Next week on 28 March the 2021 F1 season kicks off in Bahrain, and it promises to be an interesting one! To start with the Covid part, the season was really supposed to start in Australia but the Melbourne GP has been postponed. In Bahrain, vaccinated and Covid-recovered will be allowed as audience, but it remains to be seen how many subsequent races will follow the same policy. At least for the first half of the season, my guess is that races will tend to be without audience, but perhaps that will improve as the season (and vaccinations!) progresses. Do remember however that the first races of last season were completely cancelled, so things are progressing, and even with empty stands there promises to be enough excitement on the track to compensate for a lack of spectators. So with one week to go, here’s a round-up of the teams and their drivers, and also a few words on where those went who left since last season.
Starting with the teams, we’ll have the same 10 this season as we did last, however with two of them having changed names and looks. Racing Point has changed both name and colour, going from the quite spectacular pink to a less flashy but more classy Aston Martin green as the team takes the Aston name, making it the first time in over half a century Aston Martin has its name on cars in F1. Renault on the other hand has decided to revive the Alpine name not only through the A110 street car, but also on the F1 track. Renault F1 has thus becomes Alpine with the colour changing from yellow to an Alpine blue with red elements. I’ve written about Alpine on a couple of occasions and in my first post on the A110 that you can find here if you missed it, I certainly didn’t count on the name having much of a future. As so often, I don’t mind having been wrong!
Moving on to the drivers, we’ll have three rookies and one comeback kid in 2021. Among the new entrants, none has a bigger pair of shoes to fill than Mick Schumacher, Michael’s son. Mick drives one of the Haas cars and Nikita Mazepin, an equally 22-year old Russian rookie the other. A student of the Ferrari Driving Academy, Mick also won the F2 championship lsat year and the F3 one in 2018, so there’s no doubt he brings more than a legendary name to the party. We’ll see during coming years if it’s enough to take him beyond the Ferrari academy into the actual team, and whether his career will be as successful as his father’s. The third new driver is Yuki Tsunoda in AlphaTauri, a 21-year old Japanese driver Red Bull has a lot of faith in, and who’s advanced from local racing in Japan to F1 in just four years. The comeback kid is of course none other than Fernando Alonso who return to Renault/Alpine, taking over Daniel Ricciardo’s seat. Alonso has notably won Le Mans since he left F1 two years ago and as he turns 40 this summer, it will be interesting to see how much fuel he has left in the tank!
As for the drivers who change teams, I find three of the moves especially interesting. The first is no doubt Carlos Sainz Jr. moving to Ferrari and teaming up with Charles Leclerc. This to me is probably the leading driver pair this year, in competition with Red Bull. However, it remains to be seen if Ferrari has found enough speed to allow them to compete. The second is Sebastian Vettel moving from Ferrari to Racing Point / Aston Martin. Seb turns 34 this year and has been on a downward slope for quite some time, so it will be very interesting to see if racing with Aston Martin will allow him to perform again. Finally, Sergio Perez was unsure of whether he would find a seat until the very last days of last season, when it was confirmed that he takes over after Alex Albon in Red Bull. I think this is extremely well deserved as Perez has always been a bit underrated, and whereas he won’t challenge Max Verstappen’s first-driver status in the team, I don’t think he will be far behind – if at all. The last and to me far less interesting move is Daniel Ricciardo’s move to McLaren. It was hard to comprehend when Ricciardo joined Renault and even harder to understand when he left them for McLaren, as Renault was getting better as last season progressed. Then again, maybe Ricciardo sees the same thing happening with McLaren, let’s hope he’s right in that case.
So where did the drivers who left after last season go? Alex Albon is still with Red Bull as reserve and development driver and is set to race in the German Touring League DTM this year. Romain Grosjean (ex Haas) has moved to the US where he’ll be racing in the Indycar Series and perhaps compete against Kevin Magnussen (also ex Haas) who has also moved over the Atlantic, however not to Indycar but rather for IMSA, notably driving the Daytona 24hrs this year. Finally Daniil Kvyat (ex AlphaTauri) hasn’t gone anywhere at all, staying in F1 as reserve driver for Alpine in 2021.
So there we are, and by this time next week we’ll have a first idea of how far the different teams have come, even though the season will of course be a long one. Given how terribly bad I am at it I won’t even try to predict the outcome, but if Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari have somewhat comparable cars, I think we’re in for a really exciting season. It would be really great if Ferrari has found the way back to a winning concept, and I don’t think I’m the only one who look forward to see what Mick Schumacher will be able to achieve. Until next week, if you want to have a behind the scenes look back at last season, the third season of “F1 – Drive to survive” has just premiered on Netflix!