Formula One (F1) is back as a new season zips in with the Bahrain Grand Prix on 28 March. Last year saw Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton win a record-equalling seventh world championship title in a season curtailed by the covid-19 pandemic. But you can expect the 2021 season to spring a few surprises. Newer circuits, faster racing, rookie drivers and the return of some iconic names—there’s plenty to watch out for in the new season.
Red Bull On the ascendancy?
While current constructors’ champions Mercedes struggled in pre-season testing in Bahrain this month, Red Bull Racing looked like they are building on the momentum of last season’s win in Yas Marina. Max Verstappen, who won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and new driver Sergio Pérez gelled seamlessly with the RB16B, Red Bull’s car for the new season. On the other hand, Lewis Hamilton looked uneasy in Mercedes’ W12. He spinned twice in Bahrain, while teammate Valtteri Bottas faced a gearbox problem during testing. Hamilton remains the odds-on favourite to win the world championship for a record-breaking eighth time but you can expect Red Bull to make things interesting.
The rookies are here
Of all the driver exits after the last season, none were more surprising than Haas’ decision to let go of both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. The team now has an all-rookie line-up, with Formula 2 driver Nikita Mazepin, 22, and the reigning Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher, 22, son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Meanwhile, Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, 20, will partner Pierre Gasly in an impressive driver set-up for AlphaTauri.
So are the wise old heads
Renault has rebranded to Alpine Racing, and Racing Point to Aston Martin. What’s more exciting about Alpine’s news is the return of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. At 39, he will be one of the oldest drivers, but his performances during the pre-season—including a stellar 127 laps on Day 2 of testing—suggest he’s not quite over the hill. At Aston Martin, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, 33, will be hoping to put a disappointing stint at Ferrari behind him.
A longer race calendar
This season has the longest racing calendar in the sport’s history—23 races, six more than last year. The Australian Grand Prix, originally slated to be the season opener, has been shifted to November. The Dutch Grand Prix in September will see F1 return to the historic Zandvoort circuit after three decades. Imola (Italy) and Portimão (in Portugal) feature right after Bahrain, with the season-ender set for Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit in December.
The Jeddah Street Circuit will host the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December. At 6.175km, and 27 corners, it will be the second-longest on the calendar, going by the F1 website, after Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. It will also be one of the fastest, with an average speed of over 250 kmph predicted in simulations. The street circuit has three DRS (drag reduction system) zones and will feature a fast-paced night race. Another aspect, which is yet to be confirmed for this season, is “sprint qualifying”. The Grand Prixs at Interlagos, Silverstone and Monza are expected to test these short races in order to decide the grid for the final races.