The 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship season is just around the corner, and it’s hyping up to be one of the closest and most entertaining campaigns in recent memory.
Plenty has changed since last season; several drivers on the move, the return of a former world champion, and two newly re-branded new teams. It’s hard not to get excited.
So, with the new season just on the horizon, we thought to list a few things we could expect to see in 2021, including a Championship fight and cagey affair in midfield.
Red Bull to close in on Mercedes
After the major rule shake-up in 2014, Mercedes AMG Petronas have dominated the sport, becoming one of the most successful teams in F1 history. They have achieved consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships from 2014 to 2020 and was rarely unchallenged. So, when the ‘Silver Arrows’ struggled in pre-season testing, with reliability issues and balance of the car, many hoped it could be finally the year that Mercedes are pushed to their limits, instead of waltzing to another championship.
Their main competitor unsurprisingly seems to be Red Bull Racing, who went fastest overall over the three days in pre-season testing with a lap time of 1:28.960 by Max Verstappen on C4 compound tyres. His new team-mate Sergio Perez also went fastest in the Sunday morning session, eighth quickest overall, with a lap time of 1:30.187. At the moment, it’s been portrayed that Red Bull are significantly faster compared to past winter testing showings, while Mercedes is experiencing a few problems that might not be ironed out until after Bahrain Grand Prix.
But again, it could the World Champions doing their famous sandbagging, hiding their actual speed until race weekend. Even if this was the case, Red Bull seemed to have found some extra pace in the RB16B and could give Mercedes a slight worry ahead of the 2021 season.
No midfield, just a field
While Mercedes and Red Bull fight it out separately for FIA Formula One World Championship, the highly anticipated battle is expected to be in the midfield, or in other words – the rest of the field.
With the 2020 title settled in Imola, the entertainment in the final few races came down to the third spot, otherwise known as the ‘best of the rest’. It was decided in Abu Dhabi on the final weekend, which saw McLaren F1 Team leapfrog Racing Point into third by seven points. Unless all teams find some significant pace before Bahrain GP, then another highly fought contest is expected to happen in the midfield, involving a few more teams this time.
Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda went second fastest in pre-season testing with a time of 1:29.053, ten-hundredths of a second behind Verstappen. That gave supporters hope that Red Bull’s sister team can compete at the front of the midfield, crucially, with Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow likely to focus on the 2022 rule change.
McLaren F1 Team and Aston Martin Coginzant Formula One Team, previously known as Racing Point, are expected to lead the midfield, despite the latter poor showing in pre-season testing, suffering gearbox issues, and especially the former after transferring from a Renault engine to a Mercedes-powered engine.
Ferrari and Alpine F1 Team failed to show any promising signs, but expect both to be in the middle of the battle for sure and nicking a few podiums there and then. Heading into 2021, it won’t be one or two teams being at the front of midfield, but a host of cars challenging for that third spot on the podium.
Another tough year for Haas
On the outskirts of the midfield battle, one or two teams could be in contention for bottom-end points, notably, Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN after impressing in pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The same goes for Williams Racing, who ended the 2020 season scoring not a single point, but also showed signs of extra speed in winter testing, setting a time of 1:30.117 – the seventh fastest overall. It’s highly unlikely that either team can make significant progress to contest in the midfield battle, with both likely to be aiming to score the bottom-end points.
However, Urakeli Haas F1 Team could be set for a scoreless year unless Guenther Steiner can dust a bit of magic. The team announced in November 2020 that they will cease development on this year’s car to focus on the incoming 2022 regulations, meaning the VF-21 is near enough an exact replica of the 2020 car that finished ninth in the World Championship, scoring just three points.
So, rookie drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will face a similarly difficult year to what Haas experienced in 2020. Based on that reason, it is expected that the American-based team will fall even further back the grid, potentially swapping places with Williams at the swamp of the standings.
However, with Red Bull showing promising signs and the midfield cars being too close to separate, the 2021 F1 season could be one of the closest Championship fights we have in recent history.
The season gets underway on Friday at 11:30am when drivers take to the track at Bahrain International Circuit for Free Practice Session One before lights out on Sunday for Bahrain Grand Prix.