With the New Year welcomed and just a matter of days old, attention is already beginning to turn towards the upcoming 2021 Formula 1 season.

F1 is hoping for something closer to a ‘normal’ season in 2021, though the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly still have an effect on the way we go racing this year after causing major disruption throughout 2020. 

Following on from one of the most entertaining F1 seasons in recent years, there are plenty of things for fans to get excited about heading into the new campaign…

Hamilton’s quest for new ground and title no.8

2020 was a historic year both on and off the track for Lewis Hamilton, who broke Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record for most wins and also moved level with the German on seven world championships to cement himself firmly among the pantheon of all time greats. 

Assuming he does sign a new contract with Mercedes as expected, Hamilton has the opportunity to further etch his name into the record books by moving to the top of the all-time list by triumphing to an eighth world title in 2021. The Briton, who turns 36 next week, also has the chance to break into triple figures for both pole positions and race victories. 

But can anyone halt his charge? Teammate Valtteri Bottas will be looking to turn in a greater challenge this year after back-to-back title defeats, while Red Bull is pushing hard to dethrone Mercedes with the introduction of a brand new Honda power unit and strengthened driver line-up consisting of 2020 race winners Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez

The return of Alonso at rebranded Renault 

In one of the most eagerly-anticipated stories of 2021, Fernando Alonso will complete his return to the sport and a new-look Renault - rebranded Alpine for this season - the team with which he claimed both of his world titles in 2005 and 2006. 

The Spaniard may be making a comeback at 39 years old but he appears as determined and hungry for success as ever, pushing the Enstone outfit to begin work on its 2022 car as soon as possible while retaining focus on ensuring it improves its fortunes in 2021 following an encouraging 2020 campaign. 

Alonso has carried out a number of tests in Renault’s 2018 and 2020 cars to aid his preparation and help him get back up to speed and he even ended the year by setting the fastest time in the Abu Dhabi young driver test in November, an outing which he said “ignited his competitive spirit” ahead of his return to the grid. 

Will Vettel rediscover his form at Aston Martin?

Sebastian Vettel endured his worst season in F1 in 2020 amid Ferrari’s competitive woes as he slumped to 13th in the standings with just 33 points to his name and only one podium appearance all year. 

Having been truly trounced by teammate Charles Leclerc and left without a drive for 2021 before a wheel was even turned in anger when Ferrari opted to replace him with Carlos Sainz, Vettel has found himself with a midfield landing spot at the rebranded Aston Martin squad.

Vettel is re-energised and fired up about the challenge that lies ahead of him in spearheading the project in a new environment. Having lost his mojo over the past couple of years during his struggles at Ferrari, the German appears well-placed to regain his confidence and get back to his best at a team which will carry over what was arguably the fastest car of the midfield last year into a new season full of hope and promise. 

Sainz versus Leclerc at Ferrari 

After comprehensively outperforming Vettel across his two years at Ferrari so far, Leclerc will face a new challenge in the shape of Sainz, who has traded his seat at McLaren for one at F1’s most famous team of all. 

Sainz has underlined his quality over the past two seasons at McLaren where he has put in a number of standout performances - topped off by two visits to the podium - and helped McLaren to return to the top three in the constructors’ championship its best finish in F1 since 2012.

The Spaniard heads to a Ferrari in recovery mode, having finished P6 in the 2020 championship, marking the Scuderia’s lowest standing since 1980. Ferrari now boasts one of, if not the, most exciting driver line-ups on the grid and it will be fascinating to see how this battle pans out. 

Can McLaren close up to Red Bull and Mercedes? 

After successfully overhauling Racing Point to clinch third place in the constructors’ championship in a thrilling conclusion to an intense season-long midfield battle, McLaren will be looking upwards once more in 2021. 

McLaren was able to make some impressive gains throughout the season and ended the year with Lando Norris qualifying within 0.251 seconds of pole position in Abu Dhabi despite placing most of its emphasis on the development of its 2021 challenger. 

With a switch to Mercedes power coming, and a strong driver line-up in the shape of Norris and Daniel Ricciardo, all eyes will be on McLaren to see if it can keep cutting the gap to both Red Bull and Mercedes. 

"I'm really happy to see a McLaren so close," said world champion Hamilton, who raced for the Woking team between 2007 and 2012. 

"They've got changes, and they're using our engine next year. It's great to see that they're ending the year with a good car.

"Perhaps they can be in the fight with us next year. If it makes it a three-way team championship, that would be amazing for the fans to see."

F2 stars set for rookie F1 seasons 

The return of the Schumacher name to the F1 grid for the first time since 2012 naturally heralds huge anticipation and excitement as Mick Schumacher prepares to make his grand prix debut with Haas in 2021. 

A remarkably consistent 2020 saw Schumacher crowned Formula 2 champion and earn his place on the F1 grid thanks to his brilliant performances across the season. 

Comparisons to his seven-time world championship winning father will undoubtedly come but Mick is determined to keep his feet on the ground and keep his expectations realistic as he makes his bow towards the back of the grid. 

Another exciting prospect will join Schumacher in progressing from F2 to F1 as Japanese sensation Yuki Tsunoda prepares to make his debut. 

The Red Bull and Honda protege will partner Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri after a mightily impressive rookie F2 season that saw him pick up three victories and finish third in the standings behind Schumacher and Callum Ilott. 

20-year-old Tsunoda is highly rated at Red Bull and has been tipped to give 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner Gasly a run for his money at the Faenza outfit.

 

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