For the 2021 Formula 1 season, seven out of the ten teams have a new driver line-up " this means that while several drivers are the same from the previous seasons, they will be racing in different machinery. Additionally, there are three drivers making their debut this season. In our 'what's new in Formula 1 in 2021' column, we highlighted that new driver rivalries will headline this season. Here's a look at some of the many:
Perez-Verstappen vs Hamilton-Bottas
In the hybrid-turbo era, Red Bull Racing has rarely launched a championship attack against Mercedes. But it's the one rivalry we have all been waiting for. The pre-season hype coupled with Red Bull Racing's form in testing indicates that we may finally have a Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton battle to follow this season. Could the 2021 Formula 1 season be the one in which the old guard hands over the baton to the new?
The interesting mix in this battle is Sergio Perez. A Perez vs Hamilton battle has rarely been a headline in the sport and this might change in 2021. Whether it is for race wins or to help Verstappen claim a race win remains to be seen, but four drivers battling for podium positions is definitely better than three!
Schumacher vs Russell
The two Formula 2 champions have never raced in the same junior category before. In our spotlight story on Schumacher Jr., we cited that emulating George Russell's career at Williams would be a good target for his first season. Given Haas and Williams' form over the last couple of seasons, there's a high possibility that the two will battle against each other in qualifying and the race. Both drivers are members of illustrious junior driver programs, Schumacher from Ferrari and Russell from Mercedes, and are waiting-in-line for their promotion. So there's a good chance that 2021 would only be the start to a career-long rivalry between the two.
Alonso vs Vettel vs Ricciardo vs Leclerc
In Formula 1's uber-competitive mid-field, there are four teams " Ferrari, Alpine, Mclaren, and Aston Martin. As happened in 2020, the form factor between these teams will fluctuate through the season and the battle between the teams' alpha drivers will be entertaining. Fernando Alonso is returning to Formula 1 after a two-year break. Sebastian Vettel is attempting to re-establish himself with Aston Martin. Daniel Ricciardo is out to write his underdog story with Mclaren while Charles Leclerc will be leading Ferrari in his 3rd season with the team.
And of course, adding to this mix would be their team-mates " Carlos Sainz Jr. (Ferrari), Lando Norris (Mclaren), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), and Lance Stroll (Aston Martin). Apart from the inter-team rivalries, there are also intra-team rivalries to follow. Ocon would love to use his battles against Alonso to remind the paddock of his talent and re-stake his claim for a seat at Mercedes. Likewise, for Lance Stroll " his ability against Vettel will help rewrite his image among the fans. Stroll has been beaten by a team-mate in four out of his five seasons in the sport. As for Sainz Jr., he would be out to shed the 'number two' driver tag.
Tsunoda vs Gasly
Yuki Tsunoda's rise through the ranks of Motorsport has everyone impressed. In only three years, he's gone from racing Formula 3 cars to Formula 1. Clearly, he's the in-demand talent in the Red Bull Racing camp and he will be up against Pierre Gasly, the winner of the Italian Grand Prix from last year. While the two will work together to maximise chances for Alpha Tauri, they will be locked in a battle to seek a promotion to Red Bull Racing in 2022, should the opportunity arise.
On paper, Tsunoda's chances of promotion to Red Bull Racing are higher than Gasly's. Yes, this is despite the Japanese driver not having driven a single competitive lap in 2021 (it's more so because of Gasly's demotion in 2019 and him being a known quantity). After all, Tsunoda is the unproven talent in the Red Bull Racing car and is against the mighty Max Verstappen.
Norris vs Ricciardo
In the mid-field, Mclaren perceivably have the most-intense and evenly matched driver line-up. Amidst the hype of Leclerc, Verstappen, and Russell's talent, Norris' ability in the cockpit is often overlooked. The young Briton closely matched Sainz Jr. in their two years together at Mclaren. Understandably, Norris' biggest challenge will be against the highly-regarded Ricciardo in equal machinery. If matching Sainz Jr. did well for Norris' image in the sport, matching Ricciardo will only do more. And of course, watch out for Norris-Ricciardo's off-track antics, too.
Perez vs Albon
While this rivalry won't be fought directly on-track, expect Red Bull Racing to continuously evaluate Perez's talent against Alexander Albon. At the end of last season, the British-Thai racer was forced to give up race driver duties and settle as the team's reserve driver. Perez's contract with Red Bull Racing runs only for the current season so the second seat next to Verstappen is still up for grabs! Like we said before, Tsunoda has an outside chance, too. But all these combinations would go out of the window if Hamilton retires (his contract was extended for 2021 only) and Verstappen jumps ship to Mercedes!