Aston Martin logo, Nurburgring, 2020

What’s new in 2021: Your guide to the season ahead

2021 F1 Season

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Formula 1 may have postponed its plans to introduce a major overhaul car design rules for 2021, but there are many other changes still coming for the new year ahead.

Teams and power units

No new teams are entering Formula 1 this year, but two of last year’s entries have changed names for the upcoming season.

Racing Point is being rebranded for the second time in three years. The team previously known as Force India will become Aston Martin. Lawrence Stroll, who purchased the team in mid-2018, took over the luxury car manufacturer last year.

Aston Martin was previously the title sponsor of Red Bull, but has ended that relationship as it will have its own Formula 1 team. The marque previously went grand prix racing in 1959 and 1960, during which time in contested five races.

Another performance car brand will appear on the grid this year. Renault has rebranded its Formula 1 team as Alpine, its high-end brand. Both teams have appointed multiple world champions to their line-ups.

There’s one change on the engines side, as McLaren will switch to Mercedes power, leaving Renault the only team using the French power units.

Meanwhile Red Bull and AlphaTauri are starting their final year with Honda, who will leave the sport at the end of the season. The teams are yet to confirm their power unit supplier for 2022. It is possible Renault could be required by the rules to supply their engines if they do not have a deal in place by mid-season.

Drivers

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
2021 F1 drivers and teams
Eight of the 20 seats on the grid have new occupants for the 2021 season:

Alfa Romeo and Williams have announced unchanged line-ups. Mercedes has already confirmed Valtteri Bottas as one of its two drivers this year, and is expected to finalise terms for the newly-knighted seven-times world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton to remain with them.

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Races

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Zandvoort, demonstration run, 2020
The modernised Zandvoort will finally play host to F1
A record-breaking 23 races are scheduled on the 2021 F1 calendar, though details of two of the circuits are yet to be confirmed.

The venue for the fourth round of the season has not yet been announced. Imola, which held the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in November, is thought likely to land the race.

Formula 1 will hold its first race in Saudi Arabia in November. However the layout of the new street track in Jeddah has not yet been revealed.

The revamped Zandvoort circuit in the Netherlands, which was supposed to hold the first Dutch Grand Prix for 35 years in May 2020, returns to the schedule in a later September slot. However the Hanoi Street Circuit, which was scheduled to hold the first Vietnam Grand Prix in 2020, does not feature on this year’s calendar.

There will be extensive changes to F1’s support races. Formula 2 and Formula 3 will no longer run on the same weekends, and each will now run triple-header events rather than double-headers. W Series will support eight F1 rounds in 2021.

New rules

2021 F1 car wind tunnel model
New-look cars planned for 2021 will now arrive next year
Significant technical changes to the cars were originally planned for the 2021 season. However these have been postponed to 2022 as a cost-saving measure, due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Teams have instead been told they can only make limited changes to their cars for the upcoming season. They have a restricted number of tokens they can use to alter areas of their car. In the case of McLaren, much of these will be taken up making the necessary changes to accommodate a new power unit. One of 2020’s most curious technical innovations, Mercedes’ Dual-Axis Steering system, has been outlawed.

While teams were forbidden from conducting development work on their 2022 cars until the start of this year, they are now free to begin work on them, and many have indicated they will prioritise this over developing their mature, 2020-based designs.

In order to curb potential increases in downforce, some new aerodynamic restrictions have been imposed. These include a reduction in the size of the floor ahead of the rear wheels.

Teams must now operate within strict limits on spending. A cost cap of $145 million has come into effect, though there are exceptions to this, including driver salaries and marketing costs.

Finally, there will be slight changes to the format of testing and races. Friday’s practice sessions will now last 60 minutes each instead of 90, cutting teams’ track time before qualifying from four hours to three. They will also have less time to prepare their cars for the new season: Six days of testing were held before the first last year, but just three have been scheduled for the new season.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 46 comments on “What’s new in 2021: Your guide to the season ahead”

    1. By shifting the new cars’ debut to ’22 we are faced with, in all probability, a rerun of ’20 with the boring runaway Mercedes dominating the racing once more! That is certainly not anything to get wildly enthusiastic about. Each and every year it is hoped that someone/anyone can build a challenger but to no avail. One can live in hope I suppose? The drivers are there…many of the 20 could produce a major upset given the opportunity to drive a Mercedes car. Russell proved that point emphatically last year. Fingers crossed that something happens……

      1. If teams start the season off the pace, they may switch emphasis to developing the 2022 car and just write this year off. Depending on what you like, this year may be worse than 2020.

        1. ..ironically handing Mercedes the titles earlier, giving them even more time to focus on 2022. Then at the end of the year when things get tight, the other teams will once again prioritize the championship fight, and once again lose out in the development race.

        2. This will be equivalent to Schumacher’s 2004 or Vettel’s 2013, the most dominant championship of the their respective eras. I think it will be worst of the hybrid era.

          But this year is all about the new team-mate comparisons, Max vs Perez, Leclerc vs Sainz, Ricciardio vs Norris and Alonso vs Ocon. Also fully expect to see a resurgent Vettel.

    2. Both teams have appointed multiple world champions to their line-ups.

      Just like Alfa Romeo, both Alpine & Aston Martin having world champion as a driver was part of brand strategy.

      1. That’s actually an interesting observation, @ruliemaulana.
        Big car companies used to join F1 for technical innovation purposes.
        Niche car brands (unfortunately Alfa Romeo is not part of that) now merely seem to use ex F1 champions as brand ambassadors.

      2. That’s 100 % true for Aston, they even said so. Renault/Alpine is more a case of “if we can’t build the best car, we should at least have the best driver”.

        1. We shall see that when Alpine and Aston Martin release new commercial later.

    3. Vettel has won at least once in the last three teams he has raced (Ferrari, Red Bull and Toro Rosso. He finished his only race in BMW Sauber in 8th at Indianapolis). Let’s see if he can add Aston to that list..

      1. @qeki The most recent Monza race, as well as Bahrain 2, prove that anything’s possible in F1, although these types of races are quite rare, so things would have to go in favor of him quite a lot for him to win. Never say never.

        1. @jerejj Although Racing Point had (at least) the third best car last year, and won a race on merit, so it’s not inconceivable that Vettel could win a race this year if Mercedes trip up.

          1. @red-andy The Bahrain 2 win wasn’t any more 100% on merit than Gasly’s Monza win as neither would’ve happened without the 10-second stop/go, nor the pit stop blunders and the #1 RB getting taken out on lap one, respectively. Otherwise, I agree that he could indeed end up winning a race if things go in his favor well enough for him to benefit in the form of inheriting first place via top runners’ misfortunes.

            1. @jerejj By ‘on merit’ I mean that Perez/RP took the win by virtue of putting in the best overall performance on the day (Mercedes having ruled themselves out of contention due to their own incompetence rather than any poor luck). I would contrast it with Gasly’s win in Monza which was primarily down to him pitting just before the Safety Car came out, making up lots of places on drivers ahead who had to wait for the pit lane to open before they could stop.

          2. The race wasn’t won on merit. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t deserve to won the race. He took advantage of Mercedes blunders.

            For me a race won on merit was the one from Pastor.

        2. @jerejj If they can catch Mercedes even a bit compared to this year I think it should be possible if races are as wackies as this year.

      2. Pappa won’t allow another win to slip into the wrong hands again… I bet Lance wins before Vettel.

    4. Yes, Renault could be required to supply, although whether RB would want to take the Renault PU is another matter.

    5. Red Bull are not only losing Aston Martin but Infiniti too.

      1. RB should have no problems getting new sponsors on top of what Perez brings.

        1. @Bill Indeed. I could see the Telcel logo on both sides of the rear wing where the Aston Martin logo has been in the recent past.

      2. JC, you’re about 5 years late with that comment – Infiniti left Red Bull at the start of 2016, when they started sponsoring the Renault works team instead.

    6. As much as i’m delighted to see Zandvoort on the calendar because it’s another, let’s say ‘organic’ track. Driving it in video games (not necessarily accurate, I accept), it’s somehow worse than Monaco for overtaking, it’s Monaco with more dirty air because of the higher speeds.

      I’m not complaining, anyone who does get past someone will have to demonstrate some serious skill, and the cars on the banked curves in the dunes will look great, but I suspect it’ll be one of the most valuable pole positions of the season.

      1. Banked curves worked very well at the ‘overtakings impossible’ Tuscan GP. Im definitely mostly looking forward to Tarzan and the GP as a whole, hopefully filled with mad Dutch fans.

        Imola is a joke circuit, I dont know why they are bothering and the season as a whole is a kind of holding pattern for 2022

        1. @tonymansell Track accessibility location-wise plays a part in why Imola is favored over Mugello, for example, as does probably attendance capacity.

    7. Coventry Climax
      1st January 2021, 12:09

      If you already limit the extent of change to the cars, why then also further limit the aerodynamics? To reduce dirty air? That would have made sense had we also seen the last of DRS, but the FIA, despite Brawn (who’s -to my opinion- increasingly becoming a con artist) saying it was to go, now says they still “need” it.
      Maybe I’ve missed a decent, relevant argument, but it feels like the FIA has yet again found the means to kill competition and guarantee dull races: Mercedes has the strongest PU, Red Bull relies the most on Aero. Guess who suffers the most from this?
      In my opinion, they’re just stupid, but the FIA playing flipper and not being open all the time, is adding fuel to the conspiracy flames.
      That does generate attention though, so maybe they just go with the global trend?

      1. Nonsense argument, no sporting organisation wants dull sport. Put your tin foil hat away and take a trip to planet Earth

        1. Coventry Climax
          2nd January 2021, 19:50

          Gave you the opportunity to slayer me, @Tonymansell, by saying that I might have missed something. Instead, you accusing me of wearing an alu foil hat and no arguments to back it up, is utter nonsense. I do not believe in conspiracies. I do however, believe that people are stupid. Like Einstein said: “There’s two things that are infite; the universe and peoples stupidity. And I’m not quite sure about the universe.” (Someone else too used that recently, was that here?) And I do in no way compare myself to him, before people start accusing. Governments around the world have cut back funding for decent education for years now. Feeling that the internet and social media could take it’s place? Look what we’ve ended up with. Doubt it even is the end of it, though.

          1. coventry climax
            2nd January 2021, 19:57

            Actually, your “no sporting organisation wants a dull sport” is backing me up: I’m sure the FIA doesn’t want it, but they’re too stupid to recognise the effect of their plans. And that will fuel the conspiracy idiots.
            Made myself more clear this way, @tonymansell?

      2. Similar to my concerns. I think reduced wind tunnel time will make it harder to achieve robust designs that are predictable in dirty air or windy conditions. The best way to avoid unpredictable handling is testing, both on track and in the wind tunnel.

        I’m skeptical of reducing practice for the same reason. Fewer teams will get the best for their cars. Worse, it will hurt teams that need to take risks, punishing them if they guess wrong.

        However, I’m not in agreement on the conspiracy stuff. Over the last decade F1 has demonstrated the tangled mess of stake holders makes well orchestrated change impossible. Nobody has enough control to implement a coherent vision. They just take what they can get past everyone, or what they can do without involving ball parties.

    8. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      1st January 2021, 12:26

      I’m sceptical about Australia actually happening. Assuming it needs crowds to go ahead or funding is impossible, beach parties on Christmas day in Oz were cracked down on heavily. I hope their numbers get under control by March to allow it but if the UK is anything to go by, Christmas and New Year numbers won’t be known for a couple of weeks and folks, they’re going to be BIG! I’m already being called in off leave because track and trace has decimated two out of four watches. Welcome to 2020 the sequel.

      1. @davewillisporter The Australian GP taking place as scheduled is dependent on two things: The 14-day isolation requirement for arrivals in the country, and spectators in attendance, which is a must for temporary tracks. F1 would definitely have to get exempted from any arrival isolation as otherwise, things would get unnecessarily complicated while fans on trackside is a possibility, but most likely only with locals because international arrivals would be unlikely to gain exemption from quarantine like the F1 folks. Still better than nothing, though, and might be enough to cover the costs of the build-up process via ticket/gate income.
        Time will tell everything.
        If it were unable to go ahead as planned, hopefully, the decision would be made by around the middle of this month or until the day when the track build-up would have to commence at the very latest to still get everything ready in time.

      2. It might be very limited numbers of fans this time.

    9. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      1st January 2021, 13:06

      So could this be quite a big development restriction for Mclaren if a chunk of their development tokens will have to be utilised on the engine change?

      1. @rdotquestionmark indeed. I would be interested in a more in-depth article on the 2021 token system @keithcollantine (Melbourne is still so far away, RaceFans is my only way to cope with the lack of Formula 1!)

      2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
        1st January 2021, 19:45

        @rdotquestionmark I don’t think significant. From what I read the McLaren didn’t need mods to fit the PU because the Merc PU is smaller than the Renault. From what Seidl stated, the handicap will be not being able to shrink the rear bodywork to maximise the smaller size advantage. They’ve already run their planned 2021 upgrades during 2020 which will use the tokens. The McLaren just won’t be as good as it could be. A smaller penalty than spending all the tokens on fitting a new PU.

    10. Just 1 more year to sit through before we hopefully have a competitive series. There’s so much riding on the 2022 rule changes….

      1. @petebaldwin I do wonder if people are putting unrealistically high expectations on those rule changes though.

        Even if there is a change that, under normal circumstances, would be considered positive, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being seen as a negative if the changes weren’t as big as people believe they will be (I do think that is the more likely outcome).

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          1st January 2021, 20:07

          @petebaldwin Absolutely we are. Mercedes have a time advantage of having the best car and moving onto next year’s concept earlier. Their track record for handling regulation changes speaks for itself. Brawn 2009 was the benchmark setter. When he came in he cut all development of the 2008 car in favour of the 2009 new regs. Same in 2014, same in 2017. They’ve done the same in 2020 for 21. I’ve no doubt the top three will be the same. The difference hopefully will be cars will not get stuck in trains and due to the stricter design parameters, an actual rule structure to limit quirky advantage gains rather than the protest method we have today and a requirement to publish your designs for certain parts the field will close up faster during the season and those to follow.
          2022 will not be a miraculous return to the front for Williams or McLaren but it should be better than it is now.
          On a side note, the Mercedes is designed by committee. It’s a real repudiation of the cliche! Adrian Newey vs a few dozen extremely talented minds and proper driver involvement as opposed to paying lip service to that resource. (Newey tries his best to ignore any inputs into design until the car doesn’t work as he thought it should!) He can’t keep up. The last few years have been a turning point in F1 teams’ developmental strategy. In 2019 Merc sat down and said, right! Ferrari are too fast (and we know it’s not legal but we can’t prove it!) What ideas have we got in our drawers gathering dust that we just didn’t have the time to test? Let’s throw the kitchen sink at this one. The result was the fastest F1 car ever made. (Until Abu Dhabi and Redbull who despite finishing the season as the fastest car will never get that accolade for obvious reasons.)
          F1 teams are morphing. Mercedes morphed first and are best at it. I don’t expect that to change for a while yet.

        2. anon I guess it depends on what defines ‘high’ expectations, and I’m not sure if a survey has been done on that. On what people’s expectations are in general. I’m sure they’re highly varied, from the usually ever present pessimism to full on optimism. I have been highly vocal and positive about the changes since they were first announced and I remain yet to hear an argument against the moves they have made on several fronts. Moves the teams have agreed are the way to go.

          I expect a big change but I also don’t expect perfection. That’s fine as F1 is always a work in progress, the target always moving. I cannot see anything but positive happening as anything that takes away from so much clean air dependence can only help. I expect there to be some hiccups and I’m not sure anyone knows yet entirely what to expect once these cars are racing in anger in a pack, but for me…what a jumping off point for a new era. And they can always tweak and they always do, so I don’t see myself as being disappointed in anything I see come 2022. I’m already so stoked, as I have been from the getgo that an entity took over from BE and has actually decided and affected, along with the teams, changes that address the big issues that had built up in F1 over time. What’s not to like about their effort and commitment to a better F1. The drivers and teams too want away from the current cars and tires.

          We/they are all getting what we all have wanted and have agreed to as the way to go forward. Now the work begins to evolve it together, F1 as an entity. No I’m not going to be disappointed in this new jumping off point at all. Good, bad, and indifferent, I’m going along for the ride with Liberty, Brawn, the teams, and their drivers.

    11. I’m quite curious how the Alpine livery will look. Seems like it will be blue and red when looking at their other cars. The grid might look a lot less colourful next year without the pink and yellow.

      1. Just hoping to see British racing green (fingers crossed)

        1. Coventry Climax
          2nd January 2021, 20:10

          British Racing Green with a French team?
          You’ll probably get your wish though, but it’ll be Aston Martin.

      2. Coventry Climax
        2nd January 2021, 20:08

        If their company website is any indication, they’ll be very slow, with a blue and black logo flashing for the first minute or so. When the site does come up, it’s blue and black for housestyle again, so that’s a good guess for livery, I suppose.

    12. Don’t forget hearing Crofty commentary – “AND SIR LEWIS HAMILTON WINS the … Grand Prix” making the Sir Lewis/Merc dominance even worse than it already has been.

    13. I agree and think that no F1 team will sit on their laurels for 22 and if Mercedes are dominant in such a pinnacle sport then it’s up to the other teams to catch up with Mercedes,..

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