The Bahrain Grand Prix kicks off the 2021 Formula One World Championship this weekend, and with Lewis Hamilton going for a record eighth title, all eyes are on the British driver to see if he can just do that. He is going to come under tough competition from his tea-mate Valtteri Bottas, but Red Bull look strong and with a new driver in Sergio Perez, could he or Max Verstappen steal the top honours this season?
It is entirely possible that either Verstappen or Perez are crowned Champions this year, based on their performances in testing at the very least. Mercedes looked to be struggling, but the true extent of this won’t be known until the checkered flag falls in Bahrain, maybe not even to a few races in.
Red Bull look strong, and with a new competitive dynamic in their driver line-up, things do look quite promising for the energy drinks company’s team. Verstappen is the driver they want to be the youngest F1 World Champion, but I think Perez might just ruffle a few feathers and this ambition to add to his Sakhir victory last season might be enough for him to displace the Dutchman as the team’s Number One driver.
McLaren is expected to close the gap on Red Bull and Mercedes this season and the signing of Daniel Ricciardo is a major move for one of the best performing teams on the grid in 2020. After Lando Norris claimed his first podium of the season in Austria, he hasn’t looked back since and has consistently put in strong performances which will hopefully be rewarded with more podiums this season.
Aston Martin struggled during testing, but with the cars remaining fairly similar to their 2020 challengers, I expected them to be back to where we now expect them to be after only a few races in 2021. Bringing Vettel on board is a very smart decision, and while keeping Perez in the team might have helped things at least on a continuity basis, having a four-time World Champion who has been part of the second..maybe even the fastest team on the grid currently in the past, and a team that should be title challengers for the past few seasons, it is a good move for the Silverstone based team.
Fernando Alonso returns to Formula One after his attempts of winning the Triple Crown came to an end. He joins Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon and this is a partnership that can provide regular strong performances as long as neither driver thinks they should be the team’s number one. Alonso would probably look like the number one driver, but Ocon has been with the team for a full season now and knows the inner workings while Alonso’s broken jaw may have interrupted his settling in period a little.
Ferrari should not be where they are, but a lack of awareness and a potential cover-up of their unfair engine power advantage in 2019 is catching up with them. Letting go of a four-time World Champion in Vettel is a bold move, but Carlos Sainz has been impressive for McLaren and his midfield battling experience could be key to the team’s progress forward. Charles Leclerc is tied into a long-term contract with the team and should perform to the best of his and the car’s ability this season, potentially getting onto the podium on a few occasions if the team have made any progress.
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda create one of the most exciting driver pairings on the grid, with both drivers looking very impressive during testing. Gasly has experience of being in the parent Red Bull team, and while that didn’t go to plan, has bounced back heroically and claimed a podium in 2019 around Brazil and claimed that emotional victory at Monza during the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. Tsunoda makes the step up from Formula 2, but this running during the third day of pre-season testing raised a few eyebrows and created a lot of excitement amongst Formula One fans.
Alfa Romeo is one of only three teams to retain their driver pairing and few expected them to do so. Kimi Raikkonen is a fantastic driver and will always get the maximum out of the car, while Antonio Giovinazzi has improved over the two seasons he has been with the team so far. They should be able to improve if the Ferrari engine is better as this was kept the team back last season. I expected them to be fighting for the final few points regularly, but given the strength of the teams in front of them, they might need a few retirements in front of them to help them achieve this.
HAAS have an all-rookie line-up with Mick Schumacher, winner of the 2020 F2 Championship being partnered by the controversial Nikita Mazepin, who finished fifth in F2 last season. They are expected to be fighting down the back of the field this season, maybe even finishing last. One thing that might help them stay in ninth is the starts that Mick Schumacher is known for, moving up quite a few places at the start of the race. If he can get his car into a strong position on a track that is difficult to overtake, some decent results might be achievable for the team.
George Russell remaining with Williams is brilliant news for the team as they try and move up the grid after a difficult few seasons. His performances last season were impressive and getting into Q2 a few times was a sign that Williams is making steps forward. Nicholas Latifi will partner Russell and with a full season under his belt, he has something to compare and improve upon. I can’t see him scoring any points but I can see him being involved in some interesting fights with the HAAS drivers, all of which will help his development as an F1 driver.
This season is going to provide some great entertainment, and while the 2020 season will take a lot to top, the storylines of the new driver line-ups might just make this the least predictable season for some time. If Red Bull is closer to Mercedes and can fight for the title, it might just unsettle Hamilton and Bottas and the title could go down to the line….or Hamilton will have the title wrapped up by the Mexican Grand Prix and it is another year of Mercedes domination…we will just have to wait and see.