My 2021 F1 Driver Predictions
With the 2020 season flying by, everyone's focus will soon be on the 2021 grid. Here are my predictions of who will be there.
The easiest place to start is with the teams with two drivers already confirmed for the 2021 season.
Ferrari - Carlos Sainz Jr. & Charles Leclerc
Some early business from Ferrari resulted in the switch from Sebastian Vettel to Carlos Sainz Jr back in May. At the time, it seemed like a sensible move from Carlos, but as this season has progressed it has become clear that the Ferrari car is a handful to drive. Only time will tell if it is the right move for Carlos in the long term but he will surely already have an eye on the new 2022 regulations.
Charles has continued to outperform Sebastian Vettel this season and it will be interesting to see if his dominance continues into 2021 with his new teammate.
McLaren - Daniel Ricciardo & Lando Norris
Perhaps the most exciting 2021 driver pairing for me, I am really looking forward to seeing these two compete in what could be a very competitive package for the 2021 season with new Mercedes engines. Ricciardo is making the headlines as a driver in form this season with Renault and I am sure he will continue this stellar form in the McLaren next season.
Lando Norris has come on leaps and bounds this season, with a podium at the first race in Austria being a standout moment. It will be great to see how he reacts to a new, well-seasoned teammate in Daniel Ricciardo.
Alpine - Fernando Alonso & Esteban Ocon
The rebadged Renault team has confirmed that Fernando Alonso will rejoin the team for a third time in 2021. The two-time world champion returns to the grid after years of frustration with McLaren between 2015 and 2018 and a two-year hiatus focusing on gaining the coveted triple crown. Alonso will have only returned to F1 if he sees the potential in the project with the Enstone based team, but as we have seen with Ricciardo the team is often overly optimistic with their forecasted progression. The other question is whether the 39 year old will have the time to wait for the project to give him the opportunity of race wins and championships.
Esteban Ocon will hope to perform better than he has so far in 2020. The Frenchman is currently 12th in the standings with Ricciardo in 4th. The prospect of a two-time world champion in Alonso racing alongside you must be a daunting prospect heading into 2021. I am sure Alpine will hope the Frenchman can get comfortable with the car and perform to the levels that he showed during his time at Force India.
Williams - George Russell & Nicholas Latifi
The unchanged driver pairing at Williams was secured prior to the team's takeover by Dorilton Capital earlier this year. George Russell has continued to impress in 2020 with points surely around the corner as he continues to develop as a team leader. His continued dominance in qualifying over his teammates shows that he has some real speed over one lap. Surely, if this continues next season he will have earned the opportunity to drive for the Mercedes team in 2022?
Nicholas Latifi has had an unassuming debut season so far and with the injection of cash that his seat brings it will mean he remains with the team for next season. But will the team takeover mean that the financial benefits of having him in the team are less prominent going forward beyond 2021.
And now... teams without a confirmed driver lineup for 2021.
Mercedes - Lewis Hamilton & Valtteri Bottas
For me, the Mercedes line up is as good as confirmed with Bottas penning an additional year on his contract, and Hamilton looking unlikely to leave as both the driver and team claim contract discussions are ongoing. Despite this driver lineup being unlikely to see a close world championship battle, it is the safe bet for the Mercedes team. Hamilton will dominate and lead the team as he has done since Bottas joined him in 2017. Meanwhile, Valtteri Bottas will be able to continue to compete and provide back up for the team if they find themselves under threat from another team behind.
A sensible choice from Toto Wolff, but surely Russell's clear talent in the Williams cannot go unnoticed for much longer, or else his talents will be snapped up by a competitor going into 2022.
Aston Martin - Sebastian Vettel & Lance Stroll
Despite having a dismal 2020 so far, Sebastian Vettel represents a significant move for the rebadged Racing Point team. I hope that this new opportunity will revitalise the German driver, giving him the chance to compete and develop the car with the new Aston Martin investment. Given the competitiveness of the 2020 Racing Point car, hopefully, Vettel can find some of the form that he has had in the past and put this current season behind him.
I have put Lance Stroll alongside Vettel for the 2021 season - I don't think I need to justify this one. I hope he can build on a strong 2020 and learn from his new experienced teammate in Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull Racing - Max Verstappen & Nico Hulkenberg
The first tricky decision of the article comes in the form of picking Max Verstappen's teammate for 2021. Verstappen has dominated his teammates over recent years finishing ahead of Ricciardo, Gasly, and Albon in the process. But the 23 year old needs a stronger teammate if he stands any chance of competing with the Mercedes team. There is an opportunity for Red Bull to take the fight to Mercedes going into next season with limited regulation changes and a significant aerodynamic regulation change on the horizon for 2022.
So, with Alex Albon not providing the back up that Red Bull needs for this season I can see them making the switch and for the first time looking outside of their driver academy. There was always a risk with the current driver lineups at Red Bull and Alpha Tauri as all four drivers had been given the opportunity with the senior team at some stage in their careers. The team desperately needs a new team leader in case Verstappen chooses to leave the outfit in the future.
Hulkenberg has been given three (more like two given his DNS at Silverstone) opportunities to display his natural ability to get into a car with limited knowledge and experience and deliver a result. His 3rd place in qualifying at the 70th anniversary grand prix at Silverstone will have surely turned heads around the paddock and his outstanding drive from 20th to 8th at the Eifel grand prix once again demonstrated this ability. For me, he is an obvious choice to provide the support that the Red Bull team desperately needs.
Alpha Tauri - Alex Albon & Yuki Tsunoda
As a result of the switch at the senior team, I can see Red Bull choosing to make a complete change at the junior team in Alpha Tauri. Despite Pierre Gasly's impressive results since being demoted back to the junior team, I can see Red Bull switching this driver line up to provide an opportunity for their young talent in Yuki Tsunoda.
Red Bull's mistake over the last two seasons has been the fact that they have promoted their young drivers too early in Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon. The two young drivers have not been given enough time to prepare for the step up to the primary team. I can see the team doubling down on the Japanese talent of Yuki Tsunoda giving him the time to develop in the junior team while they have a secure partnership in Verstappen and Hulkenberg at the senior team.
Alfa Romeo - Kimi Raikkonen & Mick Schumacher
A part of me is wishing for this team line up for 2021, to have Kimi Raikkonen and Mick Schumacher at the same team would round off Raikkonen's long career and be a great opportunity for Mick to learn from a driver that has raced through the same era as his father.
Schumacher has reportedly been guaranteed an F1 seat in 2021 if he achieves a top three finish in the F2 championship this season. The young driver is Ferrari's favoured choice of their three young drivers that are currently competing for the F2 title. The young driver was meant to have the opportunity to drive a current Alfa Romeo F1 car at the Eifel grand prix before the session was unable to go ahead. But I am sure that the Ferrari 'owned' seat will go to Schumacher for next season.
Raikkonen represents an experienced driver who, since joining them in 2019, has owned a part stake in the Alfa Romeo team. I think this, coupled with the fact that he openly states that he races in Formula 1 for fun, means he will stick around for another year before retiring at the end of next season. I can't see the Finnish driver wanting to learn a brand new style of car after the regulation change and, by that point, he will be 42 years old.
Haas - Sergio Perez & Pierre Gasly
My final 2021 driver line up prediction is for Haas, this was perhaps the trickiest decision of my predictions. Perez and Gasly are both drivers who may find themselves in unfortunate positions going into the new season. Perez has been replaced by Vettel and finds himself in an unfortunate position as his current teammate is the son of the team owner. Haas represents a lifeline for his F1 career and he has a reputation for outperforming a car's ability making him a good fit for the USA-based team.
Gasly has proven himself to be a formidable force since going back to Alpha Tauri with a podium and a race win but I can't see Red Bull taking the risk of pomoting him back into the main team and if my predictions are correct he finds himself in need of a drive for 2021. There are rumours saying that his recent performances have attracted the attention of Alpine, but if the French team want to honour their contract with Ocon, Gasly will be left without a team for next season. He may find himself taking a year out as many drivers have done before him, but finding a seat is notoriously difficult - so moving into Haas may be his best shot at stating in the sport.
Who Misses Out?
Many drivers miss out for this competitive 2021 driver field some notable absences from 2020 include Daniil Kvyat, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, and Antonio Giovinazzi. The remaining Ferrari young drivers in Formula 2 - Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman also miss out in this line-up. All of these are talented drivers but I can't see them doing enough to make it to the 2021 grid.
What do you think?
So - I have made my predictions, who do you think I have got wrong with this driver line up? Is there anyone that I have missed completely? Let me know in the comments.