The 2021 Formula One season is almost here - and it’s about this time of year I really start to feel excited and start to feel the anticipation.
At the time of writing, we have had four car launches; McLaren first as they unveiled the MCL35M, followed by AlphaTauri with the AT02. After those, we had Alfa Romeo revealing the C41 and most recently we have had Red Bull release the RB16B. Next, to unveil their 2021 challengers are Mercedes and Alpine, both on the 2nd of March, followed by Aston Martin unveiling their AMR21 on the 3rd of March. Haas will have a livery reveal on the 4th of March, but that will most likely be on the 2020 car before the actual 2021 challenger is revealed. Williams will reveal their FW43B on March 5th, before Ferrari becomes the last to release their car on March 10th. The Italian giants will be doing a team launch on February 26th.
So, we’ve seen some of the cars for the coming season, and they haven’t disappointed. The teams are of course having to use last year's cars with some updates/upgrades, due to the Covid-19 Pandemic delaying the major rule changes until 2022. It’s a season where teams will be looking to build on solid results from last year, particularly McLaren and Alpine (formerly Renault). The cars we have seen so far have all been very handsome in the livery department, with Alfa Romeo’s particularly whetting my appetite. They have swapped the red and the white on the side and rear of the car from last year, and while it is only a small change, it has made a big difference.
AlphaTauri has done something similar, swapping the white and dark blue from last year. It’s quite a bit different from last year, but it really stands out and I think it will be one of the prettiest cars on the grid this year. McLaren’s livery is incredibly similar to last year, with only a few subtle changes that only the eagle-eyed McLaren fan (looking at you, Neil) will notice. They have stuck with the now traditional Papaya and blue, but looking at the team wear that drivers Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were wearing before the car was unveiled, I was disappointed there wasn’t more black on the car than there actually is.
The easiest one to picture was Red Bull. Their dark blue livery with the yellow nosecone as been almost constant since the team entered the sport back in 2005, with only a few special liveries and rather beautiful but unarmed testing liveries breaking the tradition. They have of course, lost the Aston Martin title sponsorship for this year, with the British marques’ branding now replaced by engine provider Honda.
With four cars down, we have six to go, and I cannot wait to see the rest of them. If I was to hazard a guess, I would say that Ferrari would probably be red. That’s all I can guess right now. I would like to see Alpine turn out in the bright French Racing Blue, and with Fernando Alonso at the wheel, it would be almost iconic to see him sitting in a bright blue car again, reminiscent of his 2005 and 2006 title success in the bright blue Renault R25 and R26. Obviously, the one I am most looking forward to is Williams, my team. After a dismal few years, this year feels like the start of a new season and I’m cautiously optimistic for them in 2021.
Pre-Season testing starts on 12th March but is very different from previous seasons. In previous years, testing would normally take place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, but this year it will be in Bahrain at the Sakhir circuit. It will also only last for three days, between 12-14 March, as opposed to a good few weeks we normally get. This means that teams will have to cram all of their testing programs into a much smaller timeframe. For most teams, this shouldn’t be an issue, as because as I mentioned earlier, they are using last year's cars with some updates. The team I think it could hurt the most is McLaren, as they have an entirely different rear end to last year, having moved from Renault to Mercedes power. The car has been on a shakedown at Silverstone however, and no problems were apparent, so they should be feeling pretty confident.
It will be great to see the cars hammering around the circuit for Pre-Season testing, on what should be a much more intensive and time-conscious schedule. Williams has already given their car a shakedown similar to McLaren, as have Red Bull, so those three teams will have an idea of what to expect.
The Race Calendar
The first race weekend is the 28th March, but disappointing will not be at the usual first venue of Albert Park in Melbourne. Instead, the teams will be staying in Bahrain for the first race, before heading to one of my favourite circuits, Imola on 18th April. Portimao will be staying on the calendar after receiving positive reviews in it’s first race for a long time last year, with Vietnam dropping off the calendar for the second successive year. I’m not too fussed about Vietnam, as I didn’t like the look of the track and I think F1 is starting to get too many street circuits, with Albert Park, Monaco, Singapore and Azerbaijan. Saudi Arabia is on the calendar for the first time. I’m intrigued by Saudi Arabia; it caused quite a lot of controversy when it was first announced and street circuits really can be very hit and miss. I would rather see F1 return to a circuit with pedigree and history, much like they are with Imola, or go to a different venue altogether. F1 returned to Turkey last year of course and we were treated with an absolutely fantastic race, with Hamilton winning ahead of Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel third with his only podium of the season. It’s a shame that Turkey has not stayed on the calendar, as it quite often provided exciting races. Hopefully we will see it on the calendar again one day. F1 also returns to the Netherlands at Zandvoort, which will no doubt prove very popular with Dutch driver Max Verstappen! Hopefully fans will be allowed at that race, as it will no doubt be a sea of orange as they support their home hero! One of my only wishes is to not have Abu Dhabi as the last race of the season. Yes, it looks great, but it’s such a dull track that rarely, if ever, provides good racing. As Kimi Raikkonen said back in 2009: “The first few turns are quite good, but the rest of it is s***”. The endless tarmac run-off areas are one of the issues for me, and Abu Dhabi is just all glitz and no excitement. For me, the season should end at Interlagos, in Brazil, A brilliant, old-school, undulating, narrower, twisting circuit. It has provided so many good races over the decades it has been in F1, and has of course welcomed many heroes including Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Emerson Fittipaldi, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and more. It’s not as glitzy as Abu Dhabi of course, but I would rather end the season with a more unpredictable and exciting race than a dull race with some bright lights.
To Round Up
As I said earlier, it’s about this time of the year that I really start to get excited about the forthcoming season. We have seen some of the cars, the calendar is confirmed and Pre-Season testing is only around the corner. I have missed my fix of F1, and I just want to say again a big “well done” to everyone involved in enabling the sport to go-ahead last year through what was an incredibly tough and testing time. Fans were greatly missed of course, but it was fantastic to see cars lapping in anger at new venues, old venues, and returning venues. We were treated to some predictable races, but also some totally unpredictable races. Who would have pictured Pierre Gasly taking his first race win in the AlphaTauri? Or Sergio Perez winning his first Grand Prix for Racing Point? Or George Russell stepping in as a late substitute for Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes and very nearly winning the race? Wow.
One thing I am intrigued by this year is how long the teams take before they shift focus to 2022. About halfway through previous seasons, some teams have divided staff members to focus on the following year while keeping some developing the current car. This year is tricky, as they’re having to use updated versions of the 2020 cars, before a big rule change comes into effect for 2022. This will see drastically different cars, with different aero and more, and it certainly has the potential to shake up the pecking order. We could see the front-running teams fall off the pace slightly (as Red Bull did for the 2014 rule changes that saw Mercedes take top spot), or we could see teams further back push back up the grid, like Williams, who are hunting a return to the glory days.
There is a lot to look forward to for F1 in 2021, and I absolutely cannot wait. We are of course still doing the F1 Fans Show live every Monday at the different time now of 7:15 pm, and in recent weeks we have seen the show get bigger and better, with more of you lovely people getting involved and giving us your questions and opinions. We really want to push the show even further as well, and we love having you with us every step of the way.
See you on the show, and take care and stay safe of course!