After more domination from “Sir” Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in 2020, F1 is back with in March with pre-season testing beginning in Bahrain on the 12th of March as the teams then stay on as per Covid19 protocols for the first Grand Prix on the 28th of March. The new calendar sees the inclusion of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch Grand Prix, the home of Max Verstappen, who many fans hope, could challenge Lewis to the title this season. From fascinating teammate battles and the return of a world champion to the fight for supremacy at the pinnacle of the sport, we bring you 5 reasons why you should be thrilled that a new season of Formula 1 is around the corner:
THE RETURN OF FERNANDOOOO
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After 20+ months away from the world of Formula 1, Fernando Alonso decided to return to the place he was crowned World Champion, for 2021. At 39, he said he had completed his “check list” of other things to do in his two years away, including competing in the grueling Dakar Rally, winning the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hour race (twice) and almost completing the holy trifecta by narrowly missing out at the Indy 500 on American soil. The Spaniard stated that part of the reason he chose to return was the one-year delay until 2022 in the introduction of new regulations aimed at closing up the field and therefore 2021 could be used as a great year of prep for both himself and the newly crowned, Alpine F1.
Alonso has chosen to do things the hard way on his return and was only recently discharged from hospital after undergoing surgery on a broken jaw following a cycling accident, after colliding with a car on a training ride in Switzerland. Alonso returns to what is essentially the Renault F1 setup, where he won both back-to-back titles in 2005 & 2006.
SERGIO PEREZ IN A CAR CAPABLE OF WINNING RACES
Both Sergio Perez and Red Bull (not aligned at this point) had plenty of reason to smile come the end of the 2020 season with a win for the Mexican in Bahrain and a scintillating win to end the season for Red Bull and Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. With the coming together of these two forces, they’d be hoping to start 2021 where they left off in 2020, and the team and Sergio seem confident with their machinery based on the first laps in the car too. Red Bull have sorely missed a consistent second driver next to their star Verstappen who has been in a league of his own, but in Perez, they not only have one of the more popular drivers in the F1 paddock but a man who brings a wealth of experience and the hunger to win, in a car that could very well do so. Even if he doesn’t beat the favoured Verstappen, Perez would have done his job if he can stay on the tail of his teammate and split the Mercedes when they’re in the hunt for race wins in 2021.
CAN ANYONE CHALLENGE LEWIS & MERCEDES
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Red Bull Racing (RBR) recently showcased their new challenger, the RB16B which has been held back to some extent from the media during the day of filming prompting questions of whether Christian Horner & Red Bull have something up their sleeve for Max & Sergio to attack Mercedes with. It would be a welcome change for many with Mercedes dominating the past seven years with quite an amount of ease too. Red Bull too tasted dominance in the early 2010s with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel but will need to take a step up and continue the great work they produced towards the back-end of the 2020 season which saw Max Verstappen win two races on his way to 3rd in the Championship, 9 points behind Valtteri Bottas. Mercedes have a well-oiled driver line-up and started work on the 2021 car ahead of all other rivals which could spell doomsday for the rest of the field, but on tracks that don’t quite aid Lewis’ Silver Arrows, one could hope to see a threat come in the form of RBR or even McLaren and Sebastian Vettel’s new Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team.
Red Bull are at this point the only real threat (realistically) but we can’t possibly write off McLaren (who are giving us glimpses of the McLaren glory days of old), the Mercedes Junior squad, AKA Aston Martin and also Fernando Alonso in the new Alpine F1, who is capable of driving the pants off any racing machine. Red Bull didn’t pose enough of a consistent threat to Mercedes but with a strong finish to the season and the addition of Sergio Perez in the form of his life, 2021 could bring fans hope of a title fight – or so we’d like to think!
CAN SEBASTIAN RESURRECT HIS CAREER IN RACING GREEN?
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2021 brings in a new era in motorsport for Aston Martin and Sebastian Vettel will be hoping for a new era in his career which seems to have tailed off over the last couple of seasons, having been completely outshined by the younger, more impressive Charles Leclerc at Ferrari. His final season at Ferrari was anything but extraordinary, finishing 13th in the F1 driver standings as the Italian squad wobbled to their worst campaign in the new millennium. The ousted German is still a 4 time F1 World Champion and while new images of a receding hairline (courtest of his troubled times of Ferrari perhaps) made headlines, Vettel will be hoping that it only helps the aerodynamics ahead of what could be a less frustrating season for him. Vettel at times, seemed like he knew he was beaten by Leclerc and we didn’t see the fight that we saw in his heydays at Red Bull.
At the age of 33, Vettel has 14 years of F1 experience under his belt already and the reality is that 2021 could be his last team in F1 but it could also reignite the fire within and free him from the shackles of the enormous pressure he had at Ferrari in an underperforming car. He will be buoyed by the form of Sergio Perez & even Lance Stroll in 2020 and will be hoping that 2021 can salvage a fine career and set him up for the new regulations that kick in from 2022.
NEW TEAMMATE BATTLES – SAINZ vs LECLERC, RICCIARDO vs NORRIS, MAX vs SERGIO
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In Formula 1, your most significant rival is your teammate and in 2021, we have got ourselves some incredible intra-team duels to look forward to. With Lewis Hamilton FINALLY signing a new deal with Mercedes, we now have 4 F1 World Champions on the grid for 2021 and some teammates will have their work cut out, while some young drivers will be back with more hunger to taste success at the pinnacle of the sport.
Arguably one of the best & most highly anticipated battles of 2021 could come in the midfield, at Ferrari (yes we said midfield and Ferrari again). While Charles Leclerc has essentially become the Italian outfit’s poster boy, the signing of Carlos Sainz Jnr. could give them one of the most complete pairings of 2021. Leclerc over a single lap in qualifying has been nothing short of extraordinary but the consistency and race craft on a Sunday could very well bring Sainz into this battle. While Leclerc is perhaps the team’s #1 coming into the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Carlos gives him a mightier fight that he’s had from the 4 time world champion he had on the other side of the garage over the last couple of seasons.
One man who has always had his sights set on being world champion, Daniel Ricciardo, is about to join his third different team in four years and will have a proper battle on his hands up against the young, consistent Lando Norris. This duo has already become a fan favourite given their personalities off the track but once that helmet comes on, expect both these men to push themselves to the brink in search of further success for McLaren in 2021. Ricciardo will be hoping to justify a move away from a big-money seat at Alpine while Norris (a McLaren prodigy) will perhaps have his biggest test in what’s already been an impressive career at the top flight.
At Red Bull, they’ll be hoping to fill the void that Daniel Ricciardo left in 2017 and they’ve played musical chairs with a few drivers including Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, both of whom were completely outclassed by the rapid Max Verstappen. In Perez, they have a driver who’s mature, has not much to prove and could quite literally take the Bull by the horns given the more similar driving style to Max. Perez finished an incredible 4th in the 2020 championship having missed two races with Covid 19 and is a testament to his ability to bring the car home with big points, something that Red Bull have sorely missed in combination with Max. While everyone expects Sergio to play second fiddle to RBR’s Golden Boy, don’t be surprised if he gets comfy in that cockpit sooner than anyone else swapping seats in 2021.
Other great battles include Vettel’s fight for resurrection vs Stroll battling a reputation of being a pay-driver in Daddy’s team and also the returning Fernando Alonso, who goes up against Esteban Ocon, who finally looked comfortable in the Renault outfit and ever scored his first podium in 2020. Finally, a word must be said of the battle at Mercedes where 2021 could define whether Lewis stays on in F1 and whether Valtteri can impress enough to keep the charging George Russell away from his coveted seat in a title-winning car.
[Image Credit: Formula 1]