The months of March and April are always exciting for motorsport fans. Typically around this time, the NASCAR season is in full swing and both Formula One and IndyCar are on the cusp of starting.
This year is no different — even amidst the pandemic. Matter of fact, Formula One’s first race of the year, the Bahrain Grand Prix, gets underway on Sunday, March 28. It’s the opening competition of a 23-race slate that takes the season all the way through December.
It’s only preseason, but we could be in for a doozy of an F1 season. There’s a lot to look forward to and while we wait for the Bahrain Grand Prix, let’s countdown the top storylines:
Hamilton’s History Chase
As usual, all eyes are on Lewis Hamilton. During the offseason, he was embroiled in on-again, off-again talks with Mercedes on a new contract. The two finally settled on a new deal in February, but a surprise for most, it was only a one-year contract.
We’ll likely see this contract drama play out again at season’s end, but by then, Hamilton might have extra bargaining power as the undisputed greatest Formula One driver of all time. We mean, he already has a strong case, but another Drivers Championship in 2021 would be his eighth — breaking a tie with Michael Schumacher for most ever.
Another milestone in Hamilton’s sights is 100 wins. No F1 driver has ever hit the century mark in Grand Prix victories, and Hamilton is currently at 95. Hamilton is heavily favored to accomplish both feats in 2021, but it’s not like he doesn’t have stiff competition nipping at his heels….
Red Bull Primed To Shake Up The Pecking Order
Without a doubt, the biggest challenger to Hamilton’s throne is Max Verstappen. He is 13 years the junior of Hamilton, which sets up the classic storyline of the king vs. the heir apparent. Can Verstappen spoil Hamilton’s pursuit of history?
If the preseason tests that transpired in Bahrain are any indication, Verstappen and the rest of Red Bull Racing certainly have potential in the spoiler role. The RB16B, the team’s newly-revealed F1 challenger, performed like a thing of beauty during the trials. Heck, Verstappen even ran the fastest lap with a blazing time of one minute and 28.96 seconds.
Also worth noting that during the same preseason tests, Mercedes struggled immensely. In fact, the squad racked up the least mileage out of all the teams. Most pundits shrugged off the early struggles — this is Mercedes, after all, winners of seven straight Constructor’s Championships — but momentum definitely felt to be on Red Bull’s side.
One more thing that Red Bull Racing has going for them is a new addition — Sergio Perez. Competing for Racing Point a year ago, where he placed fourth in the final standings, Red Bull lured him away to team up with Verstappen in 2021. It’s a dynamic pairing that even Hamilton said could create a “battle we’ve not seen in some time.”
Welcome Aston Martin
Speaking of Racing Point, they are no more. Instead, the race team has been renamed to Aston Martin, which will be competing as a constructor for the first time since 1960.
Its newest F1 car, the AMR21, left a lot to be desired at the Bahrain pre-trials, akin to Mercedes. Issues with the gearbox, turbo, and electricals meant that Aston Martin’s car sat idly, accumulating the second-to-last laps of all teams.
The car troubles also gave Aston Martin’s top driver — Sebastian Vettel — all of a meager 117 laps to practice. Over the offseason, Vettel, a four-time Drivers’ Championship winner, jumped ship from Ferrari to the newly-minted Aston Martin.
The two teams are polar opposites from one another. Ferrari deployed a high-rake concept, whereas Aston Martin has only recently switched to low rake. Vettel himself even admitted the difference would be a “steep learning curve.” Tack on the preseason struggles in Bahrain and Vettel could be due for an especially slow start to the season.
Like we said before, brace yourself for a doozy of a Formula One year. All bets are off once things get going at the Bahrain Grand Prix.