Following a year like no other in 2020, the new season of Formula 1 faces a number of uncertainties as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take hold of everyday life. Several changes are locked in for the new year, with MotorsportWeek.com reminding you of the new arrangements for the 2021 campaign.
Aston Martin, Alpine join F1 grid
Renault contended for third in the standings in 2020, eventually winding up fifth, but scored three podiums in its most encouraging season since returning as a full works team in 2016.
But after five years the Renault name has left the party as the Enstone squad is re-branded to Alpine.
Alpine, which has been owned by Renault for almost 50 years, already has a presence in motorsport, most notably racing in the LMP2 class of the World Endurance Championship.
For Racing Point, a new era will begin as it transitions to Aston Martin after two and a half years under the ownership of Lawrence Stroll.
As a result, the British sportscar manufacturer will no longer act as a title sponsor for Red Bull, a partnership that has been active since 2018.
Similarly, it appears that BWT will not be Aston Martin’s title sponsor, having been associated with the Force India/Racing Point marque since 2017.
Eight driver line-up changes
A busy driver market in 2020 means a number of driver changes for the 2021 season.
Alexander Albon has waved goodbye to a Red Bull seat, with Sergio Perez taking his place, the Mexican finding refuge at a top tier team in the wake of being replaced at Aston Martin by Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel secured the driver after not being offered a new contract by Ferrari, which poached Carlos Sainz to partner Charles Leclerc, and who in turn has been replaced at McLaren by Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo’s move to McLaren opened a vacancy at Alpine, which has been filled by Fernando Alonso, the double World Champion returning to the championship after a two-year absence.
Daniil Kvyat has departed F1 and has been replaced by Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri, with the 20-year-old becoming the sport’s first Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi.
Haas will field an all-rookie line-up after waving goodbye to Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, with reigning Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher forming one half of its roster. He will partner Nikita Mazepin at the team, who has been the centre of social media controversy during the winter break.
While Mercedes still hasn’t confirmed its second driver for the upcoming season, it is expected that seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton will pen an extension with the team.
McLaren returns to Mercedes power
After triumphing in the battle for third in the 2020 championship, McLaren will reignite its once famous partnership with Mercedes and will once again receive Brixworth-manufactured power units in 2021.
The long-lasting McLaren-Mercedes partnership ran from 1995 to 2014, with McLaren taking a different route in 2015 by settling in alongside Honda. However, a disastrous three years saw it move to Renault, before confirming a return to Mercedes in 2021.
The engine switch was originally set to fall in line with the new technical regulations, which have since been pushed back to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the freezing of parts from 2020 to 2021 in order to cut costs, McLaren does not expect any challenges when it replaces the Renault engine with the Mercedes unit.
Budget cap, reduction in practice time
Arguably one of the biggest regulation changes F1 has ever seen will be introduced this year, as teams must adhere to a budget cap of $145 million, which will be lowered to $140 million in 2022 and $135 million in 2023.
Exceptions under the budget car means marketing expenses, race driver salaries and the salaries of the three highest paid personnel in the team will not be included in the cap.
Spending over the budget cap will bring penalties, which may be as severe as seeing a guilty team excluded from the World Championship standings.
Another change set to come into play is a reduction in practice across the weekend. Although three practice session will take place as usual, the opening two, held on Friday (Thursday in Monaco), will be cut by 30 minutes each and will now both last 60 minutes.
No changes have been made to the rest of the weekend, with FP3 lasting 60 minutes, as has been the case in seasons gone by.
A record-breaking 23 races listed – but doubt lingers
A record 23 races have been listed on the provisional calendar, eclipsing the previous number of 22 that was set for 2020.
However, last year ended up with just 17 races amid the pandemic, and more disruptions are likely to shine through this year, with the Australian Grand Prix already likely to be postponed.
The Vietnam Grand Prix, which was set to occur for the first time in 2020, has not been included on the 2021 calendar, with a ‘TBC’ listed as the fourth round of the year.
According to reports, Imola, which returned to the F1 calendar for the first time in 14 years last November, is the current favourite to occupy the April 23 – April 25 slot.
Saudi Arabia is poised to join in late November, at a street circuit in Jeddah, while Zandvoort’s long anticipated and delayed return is due for September.
No longer will Interlagos’ race be known as the Brazilian Grand Prix – after a recently agreed extension was signed, the event has been renamed the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
A new CEO at the helm of F1
Chase Carey confirmed last year that he would be leaving his role as F1’s CEO at the end of the 2020 campaign. The American held the position ever since Liberty Media’s takeover in 2017, which saw long-time boss Bernie Ecclestone ousted.
Taking over the role from Carey is former Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali, who will oversee F1’s day-to-day proceedings, with one of his first major tasks being the sport’s navigation through the pandemic this year.
Domenicali’s appointment has received praise up and down the paddock, with Lewis Hamilton commenting that F1 “couldn’t have chosen someone better” as a replacement for Carey.
In recent years, Domenicali worked as the Head of the FIA’s single-seater commission, and spent over four years as the CEO of Lamborghini from 2016 to 2020.
Small but significant technical changes
Although the cars will remain largely unchanged due to cost saving measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some small but significant updates to the technical regulations.
With stable regulations it’s likely the ’21 versions of the ’20 cars would have been the quickest ever seen, so the FIA has taken the step of cutting downforce at the rear of the cars in order to reign them in.
To do this, the floors can no longer run parallel, instead they must gradually cut inwards the closer they get to the rear tyre. This means the designers can no longer use intricate floor ‘squirts’ and cutouts to increase rear downforce. It’s expected this will result in a 10 per cent reduction to overall downforce levels on the ’21 cars.
Rear diffuser fins must also be 50mm shorter than the maximum previously allowed to further cut rear downforce levels.
F2, F3 to be held on separate weekends
While the early rounds in F1’s 2020 calendar were ripe with action as Formula 2 and Formula 3 took place, things will be a little different in 2021.
Changes to the weekend format for both series’ will see three races take place, with fewer venues visited. F2, which will see eight venues this year and F3, which will visit seven tracks, will not occur on the same weekend.
The new season of F2 will get underway on March 27 in Bahrain, while F3 won’t commence until the second week in May at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
An addition to the junior roster will be the all-female W Series, which was cancelled in 2020. It will join F1 and F2 at Great Britain and Mexico, and race alongside F3 in France, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, The Netherlands and the USA.