Ten theses on the F1 season 2021: Vettel’s resurrection and Hamilton’s end

Formula 1 will start its 71st season in Bahrain at the weekend. The premier class of motorsport also awaits in 2021 with impressive characters and more exciting stories. The editors have come up with ten theses as to who and what will cause a stir in the planned 23 races. The kick-off on the Bahrain International Circuit is live in the ticker at ntv.de: The free practice sessions on Friday at 12.30 p.m. and 4 p.m., then on Saturday the 3rd free practice session (1 p.m.) and qualifying (4 p.m.). And of course the first Grand Prix of the year on Sunday at 5 p.m.

1. Red Bull really annoys Mercedes this time

The question that inevitably arises after the test drives in the Bahrain desert: has Red Bull moved closer to the Mercedes overteam? The fact is: The racing team of world champion Lewis Hamilton struggled in the desert wind of Bahrain, complained about a restless rear end and turned around – in short: It wasn’t (yet) running.

Meanwhile, the Honda engine makes a surprisingly strong impression on the challengers who are powerful thanks to Brause millions. Verstappen raced around the course with the best time on the third day of the test. Both teams stand now stacking deep. The starting position for the fans, who are hoping for excitement, is good, however: So far, Red Bull has mostly turned out to be a late starter, but got better over the course of the season thanks to updates and work on the car. This year, the gap seems to be much smaller right from the start, the change in the underbody is causing problems for Mercedes, as team boss Toto Wolff admitted in an interview with RTL / ntv.

If it stays with the annual development, Red Bull will make the serial winner’s life much more difficult this year, maybe even until the last races. However, it is unlikely that Mercedes will seriously and sustainably weaken. The team has shown too often that it can fight back by making adjustments at short notice. Right at the start in Bahrain, the team will probably attack again with the W12 completely overhauled.

2. Bottas loses the runner-up world title

If Red Bull has actually narrowed the gap to Mercedes, all eyes will be on the greatest talent in Formula 1 – which, despite being only 23 years old, is already in its seventh season in the premier class. Max Verstappen has been getting more out of the Red Bull racing car than any of his teammates for years. The hot spur, often noticeable in the past due to rash manovers, has long since developed into an experienced top driver. So if he fights with anything close to the same weapons as Mercedes, the industry leader should be careful.

While Lewis Hamilton with his world class and experience on his impressive record hunt is unlikely to be cracked, the number two from Mercedes will have to believe in it. Verstappen makes significantly fewer mistakes than Valtteri Bottas and is faster. If the chance presents itself, the Dutchman will take it.

3. The battle for third place will be a British classic

In the midfield behind Red Bull and Mercedes everything comes down to a tough British duel. At the moment, McLaren seems to be ahead of the game. The team from Woking impresses with excellent early form – even though the racing team had to install a new power unit in the MCL35M over the winter after switching from Renault to Mercedes and Daniel Ricciardo still needs some getting used to. During the test drives, the team in papaya orange shone straight away and had hardly any problems, as Andreas Seidl confirmed in the RTL / ntv interview.

Things didn’t go as well for the F1 comebackers from Aston Martin, who struggled with many technical problems with hydraulics and boost pressure. Nevertheless, everyone should have the team on the bill. Team co-owner Lawrence Stroll and team boss Otmar Szafnauer bring money, know-how and experience with them, and Aston Martin like McLaren drives with the world champion drive from Mercedes in the rear. And when Vettel’s “fun driving” returns, as Szafnauer described it, the F1 horizon shimmers hopefully in the legendary British Racing Green.

Unless Alpine continues the upward trend even after Renault’s name change. The works team is also in a good mood and also has a former champion in its ranks in Fernando Alonso. It is possible that the French – fifth in the constructors’ championship in 2020 – will be dangerous for last year’s fourth.

4. Old Sebastian Vettel returns

“He’s laughing again,” said ex-Formula 1 driver Timo Glock recently, looking at his fellow Hessian Sebastian Vettel. And that is exactly the hope of all fans of the four-time world champion. The past year at Ferrari, which marked a career low point both in terms of sport and in terms of people, visibly bothered the 33-year-old.

Vettel panted afterwards, completely inferior, accordingly he looked listless at the end of the Scuderia period. Aston Martin, on the other hand, never tires of emphasizing that they want to create an environment to make Vettel really want to drive again. And in contrast to Charles Leclerc, less gimmicks on and off the asphalt are to be expected from the owner’s son and stable rival Lance Stroll.

It will take Vettel a few races to get used to the new car. After the test lull, important kilometers are missing, this year each pilot only had one and a half days. But as soon as it “clicks”, the atmosphere is right, and at the moment everything speaks for the return of old, good-humored Seb, who also races on the podium every now and then. He already proved this after moving from Red Bull to Ferrari in 2015, when he quickly blossomed in a new guise.

5. The sprint races add a new element of excitement

It has not yet been officially confirmed, but Formula 1 will probably try so-called sprint or qualification races on three GP weekends (Silverstone, Monza, São Paulo). That means: on Friday there is the actual qualifying, on Saturday there is a race over 100 kilometers, which decides on the starting grid on Sunday.

The fact that the premier class is breaking new ground is good, brings variety and promises more racing action on Saturday. The idea of ​​the “reverse grid”, ie the start in reverse order with regard to the World Cup stand, is off the table. An artificial shift, which some teams feared, is therefore not to be feared.

The first three of the qualifying race should even get World Championship points, so boring tactical chugging and cruising around the course is not possible. Overtaking maneuvers, tactics, racing action – a teaser on what will hopefully be an even bigger spectacle on Sunday.

6. Eight titles are the end of the Hamilton high feelings

Many Formula 1 connoisseurs were astonished that Lewis Hamilton only got a one-year contract with Mercedes. Hamilton and Toto Wolff are said to have already decided to work together with a handshake. In the end, however, the ink on the paper still counts. And Hamilton’s short contract term can be interpreted differently. The 36-year-old deliberately wants to give everything again this season to say goodbye at the end of the year as an eight-time world champion and thus the sole record champion.

It would be a cinematic finish, at the absolute climax. This is supported by the fact that Hamilton is now active in many areas apart from racing. The sports icon has dedicated itself above all to the fight against racism and discrimination, for diversity and equal opportunities. As an eight-time world champion, he could lead this 2022 with even more strength – and always keep a back door open for a later comeback. Because the stage that he uses for his commitment is also Formula 1.

7. The driver pairing at Haas causes trouble

Two hungry rookies in the team – Haas team boss Günther Steiner knows what he’s got into with the driver pairing Mick Schumacher / Nikita Mazepin. The two newcomers have to prove themselves in the premier class. The first and most important opponent is the stable colleague. In 2021, Schumacher and Mazepin will really face each other in the inferior racing car of the US team – uncompromising wheel-to-wheel duels and crashes included.

The more level-headed and mature Schumacher will in the long run cut a better figure than the hot-blooded Mazepin. Shortly before the start of the season, Steiner said that the atmosphere between his pilots was rather hypothermic. They are “not great friends”, but “don’t have to be”, explained the South Tyrolean. While Steiner sees Mazepin as a pilot who is “very direct” and “approaches everything in the shortest possible way”, he describes Schumacher as “much more modest” and someone who “analyzes things”.

8. Williams is finally no longer last

F1 traditionalists will breathe a sigh of relief when looking at the tableau this year. Because: The legendary Williams team – nine-time constructors’ world champions – will hand over the red lantern to Haas after a few years in the last places in qualifying, races and overall rankings. With the new CEO Jost Capito and the investors who took over the team from founder Frank Williams and his daughter and ex-team boss Claire Williams, the venerable racing team gained momentum. During the tests in Bahrain, Williams made a stable impression. In 2021, super talent George Russell will even get one or two points for the British.

9. Ferrari is improving but still not good enough

The fact that Ferrari does better than last year is admittedly not a steep thesis. The Reds have made the expected leap forward with the engine, and aerodynamically, the SF21 makes a better impression than its predecessor, the SF1000, whose name, based on the 1000th Scuderia Formula 1 race, is probably the only thing worth remembering. But: Ferrari’s competition has also increased over the winter. McLaren and Aston Martin seem stronger than the Scuderia again.

More than fifth place is not possible for Ferrari in the Team World Championship, even if that is a little better than sixth place in the previous year, the worst position in more than 40 years. Especially since the team from Maranello is already investing a lot of resources in the 2022 project. The fight against Alpine, AlphaTauri and possibly even the little “brother” Alfa Romeo will be tough for Ferrari in 2021.

10. Ricciardo drinks from his shoe again

He’s still having trouble with the McLaren’s brakes. But if anyone knows how to brake on the last groove and overtake opponents spectacularly, then it’s Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian will again celebrate his “Shoey” on the podium a few times this year, so he will take a deep sip of champagne from his sweaty racing shoe.

With the Mercedes-fueled McLaren, Ricciardo has what it takes to shine again – and he will. Stable rival Lando Norris should really challenge the 31-year-old. Nevertheless, Ricciardo will still show the aspiring Englishman in 2021 what he needs to be a top driver.