There’s some reasons to be optimistic about a title battle in 2021, despite some of the more obvious signs pointing towards another Mercedes whitewash.
Just look at the statistics from last year; Mercedes won 13 of the 17 races and that likely would have been more had it not been for some bad luck – Pierre Gasly’s victory in Monza would have likely gone Mercedes way had it been a more straightforward race, whilst George Russell looked set to win in Sakhir before a tyre mistake and subsequent puncture.
The team took 15 pole positions and scored 573 points to nearest challenger Red Bull’s 319, some would describe that as something of a whitewash.
Then you have the fact the 2020 cars will be carried over (mostly) to this year, so surely the W12 – more like the W11B – will carry on its supremacy and leave its rivals in its dust…
Perhaps not. Red Bull took a comfortable victory at the season finale in Abu Dhabi with Max Verstappen scoring pole position before going on to win the race with a 15 second advantage over the nearest Mercedes.
Rewind to Bahrain and Verstappen finished just over a second adrift of Lewis Hamilton. The race before that, Verstappen looked set to challenge for the win in Turkey, but span whilst attempting to pass Sergio Perez.
Red Bull had gradually been closing the gap to Mercedes all season long and it looked as if they’d managed to do just that by the final few races, with Abu Dhabi the final sign… but was it track specific? Not really, Mercedes has won every edition of the Abu Dhabi GP since 2014.
Red Bull’s Helmut Marko knows one victory doesn’t set the order for the following season, but he remains somewhat confident heading into 2021 with all the signs pointing to a competitive year for the energy drinks team.
Honda are promising a more powerful engine after fast-tracking their planned 2022 upgrades following their decision to pull out of the sport at the end of the year, whilst the very capable Perez will jump into the second seat.
“We are not so naive that we believe that Abu Dhabi will determine the current positions for 2021,” he told RTL Germany.
“We want to be a serious challenger to Mercedes. We are getting positive data from Honda showing improved performance. Our chassis has also been further developed this winter.
He added: “We now have a driver who will be close to Max, so we are no longer a one-man team. Everything has been done to eliminate our weak spots.”
The fact the ’20 cars will be carried over could also play into Red Bull’s hands. The team has a history of starting a season on the back-foot as it goes down new development paths which take time to mature into proven concepts, and this means the team never truly finds its stride until mid-to-late season.
Carrying over the ’20 cars means Red Bull starts from a solid foundation and can spend time tweaking its aerodynamics – an area it’s always excelled in, whilst major changes to the chassis are restricted via development tokens, which were introduced by the FIA to keep costs down between ’20 and ’21 due to the pandemic.
Therefore no team is likely to make major gains, including Mercedes, which technically has less time to find than its rivals because it’s already the quickest car and therefore closer to ‘peak’ performance.
If Honda can deliver on its promises, combined with Adrian Newey and co working their magic on the aero-side, throw in a stronger driver in Perez, then Red Bull truly could be a force to be reckoned with in ’21 that could just upset Mercedes as they seek an eighth title.