by Daniel Roodt
The 2020 Formula 1 (F1) season was one like no other. The start of the season was postponed until July due to COVID-19. Races were crammed into a short space of time and new tracks were visited due to lockdown restrictions preventing racing in certain countries.
While the 2021 season will be more spread out, it will still be a disrupted calendar. Already, the planned season opener in Australia in March has been pushed back to November due to COVID-19. Furthermore, the race in China may not go ahead, and one race location has yet to be confirmed.
However, we should still be in for a cracking season, with most teams opting to change their driver lineups. Some drivers will want to repay their new team’s faith, others have points to prove and some, well one, has records to extend. And, for the first time in seven years, the Schumacer name will be back on the F1 grid, with Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick racing for Haas this season after winning F2 in 2020.
So, here are my 2021 F1 predictions. From the best driver to the most disappointing to the biggest dark horse and who the best rookie will be, as well as what I think the team standings will look like come December.
World Championship Winner:
Even though he hasn’t signed a contract at the time of writing, there is only one answer for this; Sir Lewis Hamilton. Fresh off the back of a knighthood and breaking Michael Schumacher’s record for wins last season, the Mercedes driver looks set to write his name in the F1 history books yet again.
Hamilton and Mercedes have been the dominant team in the paddock for the past seven years. Mercedes have made it a clean sweep of driver and constructors titles in these seven seasons, with Hamilton winning the driver’s title in six of the seven seasons. His only season at Mercedes where he didn’t win the driver’s championship was in 2016, where he finished runner-up to his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
Last year Lewis Hamilton absolutely dominated the championship. In fact, he won enough points by himself that if his Mercedes teammate, Valterri Bottas won no points, Mercedes would have still won the constructor’s championship.
There is nothing to suggest that Hamilton won’t continue this dominance in 2021. His car should be better, and Red Bull and Ferrari won’t be able to match the Mercedes cars every week. While McLaren should continue to improve on their third-place finish last season, especially after signing a deal with Mercedes to start using their engines, it is unlikely they will consistently challenge the teams at the top.
Furthermore, Hamilton has some records and milestones to set this season. In 2020, he broke Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 wins. Hamilton now sits on 95 wins and could be set to extend this to triple figures. He also tied Schumacher’s record of seven driver’s championships.
If Hamilton wins the driver’s championship this year, he will establish himself above everyone else, and move to uncharted territory in the Formula 1 record books.
All in all, the British driver looks set to conquer the F1 grid once again this season and will be keen to extend and break as many records as possible before he retires.
Most disappointing driver:
From one Mercedes driver to another. I think Valterri Bottas will be the most disappointing driver in 2021. Before the start of each season, Bottas hypes up his chances of usurping his teammate and winning the driver’s title. He talks about how this year will be different and then after winning one race says “To whom it may concern, f*ck you."
And then, the same thing happens again. That is that Bottas is unable to maintain a consistent title challenge, and Hamilton strolls his way to the title without much competition.
While a disappointing season for Bottas contains results that most drivers would leap at, he really should be doing more in such a powerful car. The odd win here and there combined with consistent podium finishes isn’t good enough when you are competing against Lewis Hamilton.
If Bottas fails to at least maintain a significant title challenge, it will likely be his last year for Mercedes. This is because young Mercedes driver, George Russell who is currently racing for Williams will be gunning for Bottas’s seat in 2022. And if Rusell can continue to overachieve with that poor Williams car, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff will have to give a Mercedes seat in 2022 or risk losing him to a rival.
In 2020, Pierre Gasly was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the season. He bounced back excellently from his Red Bull demotion the previous season by guiding his Alpha Tauri to consistent top 10 finishes. To cap it all off, he even won a crazy race at Monza, which was a result that almost nobody could have predicted.
My dark horse for 2021 may be a bit of a cheat selection, but I’m going for Sebastian Vettel. The German’s move to Ferrari in 2015 was meant to further elevate his status as one of the greatest drivers of all time. However, it was an immensely disappointing move for him, and he failed to add to his four driver’s titles.
He was given an opportunity to extend his F1 career with Aston Martin (previously Racing Point) this season. They were a very strong midfield team last season, and their drivers put in numerous good performances.
Vettel is still clearly a talented driver, and showed glimpses of it last season, particularly when he came third in difficult conditions at the Turkish Grand Prix last year. However, with a shocking Ferrari car, and a lack of confidence, it was a tough and disappointing season for the four-time world champion.
This move to Aston Martin represents a chance for Vettel to somewhat resurrect his F1 career at a team with lesser expectations than Ferrari. Furthermore, they are a team on the up with a good engine, and more investment expected to come in the next few years.
I don’t think Vettel will be challenging for the driver’s title, but I think we can expect him to be consistently putting his car in and around the top five and even competing for the odd podium. If he can do this, I think it will represent a more than respectable season for him and show F1 fans that he still has what it takes to be considered one of the best.
However, Vettel may be challenged by another F1 old-timer, in the form of Fernando Alonso. The two-time world champion is making a return to the grid with Alpine (formerly Renault) this season after a few years out of the sport. While it may take a while for him to get to grips with the new technology, once he does, he will be another exciting driver to look out for.
Final Driver Rankings:
These are my final driver rankings for the driver’s title. Some picks are obvious, others are not so.
Final Team Rankings:
There you have it. These are my predictions for the 2021 F1 season. Some are bold predictions, others are pretty standard. Either way, that “it’s lights out and away we go” cannot come soon enough.