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After three long months, the wait is finally over. The F1 lights are ready to go out to officially start the 2021 season. It starts on Sunday with the Bahrain GP, which in this particular year replaces the classic inaugural Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne, postponed in November due to Covid, in a calendar that has never been so full of appointments. There will be 23 races – virus permitting – that will make up the 72nd season of the Formula 1 World Championship, the longest ever, with the grand finale to be held as per tradition in Abu Dhabi on 12 December.
There are many new features to look forward to, starting with the return of some stages that had to be cancelled last year due to the Coronavirus. There will also be the debut of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which has caused a lot of controversies, to be run on the Jeddah street circuit. Other novelties, the juiciest ones, are to be found among the teams, with some changes compared to the previous season. Two teams have changed their names: Racing Point, following a renaming operation carried out by its owner Lawrence Stroll, has made way for the return to racing after 60 years of Aston Martin, the historic British brand, while Renault has been renamed Alpine. For both teams, it is a complete restyling, from the name to the colouring of the cars. Aston Martin brings back to Formula 1 the classic English green, already seen with Jaguar in the past, replacing the pink that characterised Racing Point in the past years. Alpine, on the other hand, with the colours of the French flag, replaces the yellow-black of Renault.
New faces, important returns, and surprising transfers as far as drivers are concerned. Let us start with the rookies: Yuki Tsunoda, Nikita Mazepin and above all Mick Schumacher, son of the great Michael, who brings the abbreviation “MSC” back to Formula 1 after winning the F2 championship last season. As for this 2021, the Japanese Alpha Tauri driver will immediately have the chance to show off all his qualities, thanks to a promising car that has already won a race (at Monza) in 2020. It will be a much more complicated year for Schumacher at Haas and for his Russian teammate Mazepin, the latter already at the centre of heavy controversy even before taking to the track due to his unspeakable behaviour outside of the track.
Fernando Alonso also made a great comeback. The two-time world champion with Renault has decided to return to the world of Formula 1 by accepting the challenge proposed by Alpine, after winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and trying in vain to win the Indianapolis 500.
Finally, the many transfers that animated the second half of last season. Ferrari decided to say goodbye to Sebastian Vettel after five years, replacing him with Carlos Sainz Jr, who was leaving McLaren. The British team immediately announced the signing of Daniel Ricciardo in place of the Spanish driver, who, together with Lando Norris, will form the funniest pair of drivers in the paddock. Vettel, after being dumped by the “red” team, opted for the available seat at Aston Martin, thus taking the place away from Sergio Perez. The Mexican driver then took the last free slot by signing with Red Bull, replacing Alex Albon, who never managed to come close to the results obtained by his teammate, Max Verstappen. Only three teams have therefore confirmed the pair of drivers for the 2020 season: Alfa Romeo with the veteran Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, Williams with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and, above all, the reigning champion Mercedes, which has renewed the contracts of Lewis Hamilton, fresh 7-time world champion, and Valtteri Bottas, faithful squire of the “Black King”.
While we wait for the track to reveal the real strengths and, consequently, the hierarchies, we indicate Mercedes as the big favourite to win the championship. The German team is followed by Red Bull, perhaps the team in the best shape during the pre-season tests. Further back, McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari are expected to battle it out for a third place in the Constructors’ Championship, with Alpine and Alpha Tauri trailing behind despite the good results shown in the three days of testing in Bahrain. Alfa Romeo seems to have improved its performance compared to last season but placing it ahead of the others may be daring. Rounding out the grid should be Williams and a struggling Haas, which showed up with basically the same car as last year.
Now it is down to the track. Fasten your seatbelts, we are off.