Formula 1 2021: From returning Fernando Alonso to champion Lewis Hamilton, drivers guide for upcoming season

Agence France-Presse
·9-min read

Lewis Hamilton will begin his quest to become the most decorated driver in Formula One history on Sunday in Bahrain.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the drivers making up the grid for the record 23-race 2021 season:

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton (Britain)

With a record 95 race wins and a record-sharing seventh world title, Hamilton has done what many thought was unimaginable, occupy the same lofty pedestal as Michael Schumacher. The newly knighted Sir Lewis, who also has more pole positions and podiums than any other driver in the championship's history, will now be favourite to earn the right to be considered Formula One's GOAT with an eighth title in what could be his swansong.

Valtteri Bottas (Finland)

He has emerged as so much more than just a token teammate chasing crumbs off Hamilton's plate, although he is still more often than not 'fastest on Friday' practice but not 48 hours later when it matters most. For Hamilton, Bottas "does his talking on the track, I have a huge respect for him". That came after the Finn had deprived him of pole in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. He has signed, like Hamilton, a one-year contract extension until the end of this season.

Ferrari

Charles Leclerc (Monaco)

The Monegasque will be anticipating a better season than last, which shouldn't be hard after a misfiring car contributed to the team's worst performance in 40 years. He finished eighth, making the podium only twice, and will be anxious to forge new and altogether more positive memories with an improved car to capitalise on his prodigious talent.

Carlos Sainz (Spain)

He replaced two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren and now four-time champion Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari to form the team's' youngest pairing in the past 50 years. In Sainz Ferrari feel they have found an ideal fit for their family, pointing to his technical ability, talent and character. Last term Sainz came in sixth, with his new teammate two places behind.

Red Bull

Max Verstappen (Netherlands)

Unbridled ability, a razor sharp competitive streak and streetcar racing nous have contributed to his position as heir apparent to Hamilton's crown. A drop in form by Red Bull and Mercedes' relentless excellence has counted against his title aims, but a win in the last race of 2020 and strong form in testing last week suggest Mercedes may not have things all their own way this term. Verstappen was best of the rest to the Mercedes men last term, with two wins and 11 podiums. An improvement is on the cards, with Honda supplying a new engine in their final season. It would be one almighty leaving gift if the Dutchman was to break Hamilton and his team's hegemony.

Sergio Perez (Mexico)

Things looked bleak for the popular Mexican in terms of remaining on the grid for 2021 in the run up to the penultimate race of last season. He was out of contract with Racing Point and without a win from 189 starts. But he conjured up a stirring maiden victory to earn a call from Red Bull to replace Alexander Albon who remains as test driver after an inconsistent first season.

McLaren

Lando Norris (Britain)

Ninth with 97 points to Hamilton in his second season in F1 last year, the 21-year-old Englishman is confident of being more than a match for his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo after proving an equal partner to Ferrari's new driver Carlos Sainz. He anticipates making ripples in the F1 pool in 2021. "I am in that earlier phase of my career but I still need to perform very well, and there are no excuses for me anymore."

Daniel Ricciardo (Australia)

The man with the golden smile is counting on McLaren's upturn in fortunes after a barren spell to help reignite his career after a quiet two years with Renault. Beneath the surface of his endearing good nature lurks a fiercely ambitious streak, which at 31 and after nine full seasons, is stronger than ever before. His flashy brilliant best was dimmed by his under-performing French team over the past two years. At McLaren, he will want to become better acquainted with the podium after only two visits in the past two seasons.

Alpine

Fernando Alonso (Spain)

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The 2005 and 2006 world champion with Renault returns to his first love after a two-year flirtation with Le Mans, the Dakar Rally and Indy 500. He insists that at 39, a two-year exile, and jaw surgery following a cycling accident last month, he is in the best shape of his career. Alonso last fired up an F1 car in anger in a McLaren in 2018 but says he is now a more complete driver after winning Le Mans twice but failing to win the Indy 500 and emulate Graham Hill by completing the so-called Triple Crown of winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and Indy 500.

Esteban Ocon (France)

Ocon says he is keen to relive "that podium feeling" after experiencing it for the first time when second in Bahrain for the rebranded Renault team. Fast, determined, unafraid of tough battles, and at 24 he is impatient for his first win in the top division after graduating as GP3 champion in 2015, proving himself with Manor and Force India and a year's sabbatical 'on the bench' at Mercedes.

Alpha Tauri

Yuki Tsunoda (Japan)

If his startling showing in pre-season testing is anything to go by this diminutive newcomer is poised to make a sizeable impact on his first season in the fast lane. With only Max Verstappen in front of him Tsunoda outperformed his hero Lewis Hamilton and a host of others to clock the second-best time. On Sunday back at Sakhir, he plans to leave caution in the pits and "push from the start. I don't want to worry about making mistakes. I just want to go for it and attack." The first Japanese driver to compete in Formula One since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014 stands at just 1.59 metres (5ft 3in) and has hit the gym to bulk up after confessing that he "couldn't even lift" his head after driving 123 laps in Abu Dhabi testing in December. He was named FIA rookie of last year after finishing third in his debut season with British team Carlin in the Formula 2 championship.

Pierre Gasly (France)

A year after demotion from Red Bull to their sibling team the personable Frenchman conjured up his debut Grand Prix success in a chaotic race at Monza for only his team's second ever win. He took time to recover from a bruising experience alongside Verstappen at Red Bull and the 2016 GP2 champion will be keen to build on last season's form. Aged 25 and with innate speed and craft the road is clear for him to enjoy his best season yet.

Aston Martin

Sebastian Vettel (Germany)

The four-time champion with Red Bull endured a miserable last season with Ferrari, coming in a humiliating 13th in the drivers' championship. But now the German is back talking about a fifth world title for the rebranded Racing Point team. He concedes he was not at his best in 2020, but says he has made peace with that and the winner of 53 Grands Prix, only Hamilton and Schumacher have won more, believes he still has all the ingredients to win the championship again for the famous British marque returning for the first time to F1 since 1960.

Lance Stroll (Canada)

The 22-year-old son of team owner Lawrence Stroll may have had a cushioned arrival in the sport but his performances have helped silence those who questioned whether he deserved his place on the grid on merit. Raw speed, competitive zeal and a beneficial partnership with former teammate Sergio Perez helped produce his first pole position in Istanbul, outpacing Hamilton and company in treacherous conditions. He came in 10th in the season standings on 74 points, a tally to build on this term.

Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Hamilton wasn't the only record-breaker in 2020 with the father of the grid starting a record 323rd race at the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. He arrived a fresh-faced 21-year-old at Sauber in 2001, went on to collect the 2007 world title with Ferrari, and now is enjoying the twilight of his career with his first team albeit under a different name. A modest 16th place and four points last term is a target he will enjoy eclipsing.

Antonio Giovinazzi (Italy)

He matched his more illustrious teammate's points haul last term after extending his tenure at the team with a flourish to the end of an unimpressive opening half to 2019. Runner-up in GP2 to Gasly and can aim at continuing his progress with a secure midfield place.

Haas

Mick Schumacher (Germany)

Nine years after dad Michael's last race the Schumacher name is back on the grid with the F1 legend's son Mick graduating as Formula Two champion to drive for Haas. The 22-year-old says he's proud to follow in his famous father's footsteps, but another son of a world champion has warned of the pressures he will have to face. "It's not easy to be the 'son of'. And with Mick, it is 10 times more difficult, because Michael's era was not so long ago and he was much more successful," said Nico Rosberg.

Nikita Mazepin (Russia)

The team's second rookie is the 22-year-old son of billionaire Dmitry Mazepin, a non-executive director of Russian company Uralkali, the main title partner of the Haas team. He takes his place only after the team had to hold an internal investigation over a social media video seemingly showed him making an unsolicited attempt to touch a woman's breast.

Williams

George Russell (Britain)

For his second season Russell was tipped for stardom by Mercedes chief Toto Wolff after the 23-year-old stepped in for the COVID-19 quarantining Hamilton in Bahrain, upstaging Valtteri Bottas in Friday practice. He would likely have stolen the show in the race itself only for a bungled pit stop and puncture that left him in ninth. With changed ownership, former champion Jenson Button in as a senior advisor, the gifted Russell can approach the campaign with plenty of optimism.

Nicholas Latifi (Canada)

Like Lance Stroll, the 25-year-old Latifi is the son of a billionaire. In his second season after graduating as the team's reserve driver last term and still searching for his first point.

Also See: Formula 1 2021: 'Different animal' Max Verstappen tops testing as Yuki Tsunoda makes mark

Formula 1 2021: Red Bull's Max Verstappen fastest on first day of pre-season testing, Mercedes struggle

Formula 1 2021: Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas sets fastest time on second day, Lewis Hamilton struggles

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