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The Lay of the Land in Formula 1

One of the joys of being a fan of Formula 1 is that the season almost never stops. By the time the chequered flag is waved on the final race of one season in November, the first race of the following season in March is only a few weeks away. That means fans always have something to look forward to, but it doesn’t give teams much chance to adapt their cars and review their driver lineups. Sometimes, that means the cars on the grid and the drivers in their cockpits look unchanged from year to year.

That isn’t the case in 2021, which has been a year of big changes. The long-planned major rule changes for the cars themselves don’t come in until next year, but we have entirely new teams on the grid, rookie drivers with some of the smaller teams, and familiar faces in new places. Some of 2020’s drivers are gone from the sport entirely. A change is as good as a rest, and so this season’s F1 lineup feels fresh. Of course, we’ve also had the first race of the season, so we’ve had a small opportunity to see everybody in action.

We shouldn’t try to make detailed forecasts from just one race. Form can change, teams can make improvements, and anything can happen at any given race. That’s what makes Formula 1 so exciting. Nevertheless, with one race under our belts and the dust beginning to settle on those new teams and driver lineups, here’s how things look at the moment.

A Tight Race At The Top?

Sir Lewis Hamilton has dominated Formula 1 for longer than some of the sport’s younger fans have been alive. He’s a seven-time world champion and was most people’s pick to make that number a record-breaking eight this year, but Red Bull and Max Verstappen have other ideas. Hamilton’s Mercedes doesn’t look as dominant as it has done for the past few years, and this year’s Red Bull looks to be a big improvement on last years.

Does this mean we think Verstappen will overcome Hamilton and take his first-ever crown? We’re not sure. We wouldn’t put money on it, though. Put it this way – there’s an F1-themed online slots game called “Formula X” available on sites like Rose Slots IE. We’d feel more confident betting money on that game than we would betting on either Hamilton or Verstappen to lift the big trophy at this early stage of the season. Anyone who’s ever played online slots knows how unlikely a single-bet win is, and that’s a fair reflection of our uncertainty about the prospects of either driver! The cash value of winning the driver’s world championship is far higher than anything any online slots game could ever offer, though, and Hamilton has history on his mind. He took the first win of the season (albeit barely) and will fight the Dutchman with everything he has all year.

Aston Martin Going Backwards?

Last season was a breakout season for Racing Point, but many teams on the paddock think it shouldn’t have been. The widely-publicized accusation that was put to Racing Point is that their 2020 car was a carbon copy of the 2019 championship-winning Mercedes. In fact, the Racing Point was nicknamed “the Pink Mercedes” by the press and by other drivers. The FIA agreed with at least some of the criticism because they issued Racing Point with a fine and a points deduction. Now the team has been re-branded Aston Martin, and they’ve gone back to the drawing board and come up with a new car. Early indications are that it isn’t as fast as last season’s. Lance Stroll finished down in 10th place in Bahrain, with new teammate Sebastian Vettel out of the points in 15th. The big question is whether Vettel was that far down the order because the car is uncompetitive or whether Ferrari was right to decide the German former world champion is past his best. Aston Martin parted with Sergio Perez to make room for Vettel when Ferrari cast him out. With Perez now at Red Bull and finishing 5th in Bahrain, they might live to regret that.

A Season Of Misery For Haas?

Anyone who’s watched the Netflix series “Drive To Survive” will know that Haas struggled with a lack of funding last season. The team needed significant investment from sponsors to make it through the year, and that position hasn’t changed. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are both gone, with rookies Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin brought in as replacements. Schumacher’s pedigree is obvious, but his famous name makes him attractive to sponsors. Mazepin was an average – at best – driver in Formula 2 and is probably only in an F1 seat because his billionaire father is funnelling money into the team. The car looked ominously slow in Bahrain. Only Nicholas Latifi of Williams and Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri finished behind Schumacher, and in Gasly’s case, that was only because of problems he suffered earlier in the race. As for Mazepin, he crashed out on the first corner. It might be a long season for everyone associated with the team.

More Improvements For McLaren?

McLaren has been away from the very peak of Formula 1 for several years but showed signs of improvement last season by claiming third position in the constructor’s championship. The top two in that battle this season will be Mercedes and Red Bull again, but McLaren might not have such a closely fought battle with Renault (now known as Alpine) and Aston Martin in 2021. Lando Norris finished a respectable 4th in Bahrain behind Hamilton, Verstappen, and Bottas, with his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo in 7th. Ferrari – a team who appear to be recovering from 2020’s disaster at a snail’s pace – might be stiffer competition. Charles Leclerc brought his prancing horse home in 6th place, with teammate Carlos Sainz – formerly of McLaren – in 8th.

A two-way tussle between Hamilton and Verstappen for the driver’s championship and Mercedes and Red Bull for the constructor’s championship might sound like old hat, but it at least appears likely to be a genuine contest this year rather than another procession for Mercedes. The midfield behind those two teams is changing rapidly, though, and if McLaren can start scoring podiums, they have the potential to upset a few people. The season in front of us is an exciting one!

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