The biggest Formula 1 season of all-time, 23 races in a little over nine months, 2021 promises to be an intriguing year.
Lewis Hamilton is aiming to become the most successful F1 driver outright, with the prospect of an eighth Drivers’ Championship elevating him above Michael Schumacher and out in front by himself.
Red Bull is looking like the closest challenger to Mercedes with the best chance of bringing the current era to a close and end the run of domination for the Silver Arrows.
Daniel Ricciardo has moved to McLaren as the team aims to continue its resurgence to the front of the F1 pack while two-time world champion Fernando Alonso takes his place at Alpine.
Ferrari is expecting a boost in performance versus last year from its 2021 power unit and the Schumacher name is back in Formula 1 as Mick Schumacher makes his debut at Haas.
Here is everything you need to know for the 2021 Formula 1 season.
HQ: Brackley, UK & Brixworth, UK
Team Principal: Toto Wolff
Key staff: James Allison (technical director), James Vowles (motorsport strategy director), Andrew Shovlin (trackside engineering director)
Mercedes enters the final season of the current rules period undefeated, taking every single championship since 2014. Will 2021 be a repeat? It might be a battle as the team did not enjoy the usual metronomic start to the season, posting the least mileage of any team during testing. The W12 looks to be a bit more of a handful for its drivers versus its predecessor, but the team hasn’t won seven-consecutive championships for no reason. Any issues it’s currently facing will surely be ironed out sooner rather than later.
- Mercedes is slower than Red Bull — but it could all blow over: MPH
- How much trouble is Mercedes really in?
HQ: Milton Keynes, UK
Team Principal: Christian Horner
Key staff: Adrian Newey (chief technical officer), Helmut Marko (head of driver development programme)
A team that usually ends the season on a high note, Red Bull appears to have finally carried some of that speed into the new year. Max Verstappen topped pre-season testing and the RB16B looked to be much more stable than the previous iteration that made the rear end unpredictable. Those ill-handling traits look to have been ironed out with the changes in regulations, and with the addition of Sergio Perez, the team looks like it might be a title threat to Mercedes from lights out.
- Hamilton vs Verstappen — finally the F1 battle we’ve been waiting for? MPH
- Sergio Perez: ‘I need 5 races to get the best out of 2021 Red Bull’
HQ: Woking, UK
Team Principal: Andreas Seidl
Key Staff: Zak Brown (CEO), Andrea Stella (Executive director, Racing), James Key (Technical director)
McLaren was one of the teams that left pre-season testing happiest of all. The team looked like it had migrated from Renault to Mercedes power seamlessly and showed promising pace on all three days. Daniel Ricciardo finished his morning sessions in the car fastest of all so appears to have also acclimatised to new surroundings right away, and Lando Norris has consistently built on his previous performances; 2021 is looking promising for the papaya crew.
- Zak Brown: ‘McLaren on track to winning championships again’
- 2021 McLaren design changes: how it compares to last year’s F1 car
HQ: Silverstone, UK
Team Principal: Otmar Szafnauer
Key Staff: Lawrence Stroll (Chairman), Andrew Green (Technical director)
The team courted controversy with its Mercedes lookalike last year, and the 2021 AMR21 has continued that philosophy of design. Aston Martin uses a low-rake concept like Mercedes though on first appearances, this might be a point against it. The high-rake cars looked much more comfortable with the new regulation changes during testing. With the addition of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to its toolbox and a new factory under construction, the team under Lawrence Stroll means business.
- Sebastian Vettel ‘showing F1 title-winning talent’ at Aston Martin
- Is Aston Martin Sebastian Vettel’s best chance at F1 title since Red Bull?
HQ: Viry, France & Enstone, UK
Team Principal: None
Key Staff: Laurent Rossi (Chief executive officer), Marcin Budkowski (Executive director), Davide Brivio (Racing Director), Pat Fry (Chassis technical officer)
Much has been made of Alpine’s unique F1 management structure. With the departure of Cyril Abiteboul and the hiring of Davide Brivio from Suzuki’s MotoGP team, the team says it is fine without a traditional team principal at the helm. Can it manage the returning Fernando Alonso though? The two-time champion makes his comeback in 2021 after Daniel Ricciardo’s departure to McLaren. The Australian grew disillusioned with the long-term project Renault had promised him; will the Spaniard be patient at Alpine?
- Will too many chiefs at Alpine derail Fernando Alonso’s F1 comeback?
- Alpine reveals reasons behind bulky engine cover
HQ: Maranello, Italy
Team Principal: Mattia Binotto
Key Staff: Laurent Mekies (Racing director), Enrico Cardille (Chassis performance chief), Enrico Gualtieri (Power unit performance chief)
2020 was the worst season for Ferrari in over 40 years. The team slumped to sixth in the standings with just three podium finishes all season. The team suffered a fairly toxic atmosphere with Sebastian Vettel racing knowing he was out of the team at the end of the year, but the team’s main issues stemmed from its private settlement with the FIA over its power unit. This year, the team says its data suggests it has made gains in terms of top-end speed versus last year, and the arrival of Carlos Sainz could further re-energise those at Maranello.
- Charles Leclerc: ‘I’m not Ferrari No1, I’ll have to battle Sainz’
- ‘Friendly assassin’ Carlos Sainz targets title despite Ferrari support role — MPH
HQ: Faenza, Italy
Team Principal: Franz Tost
Key Staff: Jody Egginton (Technical director)
AlphaTauri is another team on the up and was one of the stronger packages throughout pre-season testing. Pierre Gasly rebounded from his demotion from Red Bull to become a first-time F1 winner at Monza last season, and the addition of Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda makes for a promising line-up this year. Tsunoda has enjoyed a rapid ascent in the single-seater world, rising from Japanese F4 to F1 in just five years. He finished testing second fastest after some rapid times on the final day.
- Will Pierre Gasly ever get a chance to truly shine in F1?
- AlphaTauri: can Red Bull’s other F1 team crack the top 5 in 2021?
HQ: Hinwil, Switzerland
Team Principal: Fréd Vasseur
Key Staff: Jan Monchaux (Technical director)
One of just three teams to field an unchanged line-up in 2021, Alfa Romeo has stuck with what it knows for the new season. Its focus is very much on the 2022 regulation changes and it says it did not want to deal with the challenges of welcoming a new driver in a crucial year for development. The experience of Kimi Räikkönen will likely be vital, but so too is the promise of more power from the Ferrari engine.
- Is 2021 Alfa Romeo the right F1 car for ‘crucial year’?
- Kubica says passion for F1 remains: ‘The worst is to watch others racing’
HQ: Kannapolis, US & Banbury, UK
Team Principal: Guenther Steiner
Key Staff: Simone Resta (Technical director)
The return of the Schumacher name to Formula 1 is one of the key stories heading into the new season. Mick Schumacher took the F2 title last season but could be in for a tough debut year. Haas has made its intentions clear already and has already switched full focus to 2022. The car has received limited upgrades since the beginning of the 2020 season but fresh investment from Dmitri Mazepin and new title sponsor Uralkali could turn Haas’s fortunes around.
HQ: Grove, UK
Team Principal: Simon Roberts
Key Staff: Jost Capito (CEO), Jenson Button (Senior advisor)
2021 is the first full season without a Williams family member at the helm of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. Instead, Simon Roberts has taken over as team principal with Jost Capito returning to F1 as team CEO after a brief spell at McLaren in the past. Dorilton Capital has high hopes for the team but any major improvements are unlikely until 2022. George Russell was a star performer last year, and with both Mercedes drivers out of contract at the end of the season, a drive at the top team looks there for the taking.