(Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)
By: TJ Dhir
The 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship is finally upon us, starting with this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Pre-season testing always creates more questions than answers, and with the 72nd F1 season upon us. It’s worth delving into five essential questions that will define the season.
How will COVID-19 affect the season?
The worldwide pandemic wreaked havoc on the 2020 season, with the Australian Grand Prix being cancelled on the Friday of the weekend just before the cars were to hit the track. Further changes followed, with races being added, dropped, and swapped for others. The FIA hastily created a 17-race calendar, but almost every race came with uncertainty regarding the health of the paddock. Although vaccinations will increase as the season progresses, reserve drivers and team members will have to be ready to be called upon at short notice. Three drivers tested positive last season, with three more testing positive over the winter break. So far, the 2021 calendar has been planned to bring a more traditional order, but changes have already been made. With Australia being moved to November and Imola & Portugal returning after last season. More changes might occur, scrambling the calendar once again.
Can Mercedes and their star driver
rebound to create even more history?
If the seven-time reigning Constructors’ Champions were not showing their true colours during pre-season testing, they might have pulled off the ultimate bluff. Mercedes completed the least amount of laps between any of the teams, as both drivers struggled. The silver arrows are on the back foot early. Team Principal Toto Wolff claims the team found the “hair in the soup,” but at this point, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have a lot to do if they want to win the title once again. Hamilton’s rivals this season will be teammate Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen & newcomer Sergio Perez. They are on a roll after looking like the strongest team during pre-season testing. The recovery at Mercedes must be quick if they want to emerge as champions, especially given Verstappen’s victory at Abu Dhabi and the arrival of Perez as his new Red Bull teammate.
Can Perez match Verstappen?
Speaking of the Red Bull duo, this is the first time since 2018 that Verstappen will have a teammate to help him take the fight to Mercedes. There is no denying that Red Bull is Verstappen’s team, and while Perez hasn’t been signed with the task of beating the 10-time race winner, the Mexican driver is expected to help the team score points consistently. However, this will be the first time Perez will drive machinery that is routinely expected to score podiums and win races. Fighting at the front of the field is different from fighting in the midfield, and Perez will have to adjust quickly to the added pressure of racing for a team fighting to win the championship.
Who will finish at the top of the midfield?
Each team in the midfield made at least one change to their driver lineup, and everyone will have something to prove. Bringing in Daniel Ricciardo to pair with Lando Norris at McLaren was a great move. As both drivers want to demonstrate what it takes to deliver podiums and wins to a team that craves success. Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo both made similar moves, as they brought in seasoned veterans Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso to pair with their young drivers. One thing is for sure that Lance Stroll and Sebastien Vettel want to prove that last year's setbacks are a thing of the past. On the other side, Alonso wants to prove his return to Formula 1 isn’t in vain, and Ocon intends to show that he still has value to the team. Despite being primarily outperformed by Ricciardo last season. Ferrari claims they have sorted their struggles from last season out with a new engine and reduced drag. New driver Carlos Sainz wants to show that he made the right decision to move to Maranello, and Charles Leclerc will want to prove that he is still Ferrari’s future. You could argue that AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly has nothing to prove after his breakthrough win at Monza last year, but he will want to continue to let Red Bull know that they made a mistake by dropping him in 2019. His new teammate Yuki Tsunoda will want to show Red Bull’s faith in him was not misplaced.
How will teams develop this year’s cars
with new regulations for next season?
The 2021 cars are essentially carry-overs from last season, with the chassis required to be the same as the 2020 version. With the planned regulation changes for 2021 pushed back a season thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FIA implemented a development token system to keep costs down. Although each team has been given only two tokens, the system is for internal non-aerodynamic upgrades only. As different upgrades require either one or two tokens. Teams are not permitted to mention how many tokens they have spent or where they spent them. Teams including Mercedes, Williams and Red Bull have been relatively quiet about where they have spent their tokens. Other teams like Alpine, Ferrari, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo have all been vocal on where they chose to spend their tokens. Alpine and Ferrari spent their tokens on the rear of the cars. As for Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo spent their tokens on the front of the cars. Aston Martin used a loophole to adopt the 2020 Mercedes chassis free of charge, allowing them to use their tokens on the survival cell. McLaren’s hands were tied when it came to token spend, as they were forced to use both of their tokens on accommodating their new Mercedes engines. On the other hand, Haas has opted not to use either of their tokens to focus their development entirely on their 2022 car.