Formula 1 2021 Season Preview – Will Mercedes Finally be Beaten?

Here we are again. We’ve gotten through the long winter and are not long away from lights out for another season. All going well, we will have our longest season in F1 history; 23 races in the space of 37 weeks with an unordinary season opener in Bahrain, the return of Imola and Portimao from 2020, Zandvoort returning to the calendar after 36 years and Saudi Arabia featuring for the first time ever.

A sense of uncertainty still lingers in the air, however. Firstly, whether every race will go ahead and secondly, whether we will see fans at races this year. Nobody can definitively answer either of those questions right now, but that doesn’t make me any less excited to see cars on the grid again.

Let’s look ahead to what we might expect from the 2021 season!

A championship fight?

Rather than discussing who might be in the mix for the championship, a better question to pose based on recent years is are we going to get a championship fight at all? Since the hybrid era began in 2014, Mercedes have won 103 of the 139 races that have taken place. That equates to almost 75%. Scary, I know.

Lewis Hamilton has won six of the last seven drivers’ championships

What’s perhaps more worrying for neutral F1 fans is that their dominance resumed last season after them facing pretty worthy competition from Ferrari in 2017, 2018 and parts of 2019 too. The Silver Arrows really stretched the gap out again to the next best team last season, which last season was Red Bull. And barring a few exceptions such as Turkey and Abu Dhabi, Red Bull didn’t have an answer on pure pace to Merc.

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Going back to the initial question then, I am pessimistic about the prospect of a championship battle in 2021. I have seen the same comments from fans this pre-season as the last six years, arguing this year will finally be the year Red Bull take the fight to Merc with a season-long competitive car. This has failed to happen in the past and I don’t see why it will be any different this year.

I really do hope I am proven wrong, but I feel it’s going to take something pretty special to knock Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton off the top spot.

The Midfield scrap

One of the most exciting things about last season was the Midfield battle which was closely contested between Renault, Racing Point and McLaren. And I’m expecting the scrap for third in the constructors championship to be just as close this season.

Even though Racing Point probably had the quicker package overall out of the three last season, McLaren arguably got more out of their car, with better strategy and statistically the most closely matched driver line-up on the grid.

McLaren and Racing Point duked it out for third in the constructors’ championship in 2020

I expect each team to be closely matched on pace again, and I think it will come down to strategy and the drivers. The tenacity of Fernando Alonso (who returns to the grid for Alpine) or the consistency of Daniel Ricciardo may just be the difference.

Another thing to consider is where do Ferrari fit into all this? I am uncertain as to whether we should expect Ferrari sitting comfortably in third in the constructors, whilst potentially challenging Red Bull or whether their car performance will leave them in the Midfield scrap.

Part of me wants to see them scrapping away with Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin rather than being in no man’s land behind the top two teams. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one pans out.

And the rest…

That leaves us 4 teams, who we should probably expect to have a similar season to last.

AlphaTauri will be hoping to challenge those in front rather than looking behind, and rightly so. They’ve shown they can be quick, Monza and Imola proved that. I suspect they’ll be aiming for more consistency and having successful weekends more often.

AlphaTauri were very impressive in testing. Image: F1

I expect Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo to continue to bring up the rear of the grid. Haas have publicly admitted they won’t be putting much effort in developing their 2021 car as they have decided to focus on the regulation changes in 2022.

I do hope these three teams can close the gap to those in front and give some talented drivers a chance to show what they’re about.

READ MORE: IS ESTEBAN OCON ABOUT TO GET THE “VANDOORNE TREATMENT”?

Ones to watch

The grid has had a bit of shake up and there are a few drivers in particular to watch out for.

Above all, is Sergio Perez who will drive for Red Bull in 2021. I sense a lot of anticipation on how the Mexican will fare against Max Verstappen and in a team where the second driver has really struggled the last two seasons.

Sergio Perez has the unenviable task of being Verstappen’s teammate in 2021

There have been a lot of different opinions on why Gasly and Albon flopped- pressure, car built around Verstappen, not ready for a big seat and Verstappen making them look bad. In reality, its probably a combination of all of these. It will be interesting to see how an established and experienced driver copes in a toxic team and “cursed” seat.

Sebastian Vettel is another to watch closely. I personally am eager to see whether his move to Aston will help him get his mojo back and whether the Vettel of old will return. I’m really glad he didn’t decide to end his career on such a low and hope we can at least see him bow out of F1 happy.

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I wonder how Carlos Sainz will do going into a team with a very talented driver as their Number 1 and into a car which may not have the performance to get podiums. Sainz’s mental strength and resilience will be tested but if he can settle into the team, I can see him doing well at Ferrari over the years.

Not long to go now until we get answers to some of these questions and see what F1 2021 has in store for us!

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more content to preview the F1 2021 season?

Steph Wentworth hosted panellists Owain Medford, Steve Jackson and YouTuber Lucas Raycevik in Grid Talk’s review of the F1 2021 Car reveals:

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