Red Eye’s Guide to the 2021 F1 launch season09 Feb
The days are getting a little longer, Easter eggs are on sale, and – yes – people have finally stopped wishing you a Happy New Year; as we roll nicely into February, preparations really start to ramp up ahead of the 2021 Formula 1 season.
The first race against the clock for all ten teams – and their marketing departments – is to get the latest challengers off the production line, liveried up and ready for the world’s media as launch season comes around.
Although the regulations for this year means teams will be carrying across their 2020 chassis in preparation for a huge rule upheaval in 2022, there’s still plenty for keen-eyed fans to keep an eye out for.
Changes to the floors, brake ducts, diffusers, weight distribution and new Pirelli tyre compounds will dominate the technical spreads in every major motorsport publication, whilst ’21 also sees the introduction of the much-anticipated cost cap to level out the financial playing field in the sport.
A new ‘sliding scale’ for aero testing also means the worse a team fared in last year’s COVID-affected season, the more opportunities they’ll have to get ahead of the game for ’22.
Here’s our guide to each and every team gearing up for the season ahead, and when we can expect to see their 2021 car unveiled.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1Team
Lewis Hamilton officially announced a one-year extension to his relationship with the Silver Arrows on Monday, putting to bed weeks of speculation as to whether the now record-equalling seven-time World Champion would remain with the Brackley-based team.
Hamilton will once again partner Valtteri Bottas; although the Finn finished well behind his team-mate in 2020, his contribution – including wins in Austria and Russia – proved vital as Mercedes secured another successive Constructors title.
Interestingly, with Hamilton only extended for a further year, both its drivers – and young protegee George Russell – are all out of contract at the end of the season, so this could be a career-defining year for at least two of the trio.
Expect Mercedes to be the ‘team to beat’ once again, and the already-christened W12 will meet the media on Tuesday, 2nd March 2021.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull start the new season as the team most likely to challenge Mercedes’ dominance, and field the drivers who finished third and fourth respectively last campaign.
Max Verstappen is a very familiar face at the squad and added another brace of victories – plus several podiums – to his ever-growing CV in 2020.
Alongside Verstappen for this year is Sergio Perez, the now one-time race winner after that classic under the lights in Sakhir making the step up to Red Bull’s senior outfit, whilst predecessor Alex Albon drops to a reserve role.
Red Bull are still yet to confirm the launch date for the RB16B.
It’s a big season ahead for the Scuderia, there’s little denying that. The trophy cabinet at Maranello only featured three new additions after the curtain fell on 2020, and none of them were race victories.
However, with fresh blood comes fresh opportunity, and Carlos Sainz has certainly earnt his shot at driving for arguably the sport’s biggest name.
Alongside the Spaniard will be Ferrari’s rising star Charles Leclerc, the Monegasque looking to regain the starring role he played during his debut season with the team.
A date for the SF21 to meet the world’s media remains unconfirmed.
Aston Martin Cognizant F1Team
Racing Point officially become Aston Martin in 2021 as the British manufacturer makes a return to Formula 1.
Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel makes the switch across after a disappointing end to his Ferrari career, and alongside him is Lance Stroll, the Canadian ever-improving and buoyed after adding to his trophy cabinet at Monza and Sakhir in 2020.
If Aston Martin can pick up where Racing Point left off – a strong contender for the third-best team on the grid – then it could be a very fruitful debut campaign indeed.
The launch date for their new car is still to be confirmed.
It’s a big season for Williams, their first under private ownership without the Williams family.
The signs have been there for some time that this sleeping giant is on its way back towards the ‘right’ end of the grid and retaining George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will provide good stability at the Grove team.
Russell’s stock has shot through the roof even further after his impressive cameo in Sakhir for Mercedes, as well as his starring roles in qualifying, dragging the often-unfancied Williams into Q2.
Latifi’s debut season showed plenty of promise, and the building blocks are definitely there to make further strides in 2021.
Williams’ new car – the FW43B – will be launched on Friday, 5th March.
McLaren’s renaissance has been one of the ‘feel-good’ stories of the paddock over the past two seasons.
The team retains Lando Norris – one half of an infamous ‘bromance’ with Carlos Sainz that won fans across the world over – as the Briton looks to build on his first podium as he enters his third season in the sport.
With Sainz’s departure to Ferrari leaving a vacancy, the team have brought in experienced race-winner Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian switching over from Renault.
The team also moves engine suppliers to Mercedes; will that extra performance in the power unit department prove enough to unlock more silverware for the Woking outfit in ’21?
The MCL35M will be launched on Monday, 15th February – the first car to do so.
Alpine F1 Team
Rebranded, but Renault at its core, Alpine F1 Team has lost its chief breadwinner from last year in Ricciardo but retains highly rated youngster Esteban Ocon.
Ocon, who took his first podium in that Sakhir race, has performed well since returning to the sport’s top table after a year in a reserve capacity, but will now face an entirely new challenge internally. That’s because his team-mate for ’21 is double World Champion, Fernando Alonso. After a period racing elsewhere, mostly in the World Endurance Championship and IndyCar, Alonso makes a return to the sport, keen to bring success back to the team he won his two world titles with in ’05 and ’06.
If the car lives up to the driver pairing, it could be a very positive start to life under the Alpine umbrella for the team.
The A521 is yet to receive a launch date.
Scuderia Alpha Tauri
Alpha Tauri pulled off the shock of the season last year with Pierre Gasly’s emotional win against the odds at Monza.
There may well be more headlines for the team based at Faenza in ’21 as Formula 2 rising star Yuki Tsunoda graduates to F1.
Tsunoda – one of the standout stories in the feeder categories last year – will be sure to keep Gasly honest throughout the campaign, with both drivers looking to build on the Scuderia’s consistent points-scoring form from 2020.
The covers will come off the AT02 on Friday 19th February.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen
2021 will mark over two decades in Formula 1 for fan favourite Kimi Raikkonen, but the Flying Finn shows no signs of slowing down as he begins his third season with the team that gave him his debut in its Sauber guise way back in 2001.
He partners Italy’s Antonio Giovanazzi once more for the new campaign and both will be pushing hard to return the marque to the points on a more regular basis this year.
The C41 will be launched on Monday, 22nd February.
Haas F1 Team
Haas features an all-new line up for 2021, with Mick Schumacher – son of renowned seven-time World Champion Michael – joined by Nikita Mazepin.
Both placed highly in last season’s Formula 2 Championship, with Schumacher beating fellow Ferrari junior Callum Illot to the title, and Mazepin classified fifth overall with wins at Silverstone and Mugello.
Both Haas’ chassis name – and release date – are yet to be announced by the team.
So, there we have it – twenty drivers, across ten teams, all ready for another gruelling, action-packed calendar spanning the length and breadth of the globe.
After launch season, the circus packs up and heads out to Sakhir, Bahrain for pre-season testing ahead of the season-opening race on 28th March.
Which car launch are you most looking forward to? Let us know!