The new Formula one season is almost upon us. Here’s a look at how the 10 teams have shaped up over the winter, how they fared in the pre-season testing and their driver’s line up for the 23-race season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from March 26-28.
Mercedes have won the past seven consecutive world championship doubles and this year Lewis Hamilton is bidding for a record eighth drivers’ title. They couldn’t have asked for a better result last season as they won the Constructors’ Championship, Hamilton took home his seventh World Championship with Valtteri Bottas making it a 1-2 finish for Mercedes.
However, the pre-season testing didn’t go as planned for the reigning champions who were hit by reliability issues with their new gearbox. The two drivers struggled with the new W12 with both Hamilton and Bottas describing it as unstable and having an unforgiving rear end.
Despite their struggles in testing, Mercedes are the overwhelming favourites for the upcoming season. They have more than capable drivers, boast of the best power unit and the best aero in the series.
Hamilton broke plenty of records last season and the British racer would be hungry for more, while Bottas will be eager to pose a greater challenge to his teammate.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull have been challenging Mercedes for the past seven seasons but this season could be the one when they get their hands on the coveted constructors’ trophy for the first time since 2013.
They ended the 2020 season on a high, winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which has been a Mercedes fortress in the V6 turbo hybrid era. Since 2014 the Silver Arrows had enjoyed a 100% pole and win record at the Yas Marina circuit but it all changed as Max Vertsappen completely dominated the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas to take home the silverware.
Additionally, while Mercedes was struggling in the pre-season testing, Red Bull enjoyed a solid testing weekend. The RB16B ran near-faultlessly at Bahrain with Mercedes saying that they believe Red Bull are ahead of them after the testing weekend and that their rivals are “the class act”.
Max Verstappen was a constant thorn in Mercedes’ side last season, often splitting Hamilton and Bottas on the podium but lacked a teammate who would support him in challenging the Silver Arrows. However, this year Verstappen will have the experienced Sergio Perez, who replaces Alex Albon, besides him while battling Hamilton and Bottas.
A veteran of 191 Grand Prix starts, and with one victory to his name, Perez, who finished fourth in the championship last season with a much less competitive Racing Point car despite missing two races at Silverstone after testing positive for COVID-19, brings with him vast experience. Armed with two talented drivers, Red Bull will hope to launch a serious title bid against Mercedes this season.
Last season was McLaren’s best year in Formula 1 since 2012, finishing third in the F1 constructors’ championship with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz at the wheel. However, the latter has left to drive for Ferrari and McLaren have brought in seven-time grand prix winner Daniel Ricciardo from Renault, as his replacement.
Ricciardo comes onboard after one of his strongest seasons ever. In a competitive mid-field battle, no one really gave Renault a chance to be on the podium but Australian defied the odds, finishing fifth twice.
On the other hand, Norris will compete in his third season in F1 after an impressive first two years. He came of age last year, winning his first podium. It will be a challenge for the 21-year-old to keep up with his new much more experienced teammate, who has beaten the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. This intra-team battle will certainly be the one to look out for.
At the pre-season testing, McLaren caught the attention of the paddock with the innovative diffuser strategy and the MCL35M’s strong performance and reliability throughout. With the switch to Mercedes power unit — widely regarded as the strongest on the grid — after three years with Renault, McLaren will look to build on their impressive P3 in the constructors’ standings last season.
The 2021 season will see Aston Martin return to F1 as a works team for the first time since 1960, as the Racing Point squad takes on the moniker of the iconic British manufacturer. The rebranding is accompanied by the arrival of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who replaces Sergio Perez. While Lance Stroll, son of the team’s part-owner, will be staying on for his third season with the side.
For Vettel, who has the third-most wins in the sport’s history (53) — behind Lewis Hamilton (95) and Michael Schumacher (91) — but is coming off his worst full season in F1, it will be an opportunity to rediscover his mojo after finishing 13th in the drivers’ standings with Ferrari.
Aston Martin endured a frustrating pre-season testing, they had issues with the gearbox and turbo, resulting in the AMR21 spending a significant amount of time just sitting in the garage. Vettel struggled more in comparison to his teammate Stroll who did show some strong race pace when he was able to string together laps.
Last season, they finished fourth in the constructors’ standings and this year again they will be in the mix for the third spot. Additionally, Vettel will be aiming for a couple of podiums and a top 4 finish in the drivers’ standings.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon
The Renault team has been rechristened to Alpine this season but expectations will still continue to be sky-high. As the Enstone-based team enter a new era, Australian Daniel Ricciardo (who will race for McLaren) has been replaced by two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, who is known to be the most demanding driver on the grid.
The 39-year-old is making his comeback after several seasons of absence from the premier class of motor sport. It will be exciting to see the Alonso renew his rivalries with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Esteban Ocon, who showed flashes of genuine speed last year, enters his second year with the team, having finished 2020 strongly as he scored his first ever F1 podium in Bahrain.
The management has also undergone some changes with boss Cyril Abiteboul leaving the team and Laurent Rossi being appointed Chief Executive Officer.
Renault finished fifth in the constructors’ championship, losing out to McLaren and Racing Point in the fight for third. They will expect better this year as Alpine.
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Disobeying the regulations in 2019 cost Ferrari dear. The Italian outfit had a disastrous 2020 season due to a poor power unit and found themselves well off the pace and regularly at the back of the midfield. They slumped from a strong second in the standings to a dismal sixth overall in the championship — their worst finish since 1980 — and also failed to win a race for the first time since 2016.
However, Ferrari have said they have made strong progress with their power unit ahead of the new season. The Scuderia also said that they have addressed the aero shortcomings of last year’s car. To be fair, anything compared to last season’s train-wreck that was the SF1000 would be progress.
For only the second time in the last quarter of a century Ferrari’s driver line will not feature a world champion but there is plenty to look forward to. In Charles Leclerc and new recruit Carlos Sainz, they have two of the best drivers of F1’s new generation.
While Leclerc delivered some incredible results in an uncompetitive car last season, Sainz’s arrival from McLaren brings a lot of optimism as the Spaniard has delivered great races where he consistently pulls the maximum result feasible from the car, even under difficult circumstances in the last couple of years.
Judging from the pre-season testing, Ferrari are still not title contenders but a P3 finish could be realistic target for the Scuderia this season.
Drivers: Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri have the potential to be the real surprise of 2021. In the second part of the season last year, they clicked and were the quickest midfield team. Red Bull discard Pierre Gasly was in impressive form last year, winning his first Grand Prix at Monza. He should be in a better position to produce some strong races this year and pairing up with him will be rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who’s creating plenty of buzz already. The young Japanese racer grabbed headlines by setting the second-fastest lap time across all three days in the pre-season testing, just 0.93sec off leader Verstappen’s fastest time.
AlphaTauri completed the testing with the joint-most laps (tied with Alfa Romeo). The new, technologically-sophisticated AT02 looked fast and stable. The new power unit brought by Honda ran reliably and the team will hope for a better finish than last year’s seventh in the constructors’ standing.
Alfa Romeo Racing
Drivers: Kimi Raikkonen, Antonia Giovinazzi
Alfa Romeo have continued with the Finnish-Italian duo of the experienced Kimi Raikkonen and the ever-improving Antonia Giovinazzi, who team up for the third year.
Like Haas, Alpha Romeo also struggled due to the Ferrari power unit but Raikkonen and Giovinazzi capitalised on opportunities to score points. With a better engine in the offing, they are expected to make gains this season which was evident in their pre-season testing.
Alfa Romeo had a quiet yet fruitful testing. Raikkonen completed the second-most number of laps (229), just behind Pierre Gasly (237) and even set the fourth fastest lap time. Last season’s eighth placed team, will be eager to bridge the gap to the midfield.
Haas has undergone major changes from the previous year. They have gone for a fresh start with a brand-new livery and an all-rookie driver line-up of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
The most famous name in formula one will return to the grid for the time since 2012, when the legendary Michael Schumacher’s son Mick makes his F1 debut with Haas this week. The 21-year-old German heads to F1 on the back of an impressive junior formula resume, having won the European F3 title in 2018 before clinching the F2 title last year.
On the other hand, Nikita starts his debut season on the back of a controversy. The young Russian driver was filmed groping a woman, leading to several fans to call for his removal from the F1 team. However, Haas did not remove the driver from their line up but added that they have dealt with the situation.
The Ferrari power unit was a clear disadvantage last season but even with a better engine this year, the development of the VF-21 has been limited and there are no plans of changes as the season progresses. So, both Mick and Nikita could undergo baptism by fire.
Drivers: George Russell, Nicholas Latifi
Last year was a step forward from the horrid 2019 season for Williams. Despite finishing last in the constructors’ standings there were a lot of positive for the Britain based team to take away. George Russell regularly making it through to Q2 was a big positive.
In Russell, Williams has a gem. Fans were left heartbroken when the 23-year-old failed to secure victory at the Sakhir GP at the end of last season. He has shown that he is capable of outperforming the car and will be eager to perform in the new season which might just be his last with Williams should Mercedes decide to poach him.
On the other hand, Latifi comes in with a year of formula one experience under his belt and the team will hope he can take it up a notch.
Williams had a decent testing weekend. They performed better than Haas on long run pace and have already planned a whole slate of upgrades. Keeping in mind all these factors, Williams are likely to return to the points this season.