F1: 9 Talking Points for the 2021 Season

In spite of more Mercedes dominance, Formula 1 produced some great racing, particularly at Portimao. © Reuters/Jorge Guerrero

With one month till pre-season testing kicks off in Bahrain, there are many talking points ahead of lights out in 2021.

1. Lewis Hamilton eyes history once again

After several weeks of negotiations, Lewis Hamilton stays with Mercedes albeit on a one-year-contract. © AFP

2020 was a remarkable year for Lewis Hamilton, both on and off the race track.

Away from racing, the 35-year-old won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year for the second time.

Alongside this, Hamilton was also confirmed to be Knighted in the Queens’ New Years Honours List and was a figurehead of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the year.

On track, Hamilton made history by winning his seventh World Drivers Championship, equalling F1 legend Michael Schumacher in terms of World Championship success.

But 2021 provides another opportunity for the Brit to make even more history.

As well as chasing after an unprecedented eighth world title, Hamilton could become the first F1 driver to achieve 100 poles and race wins.

And it seems difficult to see anyone stopping his charge to another record.

Despite being able to challenge and occasionally beat the seven-time champion in qualifying, Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was often lacklustre on race day.

On multiple occasions the Finn seemed to lack in both race pace and race craft.

Consequently, Bottas finished the season over 100 points behind his teammate. This was despite Hamilton missing the second round in Sakhir due to Covid-19, alongside his struggles in Abu Dhabi while still being in recovery.

Outside Mercedes, only Red Bull appear to be in a position to challenge Hamilton.

However, in recent seasons, the Austrian brand has struggled to start seasons well enough to challenge.

This either down to a lack of competitiveness in the first few rounds or poor reliability.

And with regulations staying the same for 2021, it is hard to see Mercedes slipping up.

So can anyone stop the 7 time champ adding an 8th star to his helmet in 2021?

2. An exciting new lineup at Red Bull

2021 sees Red Bull field a driver not picked from the young driver program for the first time since Mark Webber in 2007.

The Milton Keynes outfit dropped young Thai Alex Albon to a test-driving role, after a poor season in 2020.

A mere seventh in the drivers championship, and a 100+ point deficit to Max Verstappen led to Red Bull’s decision.

In his place, Red Bull have signed experienced Mexican ace Sergio Perez.

Perez, who had his best season to date in 2020, finally gets a deserved shot at a top seat.

‘Checo’ took his first career win at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, despite at one point being dead last.

He also scored his highest career points for a season with 125, despite missing the Silverstone double header due to catching Covid.

But, as one of the most regarded drivers in the paddock, Perez has all the attributes Red Bull need.

Since his 2011 debut with Sauber, Perez has shown rapid pace, incredible consistency, but most importantly a talent for nursing his tyres.

All these are things Red Bull will be counting on for the Mexican to provide as rear gunner to Max Verstappen.

However, Perez has shown that when given the opportunity, he will take chances when they come to him.

Red Bull will be hoping this won’t cause friction between them, as they try and down the mighty Mercedes’ run of championship form.

3. Will the horses be prancing this year?

After suffering their worst season in the hybrid era, Ferrari will see 2021 as a rebuilding year.

The Scuderia failed to stand on the top step of the podium for the first season since 2016.

Additionally, Ferrari could only manage three podium finishes; their worst haul since 2014.

All this culminated in their lowly finish of sixth in the constructors championship, which marked another low ebb as their lowest since 1980.

Both drivers, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, struggled with a car with an under-powered engine, as well as an overly draggy bodywork philosophy.

This, teamed with a car that at times seemed unpredictable to drive, left the Italian outfit floundering in the midfield.

Even with some extraordinary drives from young Monegasque Leclerc, wrestling an uncompetitive car to positions it didn’t belong in wasn’t enough to turn the tide.

On the other side of the garage, four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel struggled even further.

His campaign was marred by the SF1000’s unpredictable rear end, something Vettel in particular is known to dislike.

Despite an incredible last-gasp podium in Turkey – albeit at Leclerc’s expense – it would be the only time on the rostrum for Vettel.

It would become the German’s first winless season since 2016, only his second in red.

Therefore it was no surprise that Vettel and Ferrari opted to part ways for 2021.

In Vettel’s place, the Maranello team would sign Spaniard Carlos Sainz from McLaren.

The 26-year-old joins 23 year old Leclerc for Ferrari’s youngest driver lineup since 1968.

For many it seems a risk, though Leclerc has already shown himself as a capable team leader.

His sheer pace and daring driving, at both Sauber and Ferrari, show he has the talents of a future World Champion, something Ferrari haven’t had since 2007.

Sainz too has also shown his qualities to be a solid backup to Leclerc.

In his two years at McLaren, Sainz has helped lead McLaren to great heights.

Two consecutive sixth place finishes in the drivers championship, including in 2020 aiding McLaren to 3rd place in the constructors championship, the teams best finish since 2012.

Sainz has shown consistency, composure and raw speed beyond his years, and will hope to rescue the downward spiral of the Scuderia.

But just like at Red Bull, this lineup could cause friction, something Ferrari will want to avoid.

Surely things can’t get any worse for the Scarlett team, however, stranger things have happened.

4. Aston Martin: A new hope for Vettel?

After waving ‘arrivederci’ to Scuderia Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel will want a return to form with the new Aston Martin team. © AFP

As previously mentioned, 2020 was a horror show for Sebastian Vettel.

However, when all doors seemed closed for Vettel for a drive in 2021 after being released by Ferrari, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

An unexpected opportunity arose for Vettel at Racing Point, who have now been bought by Aston Martin for 2021.

And on paper it seems like a match made in heaven, giving the veteran an opportunity to revitalise his career at a team on the up.

With the team now under ownership of Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, the Silverstone outfit known for punching above their weight, have a great opportunity to take that next step.

The team already moved forward in 2020, following a controversial start to the year at pre-season testing with a car resembling Mercedes’ 2019 W10.

This resulted in a 15-point deduction for copying Mercedes’ brake duct design, which left the then Racing Point team on the back foot.

However, they bounced back in style, not only taking a maiden win at the Sakhir GP, but a surprise pole position in the wet in Turkey by Lance Stroll.

This, backed up with three further podium finishes, showed the teams strong recovery.

This included having both contracted drivers, Perez and Stroll, miss races due to Covid.

Furthermore, super-sub Nico Hulkenberg filled in tremendously for both Perez and Stroll when they experienced Covid symptoms.

The German stuck his car on the second row for the 70th Anniversary GP at Silverstone.

Hulkenberg also recovered from 20th on the grid, to a stunning eighth place finish at the Nurburgring, despite having only got into the car on Saturday morning.

Excitement is clearly high to see what Vettel can do at Aston Martin and whether they can revitalise his career and mount a challenge for the Championships.

5. Can McLaren continue their rise up the ranks?

2020 saw McLaren have their best season in almost a decade, with a pair of podium finishes at Austria and Monza.

The Woking outfit almost ended their winless drought at the latter, but missed out to Pierre Gasly by four tenths of a second.

But with Carlos Sainz greeting adios as he departs for Ferrari, McLaren had a sizeable gap to fill.

Their choice is an exciting one, with 31-year-old Aussie Daniel Ricciardo taking his place.

A winner of seven Grand Prix, and notoriously last of the late breakers, Ricciardo will be joined by Lando Norris for 2021.

The Ricciardo-Norris partnership will certainly be a fan favourite, as both drivers aren’t against cracking a joke.

Norris, who will be entering his third season in the sport, takes on a new challenge as defacto team leader following Sainz’s departure.

This could prove to be a tough role for someone still relatively inexperienced in Formula 1.

And with a driver like Ricciardo breathing down his neck, it is sure to be an exciting partnership for McLaren.

Following last year’s third place in the Constructors’ Championship, both drivers will be pushing the team to make the next step in competitiveness.

And under the control of Andreas Siedl, the team finally have the stable leadership required to make a challenge further up the grid.

This combined with a renewed engine partnership with Mercedes, all eyes are on McLaren.

Can McLaren be the team to break the gap from the midfield to the top?

6. Will Alonso’s return be the success he desires?

With Daniel Ricciardo jumping ship from Renault to McLaren for 2021, an unexpected name makes their return.

Double World Champion Fernando Alonso returns to the team where he had his greatest success.

With Renault re-branded as Alpine for 2021, the Spaniard will be hoping to finish the project Renault started when they returned in 2016.

The French squad have failed to deliver on their goal of fighting for championships by 2020.

Despite that, Renault had their best season since their return, collecting three podiums in 2020.

And Alpine will be keen on keeping that up in 2021, especially now Alonso is on board.

The Spaniard has a reputation for letting his feelings known when he is not happy.

And if there’s one thing that Alpine don’t want damaging, it’s positive morale from 2020.

The team already have a new team principal in place, with former Suzuki MotoGP boss Davide Brivio taking over from Cyril Abiteboul.

So it is imperative for the Enstone outfit to keep Alonso happy if they want to progress up the grid.

Alonso has spent two years away from F1, in which time he has tasted success in other series.

At Toyota, Alonso won the World Endurance Championship, topped off with consecutive victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018 and 2019.

Moreover, the Spanaird experience more success with victory for Wayne Taylor Racing at the 2019 24 hours of Daytona.

It always been seen that Alonso had some unfinished business with Formula 1, but will his return yield the success he desires, or will it be a nightmare?

7. Tsunoda looking to rock the boat for Red Bull

The Red Bull driver programme has always put pressure on its drivers and at times has been ruthless in its decision-making.

This year is no different, as exciting young Japanese talent Yuki Tsunoda takes his place on the grid at AlphaTauri.

Partnering Frenchman Pierre Gasly, Tsunoda is the latest driver to catch the eye of Dr. Helmet Marko.

Following an outstanding season in Formula 2, with three wins and third place in the final standings, the timing couldn’t be better Tsunoda’s F1 debut.

With Perez only on an initial one-year contract at Red Bull, both Tsunoda and Gasly will want to show what they are made.

Should he be unable to perform alongside Max Verstappen, there will be a load of pressure mounting onto the Mexican’s shoulders.

It will surely be exciting to watch Tsunoda’s progress at AlphaTauri, as he becomes Japan’s first driver since Kamui Kobayashi to take on F1.

8. Haas in the Headlines for Differing Reasons

2021 could be a make or break year for the Haas F1 Team, both on and off the track.

On track, the team have been on a downward spiral in terms of performance, as they have struggled with a car that they can’t understand over the last two seasons.

The American team have encounter numerous issues variing from tyre and brake wear, to a bizarre case of overheating suspension.

Over the course of their dismal 2020 season, Haas picked up only three points.

This follows a mere eight-point haul in 2019, a mere shadow of where they were in their remarkable debut season in 2016.

However, Haas’ problems are more than just on track performance.

Off track, the team are known to be struggling financially. As a result, team principal Guenther Steiner ended the four-year partnership of experienced drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.

Despite their ties to Ferrari, who supply additional parts alongside an engine deal, the team are far off the midfield pace.

This has led the team to take on a Ferrari academy graduate for 2021, and a rather exciting one too.

2020 Formula 2 Champion Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time World Champion Michael, will make his F1 debut.

His signing sees the return of the famous Schumacher name to F1 for the first time since 2012.

And whatever car Haas can produce for him, all eyes will be on Mick to see how he can perform in the pinnacle of Motorsport.

In the sister car, 21-year-old Nikita Mazepin is also stepping up from F2, and brings much needed sponsorship to the team.

However, the young Russian has been in the news recently in all the wrong ways.

After a video emerging showing him groping a young lady there were calls for Mazepin to be severely punished. This was despite claims that the lady was a friend and that the incident was intended as a joke.

The outrage continued when Haas said Mazepin’s actions would be dealt with internally. Additionally, F1 owners Liberty Media stayed fairly quiet on the matter.

In fairness, the situation for Haas is a tough one, considering what Mazepin provides the team.

Mazepin is the son of Russian billionaire, Dmitry Mazepin, who brings big sponsors for his son.

These sponsors, and Mazepin’s wealth, provide Haas with the financial support that they need. Without the necessary funds, there is a likely chance Haas would not survive the season.

This leaves Haas in an unenviable position on what to do with Mazepin.

However, Mazepin may not just provide problems for Haas for their PR department.

Mazepin has a record of being a driver to be careful with when going wheel-to-wheel.

The controversial driver was involved in multiple on-track incidents and was one penalty point away from picking up a race ban.

The most notable example occurred with Yuki Tsunoda during the F2 Feature Race at Spa-Francorchamps.

After forcing Tsunoda off the track on several occasions as the pair battled for victory, Mazepin a five-second penalty. Consequently, this cost him the win to Tsunoda.

Whatever happens for Haas, it seems their activities will forever be clouded by their association with Mazepin’s actions.

9. What will the final calendar look like?

One of the biggest talking points of the upcoming season is the calendar itself.

Over a year on from the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still some affected races in 2021.

The traditional season opener at Melbourne has been postponed due to high cases of Covid. As a result, race organisers are looking to take a later date in the calendar.

Furthermore, the long-awaited debut in Vietnam has once again been cancelled.

The 2021 calendar initially setup a 23-race season, including new races at Zandvoort and Saudi Arabia.

However, many countries are still unconfirmed to be safe for racing.

This also is due to many countries having travel restrictions to keep cases down.

This causes a problem as six teams – Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Aston Martin, Renault, and Williams – are UK-based. Subsequently, as the UK still has a high Covid rate, the country is under a travel ban for other nations.

As Covid vaccinations spread across the world, hopefully plans won’t be too badly affected as the season progresses.

Provisional 2021 Formula One Calendar*

Pre-Season Testing (Bahrain) 12-14th March

Bahrain GP: 26th-28th March

Imola: 16th-18th March

Portugese GP: 30th April-1st May

Spanish GP: 7th-9th May

Monaco GP: 20th-23rd May

Azerbaijan GP: 4th-6th June

Canadian GP: 11th-13th June

French GP: 25th-27th June

Austrian GP: 2nd-4th July

British GP: 16th-18th July

Hungarian GP: 30th July-1st August

Belgian GP: 27th-29th August

Dutch GP: 3rd-5th September

Italian GP: 10th-12th September

Russian GP: 24th-26th September

Singapore GP: 1st-3rd October

Japanese GP: 8th-10th October

US GP: 22nd-24th October

Mexican GP: 29th-31st October

Brazilian GP: 5th-7th November

Australian GP: 19th-21 November

Saudi Arabian GP: 3rd-5th December

Abu Dhabi: 10th-12th December

As the new cars are slowly unveiled over the next few weeks, the excitement is already building.

2021 could be an historic year, and with new regulations coming in 2022, there’s much to look forward to.

The season is due to kick off in Bahrain on the 28th March, will you be watching?

*Calendar Correct at Time of Press; Subject to Change