Nine months later: 10 things to look for this F1 season

Niklas Du/Upsplash

Back in March, nine months ago, I wrote an article that suggested ten things Formula One (F1) spectators should look for this season. 21 races later, an incredible season of immense proportions that no one really expected, with one more race to go, I’m going to revisit my old article and predictions. This season offered more than anyone expected: shock podiums, controversy, conspiracy, crashes and conundrums, heady highs and crushing lows. The 2021 season delivered in a way that was beyond many people’s wildest dreams.

Ferrari’s performance and McLaren remain top of the midfield?

At the beginning of the season, no one expected the battle for third in the constructors to be quite as tight as it has been for Ferrari and McLaren. Weekends would finish with often only a few points between the teams. Ferrari have come on leaps and bounds since 2020’s disastrous season, though not being perfect, they have scored much more consistently, making podiums and front rows. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have been very evenly matched across the season and, as I suspected, with the competition between the two drivers has certainly helped to fuel performance and reinvigorate the previously stalling team. Unfortunately for McLaren, however, it seems that Ferrari will take third in the constructors from them. Despite the incredible 1-2 at Monza and standout performances (and consistency) from Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo’s slow start to the season, unfortunate racing incidents, and tracks not favouring the car, have seen the team’s security in third diminish. Despite the likelihood of finishing a position lower than last year, in many ways the team’s progress can still be viewed as positive, with records being broken this year, such as the first pole position and double podium since 2012. It has been fantastic to see the two iconic constructors of F1 engage in such entertaining battles across the season. The future is looking very bright for both teams into next year, and it will be interesting to see if the battle will continue with the new cars and regulations.

Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly continued to impress in Alpha Tauri this season, being an absolute trailblazer for the team, especially with some disappointing performances by rookie Yuki Tsunoda. Pierre has led by example, scoring 80 more points than his teammate and securing best of the rest (deeming the best as Mercedes/Red Bull/Ferrari/McLaren) in the driver’s constructors. Though a return to Red Bull feels unlikely (despite the great performances), Gasly’s display of skill this year will only promote a desire for more consistently scoring teams to bring him on board. He will definitely continue to be one to watch for the future.

Sergio Perez at Red Bull

Perez has survived a season with Red Bull. Though his first year at Red Bull was not without its downs, there were plenty of ups for the Mexican. He achieved five podiums this season and in some races was instrumental in ensuring Red Bull’s constructor championship remained as hotly contested as the driver’s championship. Due to no fault of his own, however, at Saudi Arabia a DNF has scuppered Red Bull’s hopes of the constructor’s championship. Qualifying does still remain to be a weakness for Perez, which is something he will want to work on for next season if he wants to remain secure in his Red Bull seat. But, considering the fortune of the last few Red Bull drivers, Perez must be happy with his season.

Williams vs Haas

When I wrote my original article back in March, I don’t think I truly appreciated how slow Haas were going to be this year. Haas have not picked up a single point across the races and have, bar a few occasions, remained about two seconds behind the qualifying pace on Saturdays. Haas’ main competition across the season has been between both of their drivers, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin… a relationship that has been much bumpier than smooth. Onto Williams, wow. The progress that Williams have made, even since last season, has been impressive and encouraging to see. Williams have not only bested Haas, but Alfa Romeo too, with George Russell picking up a podium, and a second row start in Belgium and Russia. Though Williams will be losing Russell to Mercedes next year, the continued improvement of Latifi and addition of Alex Albon next year will only be positive for the team. It is a shame that the late, great Frank Williams will not be around to witness Williams’ continued improvement (because that is their trajectory), but I am sure the team’s performance this season brought Sir Frank great joy as it has many of us.

Sebastian Vettel | Sebastian Pociecha/Upsplash

Sebastian Vettel

It is safe to say that Sebastian Vettel has won over a lot of hearts this season for his environmental campaigning, LGBTQ+ allyship and promotion of diversity and inclusivity in the sport. In the car, too, we have seen glimpses and flashes of the brilliant Seb that was somewhat quashed in his final year at Ferrari. The issue for Vettel this year has been not having the car beneath him. Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) have gone backwards this season. The car has not provided nearly the same amount of performance that it was capable of last season and seasons previously. From fighting for third in the constructors in 2020, Aston Martin are firmly seventh out of 10 in the constructors. Their hopes are that, with the regulation changes and new cars, next year they will re-emerge as hot-shot contenders. It would be fair to Vettel to say that he has tried his best this season with the car he has been given, and I hope next year can be more competitive for this racing legend.

Fernando Alonso

Speaking of racing legends, this one has unequivocally re-established himself back into the world of Formula One. In a rather off-hand way in my March article I mentioned the possibility of an Alonso podium, thinking the odds of it were not incredibly high. Oh how I was wrong. An incredible performance at Qatar on 21 November saw Alonso stand on the third step after not being on the podium since Hungary 2014, 105 races ago. He was also pivotal in ensuring his teammate Esteban Ocon won his emotional maiden victory in F1 at the Hungarian Grand Prix. It was a statistically special victory, with Alonso enjoying his maiden win at Hungary in 2003 to him joyously celebrating with Ocon 18 years later. Alonso may be the oldest on the grid next year, but if this season is anything to go by, that will certainly not be an issue.

Sochi Pitlane | Alexandr Bormotin/Upsplash

Races and Reliability and Mercedes Performance

No one expected Mercedes to be pushed quite to the level they have this season. The championship has not been wrapped up five races before the end; it has been a constant fight from Bahrain all the way to Abu Dhabi. I said in my previous article: “Red Bull will be ready to pounce on any – and all – mistakes.” This can now be seen as an underestimation of Red Bull because there have been points in this season where Red Bull have absolutely dominated Mercedes and left looking average. This constant pushing has meant both Hamilton and Bottas have demanded a lot more of the car than they ever have before. Bottas’ car was particularly blighted by engine issues causing costly engine penalties. At one point in the season, Bottas suffered three engine penalties in four races. The Mercedes car has still been mighty, but for the first time in the turbo-hybrid era, its mightiness has been threatened across an entire season. More widely, across the entire racing paddock, most cars have handled the demanding length of the season without cause for concern. The teams should also be congratulated for the mammoth number of hours put into this season, with many long nights to ensure the 22 races were delivered on time. It is, after all, a human sport at the heart of it, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Lewis Hamilton, Eighth World Championship?

21 races later, onto the final race in Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are equal on points, both fighting for 369.5 points each across the year. It is even an indicator of this crazy season from the fact that they are on half points in the first place. At the Yas Marina circuit on Sunday, it will be winner takes all, all or nothing. In many ways, we have circled back to the beginning of the season, undivided by points. Whilst I think Hamilton will have the pace over Verstappen to win in Abu Dhabi, in this craziest of seasons, it will never be easy to predict the winner. On one hand, you want Hamilton to enter the record books and get his eighth championship, but at the same time, Max deserves a championship title after his relentless fight for crowning glory since he entered the sport. Their battle has certainly not been without controversy – clashing at Silverstone, Monza, Brazil and most recently Saudi Arabia – and that’s not even including the verbal battles between team bosses Toto Wolff and Christian Horner. It has, perhaps, been one of the most divisive championship rivalries, from a fan’s perspective, in a long while. I have no idea how Netflix’s Drive to Survive will fit all this drama into 10 episodes. It is not a difficult prediction for me to make that there will be fireworks in Abu Dhabi and whoever is the victor, they would have left nothing behind, committed every waking moment to being the best they can be and have pushed the boundaries of the sport to lift the championship trophy.

It is without a doubt that the 2021 F1 season will go down in the history books as a timeless classic. It will be one that is constantly referenced back to: Alonso’s goliath defending at Hungary, Lando Norris’ qualifying lap in Russia, Lewis Hamilton’s P20 to P1 at Brazil, the legions of Max Verstappen fans at Zandvoort or the mind-boggling scenes at Saudi Arabia. The final chapter of this season is about to be written, and there is no doubt it will finish as dramatically as it began.