Firstly I would like to put on record how proud I am of everyone involved in Formula One 2020, to get a 17 race season completed and a legitimate drivers and constructors championship finished during a global pandemic is beyond amazing.
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Yes, it was sad to see no fans at most of the races, but it still gave us drama, records were broken, new and old tracks were added to the calendar and as supporters, we had everything we could have dreamed of. We had cars skidding all over the place on newly laid tracks, we had a return to Imola, we had Racing Point challenging the big boys and coming out on top a few times, we had Lewis Hamilton winning a 7th world championship, equalling the record of Michael Schumacher. If 2021 gives us half the fun then we are in for a dramatic year.
2021 brings with it some new and exciting potential. We have had a driver merry-go-round, with McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Aston Martin (formally Racing Point) swapping drivers. As I have just pointed out we have a new team name, Racing Point is now Aston Martin, taking on the mantle of a team who last raced in Formula One back in 1960, that’s a massive gap of 61 years out of the sport. The thing is that they raced for two seasons and didn’t score a single point, however, they now join forces with a team who will almost certainly score points, and could even challenge at the front of the grid, a position more befitting a name like Aston Martin.
As far as the regulations go there hasn’t been much noticeable change when you look at the cars, certainly not the changes we expected for 2021, those massive changes have now been put back a year due to the pandemic to 2022. The changes in the regulations this season have been focused on reducing downforce, those slight aerodynamic changes that effectively will make a car slower, but I am almost certain that teams will have found unique ways to claw back some downforce and the speed difference will be minimal.
The biggest visual change will be the floors, in the past, they have looked like they were shaped as a rectangle, with a variety of cutaways to reduce drag and therefore increase downforce. This year they will have to have solid floors. The rear brakes will be different too, the FIA have reduced the size of the winglets on the brake ducts, whilst they may seem insignificant they create downforce that is directed at the wheels, this minor change will make a big difference.
The final change designed to reduce downforce is the rear diffuser, the slats or fences will be reduced in size, once again tearing away at the downforce. You will all remember how important a diffuser is to the speed of a Formula One car if you cast your mind back to the success of Brawn GP. The other change, and one welcomed by the teams, especially the smaller teams is a cost cap introduced with the aim of making Formula One a more affordable sport, but also in order to close the gap between the front and the back.
Oh, and before I forget, the Mercedes funky steering system is banned, so they and every other team will have spent the winter trying to find that one magic thing that could be the difference between finishing outside the points to become championship contenders.
For sure we do not want to take away the prestige of the Grand Prix itself. That will remain the climax of the weekend. We will have qualifying on Friday and then ‘sprint qualifying’ on Saturday. What I can say is that Silverstone will hold a sprint race.
What happens this season will be reliant on what downforce each team has managed to claw back. It is an extension on 2020 in many aspects and it will take a stroke of genius to knock Mercedes off the top, but when you have teams like Red Bull with people like Adrian Newey, you just never know until they hit the track in Bahrain for the three days of testing that they have this year. This will make a difference too, if your car isn’t track-ready out of the box then you haven’t got long to get it right. In the past, they have had several test sessions, so if the car isn’t working so well in test one, you can go back to base, sort it out, and come back to test two with a working car. This year it’s three days in the Middle East (miles from all their factories in Europe), and then straight on to race number one in Bahrain on 26th to 28th March.
In the past I have had the benefit of watching the new cars on track before writing my season review, thus giving me some kind of knowledge of who has got it right, just like last season when I predicted that Ferrari will drop away and Racing Point would be fighting at the front of the grid, and I was right. This season my predictions will be pure guesswork, so rather than focusing on predictions, I will focus my preview on team news etc…