The 2021 Formula 1 Championship is underway and it’s shaping up to be a classic year, following a spectacular opening race in Bahrain. Here’s our guide to the drivers and teams competing in F1 this year.
The grid looks different to 2020, with two teams having undergone significant rebrands — say hello to the Aston Martin and Alpine F1 teams— and a number of seats filled by new drivers, including one returning world champion.
2021 F1 team guide
Here are the F1 teams and drivers for the 2021 season. Which team has the best-looking car, do you think, and which drivers will you be supporting this year? Let us know in the comments.
Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari
Despite the absence of team principal Frederic Vasseur at pre-season testing thanks to a bout of coronavirus, Alfa Romeo had a productive weekend, clocking up more miles than any team other than AlphaTauri. Kimi Räikkönen, very much the elder statesman of the F1 grid at 41 years old, said of Alfa’s C41 car. “Feeling-wise, it is better than last year.”
Another old hand, Robert Kubica, will be on reserve driver duties but Räikkönen will again be racing alongside Antonio Giovinazzi, marking the third season that the duo have represented Alfa on the grid.
Räikkönen qualified 14th and finished 11th in the Bahrain GP, while Giovinazzi qualified 12th and finished in the same position, which suggests they will be fighting for the scraps again this year, in terms of points, but there could be an improvement on Alfa’s 8 points and 8th place in the constructors’ championship 2020.
AlphaTauri came out as one of the victors of testing in Bahrain, and they looked in strong form in Bahrain, with newcomer Yuki Tsunoda really impressing in the first part of Qualifying. He was the second best driver in pre-season testing, too.
Once again Pierre Gasly fills a race seat at Alpha Tauri. He had a stormer of a season in 2020, despite the blow of being demoted from the Red Bull team the season before. The Frenchman even managed to win a race at last year’s Italian Grand Prix and has been widely lauded as one of the sport’s rising stars.
With Honda power, which looks to be a match for the very best in 2021 (though reliability fears are yet to be allayed), and Tsunoda picking up a couple of points in Bahrain, expect AlphaTauri to be fighting for the top end of the midfield.
Renault F1’s rebrand as Alpine for the 2021 season has comprised much more than simply swapping out a yellow livery for a striking blue and red one.
The team has brought Fernando Alonso back in to the fold, who won his two World Drivers’ Championships with Renault back in 2005 and 2006, and long-term team principal Cyril Abiteboul has left after two decades with the outfit.
Alonso looked at home in the Alpine car during testing despite his two years out of the sport, and the fact that he has metal plates in his jaw courtesy of a cycling incident prior to the first race. He was running in the points in Bahrain but a sandwich wrapper blocking his car’s air duct forced him to retire following the second pit stop.
Esteban Ocon, who is now in his second season with the team, also seemed comfortable in testing though failed to make it out of the first part of qualifying in Bahrain, and finished the race a lap down on the leaders in 13th place.
As a team, Alpine will want to justify the odd design of its car, which has a somewhat bulbous airbox, as well as build on the incremental progress that the team has been making for the past few seasons, though solid midfield is the best they can realistically hope for.
Aston Martin Mercedes
Another new name on the grid, Aston Martin’s return to Formula One after more than sixty years has been one of the headline stories of the 2021 pre-season.
The team has much to feel optimistic about: it’s got a four-time world champion on its roster in Sebastian Vettel, while Lance Stroll grabbed himself a pole position and two podiums during last season (and, arguably, was unlucky not to walk away with more).
However, the team’s testing weekend in Bahrain was somewhat shaky, with Vettel confined to the pitlane for a large swathe of it due to a number of mechanical issues, including with the gearbox. He also had a dire quaflifying in Bahrain, failing to make it out of Q1, and finished the race 15th. Stroll fared better, with a 10th-place grid spot and finishing the race in the same position, to pick up the team’s first point. The learning curve for the team in 2021 will be steep.
After a bleak performance in 2019, Ferrari has already made it clear that it doesn’t expect to be winning any F1 races until 2022, when new regulations come into effect. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s written off the 2021 season entirely.
The introduction of Carlos Sainz means that both its seats are occupied by young, talented drivers with plenty of points under their belt, and Charles Leclerc’s performances at last year’s Austrian and British grands prix are proof of his ability to seemingly defy the limitations of a car lacking in quality.
Testing was a mixed bag for the duo but Leclerc put in some confidence-inspiring laps and team principal Mattia Binotto said that he feels that the team has “improved in many areas compared to last season.” Bahrain showed that Ferrari has pace, and both drivers impressed, though they finished in 6th and 8th so it looks like they’ll be fighting with McLaren and AlphaTauri over third place in the constructors table this year.
The forecast isn’t great for Haas in 2021. It’s now represented by two new drivers who are both fresh out of Formula 2 — Mick Schumacher (son of the legendary Michael Schumacher) and Nikita Mazepin — and the team has developed its car the least of any team over the winter break.
Haas also confirmed that it won’t be developing the car throughout the season, instead focusing its resources on staying abreast of the 2022 regulations — meaning that the biggest difference from last year’s car is a new livery that evokes the colours of Russia (a nod to title sponsor Uralkali, which is part-owned by Mazepin’s father).
The Ferrari powerplant used by the team is more competitive this year, and Schumacher won last year’s F2 championship, but both Haas drivers had a terrible start to the Bahrain GP, with Mazepin hitting the barrier on the opening lap (he spun a few times over the course of the weekend, in fact), and Schumacher lost the back end of his car on the first lap after the race restart. Expect Haas to be fighting with Williams at the back of the field.
After a promising season in which it grabbed third place in the Constructor’s Championship (albeit as much through consistency as outright performance) McLaren has made a raft of changes to its 2021 car, most notably replacing its Renault power unit with one from Mercedes.
It’s also drawn attention from the other F1 garages thanks to its unique rear diffuser, which cleverly says abreast of new regulations governing downforce while giving the team a possible advantage over the rest of the grid.
McLaren’s optimism will be bolstered by the introduction of multiple race winner Daniel Ricciardo, who looked to be successfully getting to grips with the new car during testing and managed a solid 7th in his first race with the team.
Ricciardo’s British team mate Lando Norris did better, though, scoring a fourth place in Bahrain. Norris is one of the new generation of superstars, who will be hoping to follow up on some excellent performances in 2020. Despite a fierce rivalry on track, the pair seem to get on well and are undeniably one of the most likable duos on the grid.
McLaren will be fighting for third in the constructors as it will be a tough ask to beat Mercedes and Red Bull this year.
Having won the last seven consecutive Constructor’s Championships and convinced the freshly-knighted Sir Lewis Hamilton to put pen to paper on a new contract, there was no reason before pre-season testing to think that Mercedes would be anything other than dominant in 2021.
However, testing in Bahrain proved anything but perfect for the team, with two spins by Hamilton, on the second and third day, while his team mate Valtteri Bottas admitted that the new W12 car was “snappy and unforgiving”.
Hamilton claimed the car was “just not quick enough” and said the team had a lot of work to do before the first race.
However, all was not lost: Mercedes has previously been accused of sandbagging (the practice of underperforming in order to deceive opponents) and Hamilton won the race – though only after Verstappen handed the lead back to him after a move that might have been penalised by the stewards.
Red Bull looked extremely strong in the first race so it it will be much tougher for Lewis Hamilton to convert his seven world championships into a record-breaking eight.
Red Bull Racing
Is this the year that Max Verstappen wins his first F1 championship? The Dutch wunderkind said that pre-testing had been “definitely the best” of his career, and Red Bull looks to be well-prepared for the 2021 season — that’s not always the case for the team — and in the first race at Bahrain the Mercedes and Red Bull cars were hard to separate, in terms of speed.
Team principal Christian Horner said after pre-season testing that he still rates Mercedes’ chances above Red Bull’s for the title, but in fact it could be a much closer battle this year. That’s great news for the fans.
There are plenty of reasons for Red Bull to be cautiously optimistic. Its short run speed — something it has struggled with in the past — was reportedly 0.5 seconds quicker than that of Mercedes during testing, which bodes well for Qualifying sessions. Engine supplier Honda is on its way out of the sport, and wants nothing more than to end on a high.
What’s more, Sergio Perez proved himself to be one of the most adept drivers on the grid last year, winning one of the races from the back of the grid. That earnt him his spot a Red Bull. Perez struggled more than Verstappen in qualifying at the Bahrain GP, and the car stalled on the warm-up lap of the race, but the Mexican showed his lion heart once again to battle back to 5th position at the chequered flag. Game on for 2021.
After finishing the 2020 season bottom of the standings with 0 points, Williams has a number of reasons to think it might fare better in 2021. It’s using the duo of George Williams and Nicholas Latifi for the second time, and while they’re definitely not the most experienced pair, they have a distinct cockpit time advantage over the rookies fielded by their main rivals, Haas.
Russell has really showed his racing chops at several races last season, including with a single race at Mercedes, when he stood in for Lewis Hamilton.
Furthermore, Williams plans to develop its car throughout the season. Haas, in comparison, will not. Last year also saw the team taken over by Dorilton Capital, so although it’s sad for many that the Williams family is no longer in control, the new owners will inject both new cash and ideas.
The company has also brought on former World Champion Jenson Button in an advisory capacity, which can’t hurt.
However, Russell said that the new car is especially vulnerable to wind, and predicted a “yo-yo effect” in 2021 that will see Williams be “fast at some events and slow at others”. At the Bahrain GP, Latifi retired due to a suspected boost leak on lap 52 of 56 after running at the back, while Russell managed to bring his car home in 14th. The truth is that 2021 will be another tough year for the team.
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