• Chris Kato

4 Things to Watch Out For in the 2021 F1 Season

The 2021 F1 season is shaping up to be a can't miss season and here's what you should look out for.

2020 has been a year to forget for most. As a matter of fact, I'd like to officially ask for a refund on 2020 and start over. At least in the world of Formula 1, 2020 was actually an exciting year with a lot of highs and lows that made it one of the more memorable seasons as of late. First time winners and podium sitters, Lewis Hamilton breaking more legendary records, and the debut of some awesome tracks to the F1 calendar. But in the fast paced world of Formula 1, we don't have much time to reminisce about the past as we are already motoring toward a new season with a whole lot of things to get excited for. Although the large scale changes in F1 have been pushed back to 2022, their are a lot of significant changes for 2021 that will make the grid and racing look quite different. As we turn our calendars over to 2021, let's take a look at five things you must be looking out for in the upcoming Formula 1 season.

1. 2021 Rule Changes

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Just because the major regulation changes have been pushed back by a year, that doesn't mean that the cars will be completely identical next season. Their are quite a few significant rule changes coming into play for 2021 that might have a bigger impact than you think. Firstly, their are big changes coming to the floor of F1 cars. In an effort to trim downforce levels by at least 10% due to the carry over of Pirelli tyres for a third consecutive season, the FIA has mandated significant changes to the design of the floor. The rule makers have created an 'exclusion zone' around the rear tyres through a diagonal trim of the floor. The long slots that also run on both sides of the floor have also been banned for 2021. In effect, the overall size of the floor has been reduced thus reducing the overall downforce produced by the cars.

Next, changes to the diffuser at the rear of the car have also been made. The little 'fences' on the rear diffuser have been reduced in length by 50mm for 2021. This again is a change aimed at reducing the overall level of downforce as the diffuser will become less effective with the shortening of the strakes.

Are you tired of hearing about brake ducts again? Well, that is another area that the FIA have targeted for a change in 2021. The rear brake duct winglets on the bottom have been reduced in size to 80mm from it's original size of 120mm. You wouldn't think a 40mm change in brake duct winglets would make much of a difference but every millimetre counts in Formula 1. It's actually a pretty big change to the level of downforce as these winglets are responsible for directly applying the downforce to the rear wheels.

Other changes outside of the super technical bits includes; improvements to the integrity of the Pirelli tyres, the debut of the F1 cost cap limited at $145 million per team. and finally limits on aero and CFD testing have been implemented. It's difficult to say how these changes will effect each team on the grid. Considering the extremely intelligent engineers in F1, that 10% reduction in downforce could be made back very quickly and we might have a repeat of the 2020. It could go either way as is such with any significant rule changes coming into play but it is definitely something to consider once we see the 2021 cars hit the track for testing in Barcelona.

2. Same Faces, New Places

We had the silliest of silly seasons in 2020 in relation to the driver market. It all kicked off back in May when Ferrari announced it would not re-sign Sebastian Vettel and ever since then it has been a domino effect of drivers swapping seats up and down the grid. So let's look at the significant driver changes for the 2021 F1 season;

1. You have Daniel Ricciardo moving to McLaren to replace Carlos Sainz who has moved to Ferrari.

2. Sebastian Vettel joins Aston Martin, taking Sergio Perez's seat who has moved to Red Bull replacing Alex Albon.

3. Two time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso returns to his former team now known as Alpine to fill the void left by Daniel Ricciardo.

4. And finally, you have F2 champion Mick Schumacher joining Haas F1 to start in his first ever season of Formula 1.

Got all that?? You can also include Yuki Tsunoda to Alpha Tauri and Nikita Mazepin to Haas as the new drivers on the grid for 2021 but I'm going to stick with the most significant acquisitions for next year. Where to even begin as to which driver I'm looking forward to the most at his new team? Personally I can't wait to see what Ricciardo can do in that McLaren with Mercedes power behind him and a much improved car. Not to mention the off-track antics of a Norris/Ricciardo partnership will most likely set F1 social media on fire. How about Sebastian Vettel's change of scenery after six years with Ferrari at the newly minted Aston Martin team? Racing Point/Aston Martin have a ton of momentum heading into 2021 and the addition of a four time world champion is an even bigger boost. I'm curious to see whether Vettel can regain his magic and start producing classic performances again like he used too in his racing green. I must say the one I am looking forward the most to seeing is the return of Fernando Alonso. It looks as if Alonso has made a move to a team at the right time as Renault/Alpine are coming off their best season in the turbo-hybrid era. It's been a long time since I have seen Alonso this motivated and energetic for Formula 1. He really seems ready to attack the grid in 2021 with 110% of his efforts so I think the rest of the grid needs to watch out for Alonso come lights out next season.

Certainly a lot of changes to look forward too and definitely the bank account will be taking a beating with all the new team merchandise I'll have to get in 2021! Which driver at their new teams are you looking forward to the most? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

3. How 2022 Regs Will Impact Teams Focus on 2021

This will be a pivotal theme all throughout the 2021 season. The balancing act of trying to win the current championship vs setting yourself up for greatness in the next couple of seasons is a difficult task to get right. It is one that Red Bull knows very well dating back to the last significant regulation change back in 2014. Red Bull were wary of Mercedes' improved form in 2013 which is why they continued development all the way until the end of 2013 to wrap up their 4th consecutive title. The problem with that was that the Mercedes threat wasn't ever really there and their rivals at Brackley had already made quite significant gains on the 2014 car and beyond. And we all know how that has gone in the last seven seasons.

So here we are again, on the cusp of a new generation of Formula with a handful of teams chomping at the bit to develop the best car and dethrone Mercedes. But how will the top teams balance the need for future development and the current battle for the championship? Will a team like Red Bull completely write off 2021 and put all efforts in the 2022 car, or will they put everything behind their 2021 campaign before Honda leaves to win it all? It is an important balancing act that I have no doubt most teams already have a solid plan for. Over at Alpine F1, Fernando Alonso already has his mind on 2022 before even seeing the 2021 car. Teams are currently barred from wind tunnel testing any 2022 components until January 1st, 2021 but that is exactly when Alonso wants to see the wind tunnel fired up and testing 2022 parts. “We were in the wind tunnel,” said Marcin Budkowski of a recent trip made by Alonso to Renault’s Enstone factory, “and he said, ‘So, you can’t run the ’22 at the moment?’ And we said no, we can’t do it, because of the regulations. ‘So, when can you start developing?’ And we said first of January. ‘Okay, are you running on the first of January?’ And we said normally we don’t but this year we might because it’s the year, you know? “And he said, ‘Okay, we have to run on the first of January. I will come here and help you on the first of January.’ So this is the level of motivation of Fernando at the moment.”

How teams handle this year will be the deciding factor in how the pecking order on the grid shapes up post 2022. Mercedes has given us the best example of a team who has utilised the regulation changes to the best of their abilities and set themselves up for an era of domination the likes of which we have never seen before.

4. New Tracks & A Record Calendar

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We were supposed to have a record calendar in 2020 and you very well know what happened with that. Well we are going to try again for 2021 and hopefully hold the most races ever in a Formula 1 season. 2021 is slated to have an astounding 23 races on the calendar with the addition of two new venues. One of the most disappointing elements of 2020 was not getting to see the return of the Zandvoort circuit to F1 and of course the Dutch fans at their home grand prix. So hopefully 2021 will see that come to fruition with the stands packed in a sea of orange for a early September Dutch Grand Prix. Although Zandvoort isn't totally a brand new F1 track, Saudi Arabia's debut circuit certainly is. For the first time in F1 history, Saudi Arabia will host a Formula 1 race on the streets of Jeddah, the second largest city in the country. The track will be situated along the coastal resort area of the city and will also be a night race which should add to its glamour. The final track design has not been finalized yet but let's hope it will give us some decent racing around the streets of Jeddah.

The 2021 calendar is extremely packed and it will be a tough challenge for all parties involved if we do indeed pull off all 23 races. It brings up an interesting debate as to how much is too much in terms of races? I would say 23 is beyond the limit as a well spread out 18 or 20 race calendar would be more than enough. Or possibly a rotating calendar. For example, one year you could have Mugello fill a slot and the next you could have Portimao or Istanbul. It would solve the problem of excluding great tracks like we saw in 2020 and avoid having to overload the calendar with a ton of races. At any rate, anytime Formula 1 heads to new venues, it is an exciting time for fans and the people hosting the race itself.

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