F1, but the reduction in its share and the team’s desire to make a profit rather than be a cost centre means a change of mindset from Germany.
In addition, new technical and financial rules have been established for 2022 to prevent one team from dominating the sport. But add to that an apparently less competitive car in 2021 and doubts over the future of their star driver, and the world champions face their biggest challenge yet for not focusing their resources on a final victory.
Battle of the Mercedes cars for 23 races
Red Bull set the fastest time during the test and seems to be the favourite for the first race in Bahrain. Joe Portlock – Formula One with Getty Images
It’s one thing to build the fastest race car on the grid, it’s another to win a championship with it. Just ask Ferrari about the experience of 2018 and how far away the driver and constructor titles were at the end of the season.
From the test results, it looks like Red Bull can keep up with Mercedes this year, which is a year earlier than most expected. Even if Mercedes recover from the poor testing (which they almost certainly will), Red Bull has made a big step forward over the winter and looks set to challenge the world champions for victory.
If so, that would shake up Red Bull’s usual racing tactics. Last year the team regularly gambled with the strategy, knowing it was probably their only chance to beat Mercedes (and knowing the rest of the field, the gamble has had little effect so far). But when you’re being hounded as a team, you have to change your mentality and play with percentages.
In Max Verstappen, Red Bull undoubtedly have a driver who can get the most out of the car, but we have yet to see him under any pressure in a championship battle. If he does enter a title fight this year, it will likely be against the man who has won the title seven times. Verstappen will have to keep a cool head at the critical moments.
That’s not to say Red Bull aren’t ready to win the title, but against rivals like Mercedes they can’t afford to make a mistake.
Championship of Life in Ricciardo, Rule
Daniel Ricciardo hopes to bring McLaren up to the level of Mercedes. Dan Eastinet – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images.
Daniel Ricciardo has joined McLaren in a bid to win the world championship. Given the team’s recent history, it may seem like a tall order, but a rule change is on the horizon and the team has had success with Mercedes this season, so there are plenty of reasons to be positive.
Team boss Andreas Seidl has been a revelation since taking over the day-to-day management and has seen a clear upward trend in recent seasons. The arrival of Ricciardo confirmed this progress – the Australian driver felt out of place at McLaren when he was offered a contract two years earlier.
Ricciardo is also the ideal man to continue on this path. Since his breakthrough season in 2014, he has built a reputation as a top driver and has made a habit of posting big results when they present themselves. These features will be offered by McLaren this year.
This will also be a great year for Lando Norris. While it remains to be seen how good his former teammate Carlos Sainz was, Norris now has a benchmark with numerous race wins and a real World Cup pedigree to show for it. It could go either way for Norris – exposing his flaws or highlighting his talent – but it would leave McLaren in no doubt that his potential could be crucial for the 2022 season.
lives up to thehype.
Sebastian Vettel and Aston Martin could form an iconic duo in F1. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Team owner Lawrence Stroll has invested heavily in the team, which was previously known as Racing Point. He has recruited four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel – teammate of son Lawrence Lance – to breathe new life into one of the world’s most iconic car brands.
March has not let up on the team’s high expectations. Until now, the Silverstone team has been a small team that could, but Stroll wants to make it a real contender for the championship. It won’t happen in 2021, but the team’s performance will be scrutinized from the first race.
Last year’s Racing Point car, nicknamed pink Mercedes, was controversial, but Sergio Perez ended the pre-Astonian era by winning the Sahir Grand Prix. The magnitude of the success for the team may have gone unnoticed given the excitement surrounding Perez’s first Formula One win, but it was a great moment.
With the arrival of Vettel and the refocusing on big budgets, there is no longer any excuse for not continuing this upward trend. It’s unlikely they’ll win in 2021, but in 2022 they should at least establish themselves as the best team in the mid-table, which is a prime opportunity to pad the coffers.
Keeping Alonso’s hopes in check
Fernando Alonso is back in F1 for 2021. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
During the winter, major changes took place in the Alps, in addition to a new name and a new color scheme.
The most obvious is the departure of Daniel Ricciardo and the arrival of Fernando Alonso, but the management structure has also been rearranged with the departure of former team boss Cyril Abiteboul.
The management team will now be led by Alpine’s new CEO, Laurent Rossi, although he will not play a significant role in the team’s day-to-day operations. That responsibility falls to the highly skilled engineer Marcin Budkowski, who came to Renault from the FIA in 2018 and has played a key role in the progress made in recent years.
Former Suzuki MotoGP boss David Brivio has also joined Alpine as race director, but his role will be closer to the track, while Budkowski will oversee full team management and represent Alpine at the top of F1.
But with F1’s most demanding driver on the team, the new management structure won’t have much time to sleep in bed. Alonso is not only known for his natural speed and talent, but also for his high standards. At his last two teams, McLaren and Ferrari, the lack of results has affected the relationship between driver and team, and neither partnership has been as successful as expected.
In an ideal world Alpine would produce a car that matched Alonso’s talent, but the reality is likely to be slow progress over the next few years and there may be little movement on the grid this year. It will be very interesting to see how he does.
Concentration until 2022
Ferrari want to get away from a windless 2020 season. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images
A second year at the bottom would be unthinkable for Ferrari, but what would be worse would be the missed opportunity to make up for it with next year’s rule changes.
Since it won’t be introduced until 2021, it’s unlikely that Ferrari will compete for the title this year, but the building blocks should be in place by 2022. The team announced that last year, but those statements were made before Louis Camilleri stepped down as general manager.
Camilleri was a staunch supporter of team boss Mattia Binotto, who now looks more vulnerable without him and could become so if results continue to fall in 2021. But it is important for Ferrari to focus on the next step in 2022, when it will not be unrealistic to talk about championship challenges again.
A key to success in 2021 and 2022 will be the rediscovery of engine features that were missing in 2020. The good news from the tests is that the step seems to have been taken and the car no longer lacks directional speed.
There’s still a lot of work to do to get Ferrari back on track, but it looks like F1’s most famous team is on the right track.
Leave the Shadow of the Red Bull
AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda with the 2021 team car. AlphaTauri
This has long been a topic for AlphaTauri, but it seems more relevant than ever. Pierre Gasly’s victory at the Italian Grand Prix last year was one of the highlights of the 2020 Formula One season. Although it was based on a set of circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated too often, it showed that Faenza’s squad is capable of standing on its own two feet.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri often defend themselves against the label B-team when it comes up. Red Bull boss Christian Horner was quick to point out after Gasly’s win last year that AlphaTauri is a sister team, but it’s hard to ignore the huge difference in performance between the two, or Red Bull’s habit of using another team to develop young drivers.
One of those young riders is rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who is getting a lot of attention for his rapid rise in the junior ranks. He and Gasly are a great duo, and with AlphaTauri a strong contender in midfield this year, there’s the tantalising prospect of more podium finishes in 2021. Such results would still be great for AlphaTauri, but it would also strengthen the argument that they are no longer just a junior team to the former world champions.
What’s next for Sauber?
Joe Portlock/Getty Images
If you ignore the team’s red and white livery and hospitality logo, you’ll still find the Sauber name underneath, not Alfa Romeo. That’s because Alfa Romeo’s return to F1 in 2018 was just a branding exercise, and the team that first entered F1 in 1993 under then-team boss Peter Sauber still exists and runs the race team from its base in Switzerland.
Sauber has been owned by Swiss investment company Longbow Finance since 2016, which helped the team get back on its feet before Alfa Romeo’s deal with former FIAT Chrysler Automobiles boss Sergio Marchionne. This contract is up for renewal at the end of the year and it is not clear if the Italian brand, currently part of the Stellantis car group, wants to continue it.
The loss of such a key partner would raise serious questions about Sauber’s future, but as F1 moves towards a more sustainable franchise model for its team owners, Longbow is still in a strong position. The upcoming budget cap means that F1 spending will be reduced in the coming years. If the team can get off to a good start under the 2022 rules, it will be attractive to a new title sponsor or, if Longbow decides to leave F1, a new buyer.
Still, the 2021 schedule will be crucial for one of F1’s most likely midfield teams.
Walking on water with two promises
Mick Schumacher will drive alongside rookie Nikita Mazepin at Haas this season. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Haas have been at the back of the standings all year, but that was to be expected this season. On paper, the outlook for 2021 is pretty bleak.
The team came to pre-season testing without a major upgrade to the car this year. From what we saw over the three days in Bahrain, Haas has clearly slipped behind Williams in terms of order.
But it is important to look at the bigger picture with Haas, as 2021 will be an important transition year for the team. After years of stability with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, the team starts the year with the rookie duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. The latter benefits from the financial support of his father Dmitry’s company, Uralkali.
The arrival of this sponsor probably played a major role in the decision of team owner Gene Haas to stay involved in Formula 1 after this season. Formula 1 is starting to look like the championship Haas has always wanted to compete in.
The new budget cap won’t completely level the playing field, but in theory it will make it much easier for a small team like Haas to compete with teams that spend a lot of money at the top of the grid. With 2021 drawing to a close, Haas has given itself enough time to focus on building a competitive car in time for the aerodynamic rule changes scheduled for next season.
The beginning of a strong new era
This year marks the beginning of a new era in Williams history. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Same name, new owner and a new era. The Williams family is gone; Dorilton Capital controls the team in its first full year since taking over last year.
The new owners have already made their mark. The new livery caused quite a stir as the season approached, but the changes go far beyond aesthetics. Jost Capito has been appointed team boss and brings with him a nice pedigree, having overseen several World Rally Championship titles for Ford and Volkswagen.
Capito’s name may seem familiar to you, as Ron Dennis briefly appointed him as McLaren’s F1 chief in 2016. The departure of Dennis and the arrival of Zach Brown led to Capito leaving the team later this year, but now he has a second chance to show why he finished so high.
Dorilton’s recovery continued in the lead up to the race. François-Xavier Demaison, known as FX, joined him this month as Volkswagen’s technical director.
With all these changes, drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi remain. While Latifi is only there for the money he brings in, Russell is one of the most exciting young talents on the gridiron and is determined to score for Williams in 2020 after a number of narrow defeats. All the ingredients for a better season are in place.
frequently asked questions
Which team will Vettel drive for in 2021?
Formula One drivers in 2021: List of confirmed teams for next season – Engine …
Which F1 team is the most successful?
Ferrari – 16 constructor titles, 15 driver titles Ferrari is arguably the most successful Formula One team in history and will be the first to celebrate its 1000th race at the 2020 Tuscany Grand Prix.
Will Mick Schumacher race in Formula 1 in 2021?
Mick Schumacher joins Formula 1 for 2021, and Haas confirms that German partner Nikita Mazepin will race in a new outfit. The long-awaited announcement means Schumacher’s name will return to F1 after a nine-year absence.
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