Until Max Verstappen blitzed the pre-season testing in his Red Bull-Honda, there was no real reason to suppose the competitive hierarchy of this season was going to differ significantly from the recent past: with Mercedes firmly on top.
It may ultimately turn out that way again, of course; it’s a long season. But there is at least some hope of a close contest. Honda, Red Bull and the tweaked floor regulations of ’21 have possibly combined in a way that just might make this a vintage season.
Honda’s racing personnel were deeply saddened at the parent company decision to withdraw from F1 at the end of this year and have responded with a very aggressive strategy for their final year. What was set to be the power unit for the new formula (initially set for this year, since postponed to next year) has been reinstated as the 2021 engine, having originally been postponed along with the regulations. Subsequently, the Honda pull-out would have meant the exciting new power unit would not have seen the light of day. This was unbearable for Yasuaki Asaki, the director of Honda R&D in Sakura, who had overseen the development of the radical new engine. So he went to see the boss. “When it was announced that we would withdraw in 2021 around autumn, I asked President Hachigo to admit that it would not be acceptable to finish without producing results, and he allowed us to resume development. I was able to make it in time.”