Sergio Pérez Confirmed for 2021 F1 Driver Lineup
Red Bull has confirmed Sergio Pérez will drive alongside Max Verstappen for its Formula One team next year. With this major announcement, the official 2021 F1 driver lineup has been nearly finalized. Mercedes has yet to renew Lewis Hamilton’s contract — but there’s little doubt the Brit will stick around to pursue a record eighth world championship title.
Though F1’s technical regulations won’t differ from 2020 to 2021, there are many notable driver lineup changes to take into account. Let’s go over the highlights.
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Going into the 2021 season, Mercedes will have the longest-running driver pairing of the grid. Though Valtteri Bottas has proved unable to challenge Lewis Hamilton outside of Saturday qualifying, and often looked worse than Max Verstappen on Sundays despite a significant car advantage, Mercedes has deemed it fit to yet again renew the Finn’s contract for a single year. Hamilton is thus once more the favorite to win the upcoming championship unless another team manages to truly challenge Mercedes, which hasn’t been the case since Ferrari in 2018.
Red Bull Racing
Max Verstappen signed a contract extension to stay with Red Bull Racing until 2023, and the team will be glad to hang on to its star driver for another three years. But since Daniel Ricciardo’s departure for Renault, Red Bull has struggled to find a second driver who can get anywhere close to Verstappen’s performances. Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon couldn’t cut it, and now it’ll be the turn of Sergio Pérez, an experienced driver, recent race winner, and the first Red Bull driver to come from outside the team’s junior program since Mark Webber.
McLaren had a pretty good 2020 season with two steady drivers in Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. It finished third in the championship, up from fourth last year and sixth the year before. Sainz, however, is on his way to Ferrari, and McLaren is replacing him with Daniel Ricciardo, one of the grid’s most highly-rated drivers, who scored not one but two podiums with Renault this year. With a few car improvements and Ricciardo behind the wheel, McLaren may have a shot at challenging for wins next year and possibly usurping Red Bull Racing in the standings.
Aston Martin Racing
Next year, Racing Point becomes Aston Martin Racing. It’s hard to say how much the manufacturer’s involvement will benefit the team, but it’s safe to say that Racing Point just had one of its best-ever seasons and that the results don’t quite reflect it. If it hadn’t been for its drivers missing out on three races because of COVID-19 and for a 15-point penalty received because of the design of its brake ducts, it likely would have finished third in the championship ahead of McLaren.
Next year, Aston Martin Racing retains Lance Stroll — after all, his father led the consortium that bought the team to rescue it from financial disaster — and gains Sebastian Vettel. Vettel is an unknown quantity at the moment, having come off his worst year yet. But the man is a four-time champion and F1 drivers don’t simply wake up one day having forgotten how to drive. Still, he’ll have to show in 2021 that his 2020 performance was merely the byproduct of being rudely treated by Ferrari rather than caused by any lack of skill.
Alpine F1 Team
As a branding exercise to promote the French manufacturer’s sports car division, the Renault works team will officially become the Alpine F1 Team. But even more notable is Fernando Alonso’s return to F1. Alonso had retired at the end of 2018 to compete in other motorsports and says he is pleased to return to the team that had given him “my fondest memories in F1.” It’s never easy to come back to F1 after an extended hiatus though, and Alonso is getting on in age. As Esteban Ocon is remaining at the team, it will be interesting to see how Alonso fares against the young driver, who didn’t look very good compared to Ricciardo.
Ferrari’s 2020 season was a disastrous one, brought up only by the fact that it enabled Charles Leclerc to show just how good he could be. He made Vettel look like a second-rate driver and dragged his car to results it didn’t seem capable of getting. Next year, Leclerc will have Carlos Sainz at his side, and while Sainz is a solid driver, I’ll be surprised if he manages to make himself look good compared to his Monegasque teammate.
After Pierre Gasly won in Monza, it would have been criminal if he didn’t retain his seat at AlphaTauri. However, Daniil Kvyat won’t be returning to the team or the sport, likely putting the final touch on one of F1’s most tumultuous careers. Replacing him will be Yuki Tsunoda, one of three rookies to appear in the 2021 F1 driver lineup. He’s part of the Red Bull Junior Team, the Honda Formula Dream Project, the 2018 Japanese F4 champion, and finished third in this year’s F2 season with three victories — more than Mick Schumacher, who was crowned champion.
Alfa Romeo Racing
Alfa Romeo Racing, formerly known as Sauber, is one of the few teams to retain the same two drivers in Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi. Neither driver has been able to show much in 2020, their car not being very competitive, especially with an underpowered Ferrari engine under the hood. Both drivers and the team all flew under the radar in 2020, which is not a good thing. More than anything, F1 is a marketing exercise for manufacturers, and the team needs to do more to stand out.
Haas F1 Team
Haas got rid of both its drivers — Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen — and hired two rookies for its 2021 F1 driver lineup instead: Mick Schumacher, reigning F2 champion and son of one of the most decorated F1 drivers of all time; and Nikita Mazepin, who doesn’t deserve an entry and shouldn’t be in F1 at all. Not only has Mazepin’s results in junior racing series been middling at best, he has a history of dangerous driving and inappropriate behavior — including punching a competitor in the face and uploading an Instagram video in which he gropes a woman without her consent.
Unfortunately, without Mazepin and his father — a Russian billionaire — Haas F1 would likely be bankrupt. One must then wonder if an F1 team should exist at all if its survival is dependent on the money of a man who has been convicted of large-scale fraud and the driving services of his unscrupulous son, who is already causing them a social media headache before the turn of the year.
George Russell and Nicholas Latifi will continue to drive for Williams in 2021. Sadly for them, barring some major improvements from the team, they will likely continue to compete at every grand prix with a near-zero chance of scoring points. Russell has connections to Mercedes, but if Latifi wants to stay in F1, he’ll need to do more to show his worth — especially on Saturdays, where he has yet to beat Russell.
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With only three teams retaining the same F1 driver lineup as in 2020, there will be many new and interesting head-to-head battles to examine in the upcoming championship. If only the intended regulation changes hadn’t been postponed by COVID-19, we’d probably have a hell of a season awaiting us.
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.