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2021 Formula 1 season preview

Charles Leclerc and Valtteri Bottas pre-season testing. Credits: Getty

As the 2021 season is right around the corner and the pre-season testing came to an end one week ago, the teams and the drivers are ready to get back on track to show their real pace.

The pre-season testing might create more doubts rather than answering questions. However, by analyzing the data and the behavior of the cars, it is possible to try to understand how each team could perform next week at the Bahrain GP

Starting with the reigning world champion team Mercedes, it is pretty straightforward that not everything went as smoothly as planned. They had reliability problems on the first day. Then, Lewis Hamilton spun on the second day, and both drivers were not happy with the rear of the car, saying that the balance was not good enough. However, Valtteri Bottas set the fastest lap on day 2 of testing, which means that Mercedes might have sandbagged a lot and can still be on top next week.

The only team that was able to fight against Mercedes last season was Red Bull. They looked extremely strong in Bahrain last week, both with their star Max Verstappen and their new driver Sergio Perez, who still needs time to adapt to the car. During the three days, Red Bull did not suffer many problems, and everything went smoother if compared to the reigning champion team. In the first race, Red Bull will be the one to watch for sure, and Verstappen could also take the win.

Max Verstappen pre-season testing. Credits: Red Bull content pool.

A team that showed a great performance last year was McLaren. After some difficult seasons, they managed to finish in P3 in the standings, and this year they aim to fight for more podiums and repeat last season’s performance. During testing, they showed a decent pace, and it seemed that they adapted well to the new Mercedes engine. Moreover, they developed a clever diffuser that no other team has. Therefore, with a proven race-winner driver like Daniel Ricciardo, and an incredibly fast driver such as Lando Norris, the English team can aim high this season.

In fourth position last season finished Racing Point. This year the team has been re-branded as Aston Martin. Just like Mercedes, not everything ran smoothly last week at the Sakhir circuit. They also had gearbox issues and other problems that prevented them from collecting a good amount of data. The fact that they were not able to complete many laps is an even bigger disadvantage for them since their new driver, Sebastian Vettel, did not have much time to adapt to the car. However, considering that their car is somehow pretty similar to the Mercedes W12, they could also surprise us next weekend.

13 March 2021, Bahrain, Sakhir: Formula 1: Pre-season testing kicks off, Day 2. Sebastian Vettel (DEU#5), Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team, on track in Bahrain. Photo: Hasan Bratic/dpa (Photo by Hasan Bratic/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Renault finished the 2020 season just behind Racing Point, and just like them, the team has been re-branded. The new name is Alpine, which shows a fresh new light blue, red, and white livery. It was a promising weekend for them, the one in Bahrain. They completed many laps, and the pace seemed pretty ok. Moreover, Fernando Alonso, who came back after two years, seemed in great shape, and his pushy nature is helping the team improving even more. By looking at what they did last week, they can be in the midfield battle as well, and maybe they can also score some podiums in 2021.

Now it is time for the most disappointing team during the 2020 season, Ferrari. From a historical team like the Italian one, the last thing someone would expect is to see them finish sixth in the constructor championship. In Bahrain, they said that the problems with the engine had been solved, and the data looked promising. However, even though the aim is to score more podiums, it will not be an easy season for them. The goal is to do better than last year and to be in the midfield battle at every race. Finally, Carlos Sainz seemed to adapt pretty quickly to the SF21, and along with Charles Leclerc, they can bring the team back on top.

AlphaTauri that also scored a win last season in Monza with Pierre Gasly, finished the 2020 season in P7. The team looked strong at the pre-season testing, also with the new rookie driver Yuki Tsunoda. Both the race pace and the qualifying simulation were good. Therefore, with a very young driver line-up and a young team, AlphaTauri can achieve great results this season.

Coming to the last three spots of the standings, Alfa Romeo did not shine at all last year. However, with the new Ferrari engine, the 2021 season seems to be more promising. Both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi said that the engine feels much better, and the car felt good as well. Raikkonen did some race pace simulations that looked competitive, and the car seems to have decent potential. In 2021 Alfa Romeo might join the battle for the midfield.

Antonio Giovinazzi pre-season testing. Credits: Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN

Haas concluded an extremely difficult year in P9. The 2021 season does not look good either despite the all-new rookie line-up with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. It seems that the team does not want to develop the car for the whole season and fully focus on the new regulations for 2022. It will not be easy then for their new young drivers to show their skills. Arriving in Bahrain after the testing, there is the feeling that they could be slower than Williams and struggle a lot.

Finally Williams, the team that struggled the most during the last few years. Since 2020 however, it seems that they are on the right path to recover and be competitive again. Miracles do not happen in F1 but just looking at what happened during the pre-season testing, Williams can hope to score some points this season, and very likely they can also outscore Haas.

As already said at the beginning, it is almost impossible to know the real pace of the teams until the first race comes. Nonetheless, this little preview might help to understand where the teams are, compared to last year.

The only thing to do is wait, and luckily it will not be long until the lights go out in Bahrain this weekend.

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