- 2021 Formula 1 season begins this weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir
- Lewis Hamilton aiming for historic eighth F1 crown this year against new-look paddock, with host of fresh faces
- Campaign to be longest in history, with 23 rounds taking place over nine months
FORMULA 1 – As the opening round of the Formula season beckons, what does the next nine months hold in store as Lewis Hamilton aims for greatness?
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Hamilton eyeing greatness
Just over three months after the chequered flag dropped on the final round of what was an unprecedented 2020 Formula 1 season, this weekend, the new campaign begins in earnest at the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.
Marking just over 12 months since F1 ground to halt in Melbourne as COVID-19 began to take hold, the opening round of the season this year instead, begins in the Middle East, with Bahrain now thought to a potential venue for the season curtain-raiser for good.
With 23 races set for the next nine months across five continents, the on-going restrictions of the pandemic could yet derail plans, but nevertheless, the upcoming campaign is hotly-anticipated after its latest winter hiatus.
Not least for one Lewis Hamilton, who after claiming a record-equalling seventh World Drivers’ Championship – in doing so smashing almost every record written – will seek to take his biggest step yet, and go to eight F1 titles, standing alone on a sporting pedestal.
Now with 95 race wins to his name, Hamilton, 34, has sat on the F1 throne since 2017, and after a season that saw Hamilton held up as something of a poster boy for societal change globally, few can now dispute his iconic status.
For Mercedes, this will be the 11th year under the AMG Petronas banner, and having held a vice-like grip on the Constructors’ Championship since 2014, the Brackley-based team will be bullish on their hopes to be top dogs for an eighth time on the bounce.
As Valtteri Bottas again plays the doting number two, Mercedes, however, could have difficulties in transitioning to a different car axis, after their DAS steering system was deemed to have given the team an unfair advantage, now effectively an illegal component.
That being stated however, Mercedes will still take some shifting, even if they do make another customary rusty start to the campaign this weekend.
Red Bull in Mercedes’ mirrors
For Red Bull, the 2021 campaign will be again about playing catch-up to Mercedes’ F1 monopoly, but there are genuine signs ahead of the new season, that the Austrian manufacturer may be able to push their rivals all the way this year.
Now Ferrari appear to have slipped to third in the power rankings, Red Bull are coming closer in Mercedes’ rear-view mirrors than ever before, and as the Honda engine looks perhaps the most reliable in the paddock, the coming nine months will be engrossing.
At least that is the indication. Enjoying their best pre-season testing less than a fortnight ago in Sakhir, Team boss Christian Horner will be keen to make an early statement, as the heat of Bahrain should suit once more, this time as curtain-raiser.
With Red Bull believed to hold a half-a-second in short run advantage going into the early races, both Max Verstappen and new man Sergio Perez, have the platform to make a roaring start.
Verstappen of course, remains a potential champion in the making, and after having played second fiddle to the Silver Arrows, the Dutchman may have his best shot at king Hamilton so far. But only time will tell.
Schumacher headlines F2 influx…
Perhaps the biggest narrative this season will be return of the Schumacher name to F1, and as Mick Schumacher makes his long-awaited step-up from Formula 2, the attention of the world will be on the under-achieving Haas F1.
Having been kart racing since the age of nine, this season Schumacher Jr. completes his motorsport journey to the top level, as he is paired with F2 cohort Nikita Mazepin from Hitech Racing last term.
As a Schumacher takes their rightful place back on the grid for the first time since 2012, Mick follows in the mighty footsteps of his father Michael.
The opening race of the season is sure to be an emotional one for the 22-year-old, with the status of Schumacher Snr. still shrouded in mystery, following his skiing accident back in December 2013.
Possessing all the familiar raw driving ability, Schumacher’s addition to the grid will add a unique flavour to racing, and though his Russian teammate looks to be somewhat of a loose cannon, the former’s progress in his debut season will be watched with eager eyes.
Away from Haas, the other recruit from the same proving grounds is Yuki Tsunoda, who was impressive in testing earlier this month, just days into his F1 career.
Finishing third behind both Schumacher and Callum Ilott last year in F2, the 20-year-old from Kanagawa is a bold selection choice for AlphaTauri, but one which could reap rewards.
Overtaking (or undertaking) Lando Norris as the youngest man in the paddock, Asian drivers have not been synonymous with success in the sport as a rule, but Tsunoda is showing high promise and will be one to watch in the midfield, even on opening race day.
…as an old flame returns
With the arrival of a throng of fresh blood, this season will be be nicely balanced with the return of one of the sport’s old flames, as Fernando Alonso returns to F1.
Three years on from driving what was thought to be the Spaniard’s last race at Yas Marina in 2018, the-now 39-year old joins his fourth F1 team, linking up with Esteban Ocon with Alpine Renault.
With the departure of Daniel Ricciardo for McLaren, the two-time FIA Hall of Famer and double world champion, has been lured back to add another year at least to his 17-year career, when he began with Minardi in 2001.
In what will be his second stint with the French team, Alonso will hope to yield greater results on the track, to the ones he was getting with McLaren, between 2015 and 2019.
Whilst Alonso is regarded still as one of the best F1 drivers to date, the veteran however, may find life in the fast lane has changed. As the paddock looks to be the most competitive and highly-charged in years, Alonso may have to grit his teeth this term.
Bold new era
F1 will see no less than three new faces into the paddock this year, but 2021 will also see a sizeable shake-up in personnel across the board, after the biggest domino effect of drivers in recent years.
Headlined by the return of Alonso, Ferrari, McLaren, and newly branded Aston Martin – formerly Racing Point – will have a very different make up this campaign. Indeed, only three teams of the ten competing will have the same line-ups on the grid as 2020.
Of the newly-monikered teams, Lawrence Stroll‘s Aston Martin outfit could catch the most headlines, as son Lance Stroll becomes racing buddy to Sebastian Vettel, although friendship may be in short supply from the German, after a nightmare farewell campaign with Ferrari.
On the subject of Scuderia, Charles Leclerc will look to steer the Prancing Horse away from an unexpectedly difficult 2020 campaign, and with Carlos Sainz Jr. as teammate, the famous Italian red could bounce back emphatically.
There is however, remaining concerns over Ferrari’s rapid deficit growth in pace loss.
It is McLaren perhaps, that look best set to break into the top three manufacturers for the first time since their previous heyday, and after a strong end to last year, Ricciardo could combine with Norris to make boss Zak Brown a very happy man.
Last year’s return to racing in the midst of the pandemic trailblazed the path for many sports to make their own return, and though concerns remain for the start of the new season again, there is much excitement for the new campaign.
With wholesale aerodynamic changes set to come into force in 2022, the start of next season should see the ushering in of more exciting races, but even before then, the ingredients are there for the coming season, to be an equally fascinating ride.
The 2021 Formula 1 season begins this weekend, at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.
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