With the new Formula 1 season starting this weekend…

…we take you through everything you need to know heading into the season.

Driver Changes

The 2021 season has seen an abundance of driver changes compared to the previous season. The announcement last season of Carlos Sainz joining Ferrari set off a chain reaction of driver changes. Daniel Ricciardo will line up alongside Lando Norris at McLaren to fill the vacant spot left by Sainz which paves the way for returning F1 veteran and former champion Fernando Alonso at the newly renamed Alpine (formerly Renault). 

The addition of Sainz at Ferrari left Sebastian Vettel looking for a new seat. The four time champion has found his new home at Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) and will line up alongside Lance Stroll who stays with the team. Vettel’s move to Aston Martin left Sergio Perez looking like he wouldn’t be on the grid come the first race of the upcoming season until a relatively surprise announcement from Red Bull had them announce Perez was to replace Alex Albon who loses his seat after a year and a half with the team. Perez will become Verstappen’s third teammate in as many years.

The 2021 season sees three rookies join the grid with two of them coming into join the Haas team. F2 champion Mick Schumacher took the first spot of the vacating drivers of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, with controversial driver Nikita Mazepin taking the second seat (check out our take on Mazepin situation here). The third rookie to join F1 this season is last season’s F2 rookie of the year Yuki Tsunoda, who replaces Daniil Kvyat at Alpha Tauri after finishing third in the 2020 F2 championship in his first season.

Reigning champions Mercedes, along with Alfa Romeo and Williams will race with an unchanged driver lineup from the 2020 season.

Calendar Changes

This season will see some notable changes to the usual F1 calendar. We will begin the season in Bahrain as apposed to the usual Australia after it was announced the race at Albert Park would be held later in the year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bahrain was also the host to a shortened pre season testing which would usually be held at Circuit de Catalunya in Spain.

Imola and Portimao are two tracks that will return for the 2021 season after host replacement races in the shortened season last year. Zandvoort will finally get to return to the F1 calendar for the first time since 1985 after its scheduled return to the calendar was delayed last season due to the pandemic. 

2021 will also see the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to be held in Jeddah. The newest addition to the F1 calendar will be the fastest street circuit to ever feature in F1 with an average speed of 250 km/h. The Grand Prix has experienced a lot of criticism surrounding human rights issues, however Formula One have insisted that they have ‘made their position on the issue clear to all their and host countries’.

Regulation Changes

Many have assumed that due to the delay in the introduction of a massive regulation overhaul in F1, the cars for this season will be identical to 2020. However this is not the case as some small regulation changes will look to have a big impact on the cars performance. A change in the design of the floor of the cars will see triangular cut outs taken out of the back of the floor compared to last year, along with the previously allowed slots in the floor for air flow manipulation now being banned.

The regulations will also see a change to lower section of the rear brake duct winglets as they are now shortened in length by a third from 120mm to 80mm. The upper section of the winglets will remain at 120mm. These seemingly small changes to the brake ducts will also help to reduce the downforce that the teams have previously been able to obtain at the rear of the car. The final change to the cars is the shortening of the diffuser fences at the rear of the car. All of these alterations should see roughly a 10% reduction in downforce compared to last year, which will make lap times fall by around 1 second.

Off the track, 2021 will be the first time a cost cap will be introduced to the sport. In an attempt to make the sport more competitive, a cost cap of $145m will be introduced for all teams. This will prevent the richer teams on the grid being able to spend endless amounts of money to get an edge over their opponents. Along with the cost cap, a sliding scale for aero testing will be introduced with the lowest performing teams from last season being allowed the most amount of testing time. This is an attempt to further level the playing field by calling the amount of testing the best teams from last season can carry out. 

Mercedes will see themselves having less of an edge over their competitors this season as their DAS system has been banned by the FIA. Dual axis steering allowed the Mercedes drivers to alter the camber of the front wheels whilst out on track, allowing them to get their tyres up to temperature quicker. The ban of the system will see the cars back on more of a level playing field for the season and hopefully lead to some more exciting racing. 

Finally the upcoming season will see a reduction in practice session times. The first two practice sessions of a race weekend were previously set to 90 minutes but have been reduced to match the 60 minutes of practice session three. The loss of an hour of practice time each weekend will give the teams less time to work out the optimum car set up and will hopefully lead to more on track excitement in the races. 

Season Predictions

Mercedes showed some signs that they were struggling with their 2021 car during pre season testing in Bahrain. With their loss of the DAS system we could well see a closer fight between the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers. Max Verstappen dominated in the final race of the season last year and will be looking to build on this going forward as he looks to usurp Hamilton from the top spot on the podium. 

Be sure to keep an eye on Sergio Perez throughout the season as he will look to build upon his first F1 win from Sakhir last year as he moves into more powerful machinery. However the second seat at Red Bull has notoriously been a difficult position to hold down in recent years, will Perez be the one who can finally equal the talent of Verstappen?

McLaren won a close fought competition for third best team last season which went right down to the wire. With the addition of Daniel Ricciardo to their driver line up, along with adopting the Mercedes powered engine for the 2021 season, expect the McLaren drivers to be scoring plenty of points and cement themselves as the third best team on the grid. Ricciardo has already come out and said for fans not expect fun and games between himself and Lando Norris so expect a hard fought competition between the teammates for who will come out of the season on the most points.

Haas have been very open about their financial struggles recently, stating that they will be unable to continually improve the car throughout the season. Expect the American based team to slip to last on the grid as although Mick Schumacher showed how much skill he has in a racing car in F2, the lack of experience in the team maybe hinder their ability to overcome struggles and provide solutions to improve the car. 

Whatever the outcome of the driver’s and constructor’s championship come December, we will be sure to have seen an action packed season of racing. Check out our 2020 F1 season review here. Who are you expecting to prosper from the new season? Who will shine out of the rookies entering for the first time this year? And ultimately who do you want to walk away with the championship? Be sure to let us know!

By Shaun Dunn

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