Another year of high-octane FIA Formula 2 racing will get underway this weekend at the Sakhir International Circuit and 2021 looks set to be the most unpredictable in series history.
New circuits, drivers, and even a new weekend format makes predicting what will happen this season all the more difficult, but I’m going to try anyway.
The New Format
But before we get to that, F2 weekends will seem a whole lot different this year with now three races being contested over Saturday and Sunday.
Friday’s will remain unchanged however with 45 minutes of practice leading into a half hour qualifying session, but that’s where the similarities end.
Saturday’s will now see two sprint races filled with action to partner F1 qualifying. The first race of the weekend will see the top 10 from qualifying reversed while the second Saturday race will see a reversal of the top 10 from race one.
Sunday will host the feature race of the weekend and it will run exactly like previous years, Qualifying will determine the grid order and there will be a mandatory pitstop to change to the alternate tyre.
The extra race means each driver is allocated an extra set of dry tyres for the weekend taking the allocation to six sets (two option and four prime sets).
That new format will happen eight times this year, starting this weekend and ending in December at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
In between now and then the F2 paddock will follow the F1 circus to the streets of Monaco and Baku before traditional rounds at Silverstone, Monza and Sochi.
The penultimate round will take place just a week before the season finale at the brand-new street circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The second longest track on the calendar and walls inches from the track should provide an incredible spectacle of speed for F2 fans around the world.
With all that out the way, it’s time to run down 2021’s teams and drivers set to battle it out over 24 races.
Starting with the reigning champions PREMA who look set for another year fighting at the very front. Ferrari junior driver Robert Shwartzman was highly impressive in his rookie season in 2020 and staying with the Italian team will see the Russian as perhaps the title favourite.
And with FIA Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri joining the team, it will be very tough for anyone to topple the PREMA juggernaut, but I think someone will – more on that soon.
Prediction: Second place
2020 was a fantastic year for UNI-Virtuosi but Callum Ilott leaving the team and the series means Felipe Drugovich has big shoes to fill. The Brazilian stunned many in his rookie season taking multiple wins for MP Motorsport and partnering with Guanyu Zhou, who stays for a third season in F2, forms another strong driver line up.
However, Formula 2 is full of strong driver line ups and I believe 2021 may be slightly less glorious for UNI.
Prediction: Fourth Place
Remember when I said someone will beat PREMA this year? For me, that team is Carlin. While Yuki Tsunoda heads to F1 with AlphaTauri, The British squad still boast one of the field’s fastest driver pairings.
Jehan Daruvala had an up and down 2020 but he found something in the final rounds of the season, taking his first win in the final race and that form should carry over in this season. Alongside him will be Dan Ticktum who has always had speed, if not consistency. This year however could well be Ticktum’s year.
There’s a lot of talk about this team and their duo of Red Bull junior drivers and you can see why. Juri Vips got a handful of F2 races under his belt last year filling in for Sean Gelael at DAMS and he showed glimpses of what he’s capable of with a podium at Mugello, and partner him with Formula 3 race winner Liam Lawson and Hitech have strong pairing.
But for me, it is perhaps too inexperienced and I that might see them slip back from their fourth placed finish last season.
Prediction: Fifth place
In my opinion, ART are this season’s dark horses. No one seems to be talking about them but Christian Lundgaard, who returns for his second season in F2, will be a title contender no doubt and having young French hotshot Théo Pourchaire beside him could see this team push PREMA and Carlin very hard, maybe even beat them.
Prediction: Third place
It’s very difficult to judge how MP will do this year because at the time of writing, they’ve only announced one driver in Lirim Zendeli. The German is a Formula 3 race winner but he was never a title challenger and neither was Richard Verschoor who looks likely to join him having tested in Bahrain earlier this month.
Prediction: Seventh place
Another team who haven’t made headlines with their recruitment over the winter, Charouz have acquired the services of Guilherme Samaia, who was relatively unimpressive for Campos last season, and David Beckmann from Trident in F3 which could be brilliant, but I think it’s more likely to be another midfield year for the Czech team.
Prediction: Eighth place
2020 was undoubtedly a disappointing year for DAMS despite Ticktum taking a race win but with fresh faces behind the wheel brings fresh impetus for the French team.
Marcus Armstrong has plenty of talent but he struggled to prove it for ART last season so he needs to have a much more competitive year if he has any chance of making it to F1 with the Ferrari academy. With Roy Nissany as his teammate, DAMS look set to have a slightly better 2021.
Prediction: Sixth place
2021 will be a tough year for the Spanish team with the loss of their founder Adrian Campos but the great man got his final wish with Gianluca Petecof jumping up from Formula Regional to make his F2 debut in Bahrain but there’s question marks as to whether the teenager can afford a full season.
Ralph Boschung meanwhile will be his teammate having been the first driver announced and his return to F2 will be tough given Campos’ struggles in 2020.
Prediction: Tenth place
There’s no escaping the fact that HWA’s drivers were a shock to see when the announcement came and I anticipate a very difficult year for them.
Matteo Nannini did show speed in patches in F3 last season but probably isn’t ready for Formula 2 just yet while Alessio Deledda was consistently the slowest driver in F3 in 2020 so I expect he’ll be some way off the pace all year, but he brings budget which HWA need to keep competing.
Prediction: Eleventh place
The final team to take the grid in 2021 will be Trident who look set for a much more fruitful year than last.
Marino Sato wasn’t as quick as they had hoped last year but testing showed signs of improvement and they may have been right to stand by the Japanese racer.
Bent Viscaal is signed up to start the season for the Italians but he isn’t as yet confirmed for the whole season with budget again being a question. But if he can race most of the year, I see improvements coming for Trident.
Prediction: Ninth place
It should be a year where we can’t say who until late on in the year and there’s plenty of names in the hat for potential title contenders.
You automatically look to the top five teams and you can make a case for any of those ten drivers. Shwartzman starts the favourite after his stellar 2020; Lundgaard and Zhou both had underwhelming 2020’s and will be looking for redemption. Piastri and Pourchaire will be hoping to make an immediate impact after their F3 graduation.
But I’m going for DAN TICKTUM as the 2021 FIA Formula 2 Drivers’ Champion. I believe he will just have enough to pip Shwartzman to the crown come the final chequered flag in Abu Dhabi.
Time will only tell though and the first lights out of the season is fast approaching. Fasten your seat belts folks, it’s going to be a wild ride.