The 2021 season is kicking off today with qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix and I’m rather excited about it. A new season of any sport is always exciting for fans and enthusiasts; with major driver changes, new teams and regulation changes that could seriously affect the pecking order, 2021 could be a great year. So here are my 10 predictions for the new season.
1: A genuine title fight between Mercedes and Red Bull, Hamilton and Verstapen
There’s been false speculation about a tight title fight in previous years of the hybrid era, only for us all to be left disappointed, and Mercedes walk away with both driver’s and constructor’s championships… 7 times! But this year could be different. We’ve heard it before but I promise I’m not just trying to work you all up. It could seriously happen.
With changes to the floor and diffuser to slow the cars down, Mercedes look vulnerable. When these changes were initially announced, many thought this would affect the ‘high rake’ cars such as Red Bull more than the ‘low rake’ designed Mercedes. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. During testing both Mercedes and Aston struggled with rear stability, and Lewis even spinning and beaching his car in the gravel trap. Despite the ‘high rake’ cars having a bigger gap to the ground, they seem to compensate for the inability to seal off the floor better then the low rake setup.
Without a doubt Mercedes will be able to solve this problem, although if the problem itself is down to the design philosophy, they may really struggle. A change in rake setup is limited by the suspension geometry, something that they can’t really change. Either way Red Bull with a new, smaller and more powerful Honda power unit look strong and with Max’s confidence running high and his new experienced team mate “Checo” Perez to push him, things could be very tight indeed. Tasty.
2: McLaren winning a race
Each team was given a set amount of development tokens for their 2021 car. This was so development could be limited, and the teams could use the same chassis as last year to limit costs in the midst of corona fuelled financial mayhem. However, McLaren had already signed a deal to use Mercedes power for 21. Going into testing, McLaren had a big question mark over them, but have looked really quick, reliable, and a serious threat.
With Ricciardo joining the ranks, Lando growing from strength to strength and the team management seemingly competent; myself and many other pundits reckon they could finally win a race for the first time in nearly a decade! The driver pairing will be one to watch though, and although they both seem chilled and laid back, tensions could muster between the two.
3: Tensions between Leclerc and Sainz at Ferrari
There’s several good reasons why things didn’t quite work out for Sebastian at Ferrari. I have a bad feeling for how this could go for Sainz, equally it could do wonders for his career. It’s an emotional gamble. On paper, there’s no logical reason for his move, he’s switching to because it’s Ferrari. With Leclerc imbedded in the team and signed on the longest contract Ferrari have ever given a driver, despite Binotto’s insistency of no no1, he’s the no1 driver. I’m sure Carlos will play the game, but he’s an ambitious guy and he doesn’t want to play second fiddle to Charles.
With a questionable ruling on the legality of their 2019 power unit, Ferrari had their worst season in 40 years in 2020. Although they’ve made progress with the car and power unit for 21, McLaren, the team Sainz is leaving, looks faster. I’m sure a part of him may be regretting his decision. It’s the youngest driver pairing Ferrari has ever had, they both want to prove themselves and they might spend the year struggling in the midfield – things could go wrong.
4: Gasly moving to Alpine for 2022
It doesn’t look like Pierre will ever get to drive for Red Bull again, he only has so much time in the junior Alpha Tauri team before Red Bull find another junior driver to take his place. Alpine is the obvious choice for his future. With Alonso signed till 22, Ocon’s seat is the only viable option. Apparently Esteban and Pierre were friends when they karted but have gradually grown apart and don’t really seem to like each other.
It would be quite the story for Gasly to take his place at Alpine, but with Pierre shaping into a strong consistent driver and with a likeable/ popular character and personality evident through his Red Bull troubles, Esteban appears rather lack lustre in terms of driving and personality in comparison. At the end of the day Alpine are a businesses and Pierre would probably be a better fit on and off track for promoting the French Sports Car Brand.
5: Haas not scoring any points and finishing last
Mick Schumacher has made it to Formula 1! It’s quite the story but unfortunately it looks like he’ll be in the slowest car. At least his rather controversial and spoilt teammate Mazepin will make him look good. I hope, we all do. Haas have completely written off this season, barely developing last year’s car and spending their time working towards 22 with the big rule changes coming into force. It’s a good environment for Mick to get up to speed and comfortable. Hopefully it works out for him!
6: Perez winning at least 2 races
Sergio is experienced and quick, he should give Max a really good run for his money. I seriously expect him to win at least two races but who knows? If he’s unable to keep up with Max and Red Bull are as good as they looked in testing, he can at least pick up the odd win here or there.
7: Last season for Bottas
I do like Bottas but he’s not going to win the championship, he might not even win a race this year! I’m not the biggest fan of George Russell (he’s a bit boring), but he’s a good driver and sure showed Bottas how to drive when he filled in for Lewis last year. He deserves a shot at the top. With the new changes in 22, I think Mercedes need to shake up their driver line up and Bottas has had his time.
8: Alfa Romeo beating Williams, Haas and maybe even Alpine
Ferrari seem to have found some horses and Alfa have allegedly improved the most, according to several experts. Either way the improvement with the power unit could be enough to bring them into the midfield.
9: Alpine struggling and moving down the midfield pecking order
As a half Frenchman, I traditionally like to support Renault and McLaren. With Renault being rebranded as Alpine and the arrival of Fernando Alonso, things were looking optimistic for the new outfit before testing. Despite their aggressive air box and shrunk side pods, the power unit is more or less the same as last year and the car seemed to lack pace. Renault plan to adopt a split turbo concept like the Mercedes PU for next year, like Ferrari. I imagine Fernando has told the team to focus on 22, I just hope the new team structure can hold it together and hopefully come out with a strong package for next year. They should probably find another customer for their PU, although with the upcoming engine freeze they might not need to. Williams could be their best bet if needs be.
10: Alpha Tauri finishing ahead of Aston Martin
It’s really exciting to see Aston Martin in F1 and the new livery looks neat – despite the BWT pink accent. But judging from testing, I think they’ll struggle, like Mercedes, with the rear. Aston have seemingly focused on their own ideas instead of copying Mercedes like the controversial Racing Point of last year. Like everyone I hope Sebastian can save his reputation as a four time champ, but I do think they’ll struggle compared to last year; and that’s because teams like Alpha Tauri and Ferrari could be serious threats to them. Alpha have looked really strong with a new Honda PU and a feisty, talented young Jap in Tsunoda to push Gasly. I think Yuki Tsunoda could be one to watch!
So there are my 10 predictions for the new season and I’ve finished writing with 30 seconds left of Q1. Let’s hope I’m not completely wrong!
By James Drujon