F1 2021 season guide: drivers, teams, calendar, rules explained

The new F1 season is nearly upon us, with 2021 set to be defined by new drivers, teams, regulations and a bumper calendar.

If F1 can navigate the problems still being caused by COVID-19 around the world, a record 23 races will be held this year. This includes the return of the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and a new addition in the form of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix at a street circuit in Jeddah.

The global pandemic has also had a massive effect on the rulebook for 2021: the big regulation change planned for this season has been pushed back by 12 months in order to cut costs at a time when the teams are under huge financial pressure.

That said, minor alterations to the formula seem to have had a major impact at the top of the field, and the introduction of a cost cap, an aero success handicap and potential sprint races represent giant shifts in the DNA of F1.

The teams themselves have brought in sweeping changes too: seven of the 10 constructors go into 2021 with new driver line-ups, and two outfits have been completely rebranded.

Here is your one-stop guide to the 2021 F1 season.

Drivers

The drivers stand in front of their cars on the grid

The drivers stand in front of their cars on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton ended months of speculation by signing a one-year contract extension with Mercedes in February, giving the 36-year-old the chance to win a record eighth title in 2021. He’ll drive alongside team-mate Valtteri Bottas for a fifth straight season, with the Finn’s current deal also set to expire at the end of this season.

At Red Bull – set to be the form team heading into the new season after a strong performance in pre-season testing in Bahrain - Alex Albon has been replaced by Sergio Perez, who had looked set to miss out on a seat altogether following his exit from Racing Point. Perez agreed a one-year deal with Red Bull for 2021, while Albon will contest a partial campaign in the DTM this year.

Perez’s old seat has been taken by Sebastian Vettel, who signed for the rebranded Aston Martin team after Ferrari’s decision not to retain the four-time world champion. Lance Stroll keeps his place at the new-look Silverstone outfit after a strong showing in 2020, in which he scored a podium finish at Monza and pole position at the Turkish Grand Prix.

In place of Vettel, Ferrari has acquired Carlos Sainz Jr to partner Charles Leclerc. The Spaniard has impressed over the last two seasons, with consistent points finishes and a couple of podiums for McLaren earning him a two-year deal with the Scuderia.

PRIME:

Sainz’s move to Ferrari also saw Daniel Ricciardo sign for McLaren. Renault’s mixed form heading into last season convinced the Australian to look elsewhere for 2021, although two podium finishes for the French team in 2020 showed that Ricciardo has lost none of his frontrunning quality as he enters his 10th full season in F1.

Ricciardo jumping ship opened the door for Fernando Alonso to return to F1 after a two-year hiatus. The double F1 world champion begins his third stint with the Enstone team - rebranded as Alpine for 2021 - alongside Esteban Ocon, who will be out of contract at the end of the season.

Elsewhere, Red Bull sister team AlphaTauri has dropped Daniil Kvyat for the second time, replacing the Russian with rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who finished third in the F2 championship in 2020. Kvyat is without a drive for 2021, but has signed with Alpine as a reserve driver.

The only team to change both its drivers for 2021 is Haas, which dropped Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean at the end of 2020, partially due to financial constraints caused by COVID-19. 2020 F2 champion Mick Schumacher - son of seven-time world champion Michael and a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy - will make his F1 debut for the US team in Bahrain. His team-mate will be fellow F2 graduate Nikita Mazepin, the son of billionaire Dmitry Mazepin, who finished fifth in F2 last year but courted controversy over the winter after appearing to touch a woman inappropriately in a car in Abu Dhabi.

Teams

Drivers

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton (#44), Valtteri Bottas (#77)

Red Bull

Max Verstappen (#33), Sergio Perez (#11)

McLaren

Daniel Ricciardo (#3), Lando Norris (#4)

Aston Martin

Lance Stroll (#18), Sebastian Vettel (#5)

Alpine

Esteban Ocon (#31), Fernando Alonso (#14)

Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Jr (#55), Charles Leclerc (#16)

AlphaTauri

Pierre Gasly (#10), Yuki Tsunoda (#22)

Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen (#7), Antonio Giovinazzi (#99)

Haas

Mick Schumacher (#47), Nikita Mazepin (#9)

Williams

George Russell (#63), Nicholas Latifi (#6)

Teams

Once again 10 teams will contest the F1 constructors’ championship in 2021, and while the outfits remain the same as before, two entrants have undergone major rebranding since the end of last season.

Racing Point - formerly known as Force India - has been transformed into the Aston Martin works team for 2021. The team was taken over by a consortium led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll in 2018, and a separate investment deal with Aston Martin in 2020 saw Stroll become chairman of the British company, in which he is now a major shareholder. The result is the return of the Aston Martin name to F1 for the first time since 1960, and the team’s largely pink livery has been replaced with a green paint scheme for 2021.

Meanwhile, Groupe Renault - the multinational group behind the Renault F1 team - has removed the Renault name from F1 for 2021 and replaced it with Alpine; its rejuvenated car brand. The company’s new CEO Luca de Meo wants to use F1 to promote the Alpine name around the world, and as such the team’s yellow and black livery has made way for a largely black and blue design that sports red and white elements at the rear.

McLaren are the only team to have changed engine supplier over the winter, with the Woking-based outfit ending its relationship with Renault three years after ditching Honda as its engine partner. The team will run Mercedes engines in 2021, having last done so at the end of the 2014 season.

In October 2020 Honda announced it would be ending its F1 engine programme at the end of 2021, throwing Red Bull and AlphaTauri’s future plans into jeopardy. Having secured an agreement with all 10 teams to freeze engine development from 2022 onwards, Red Bull has since announced that it will take over Honda’s engine project at the end of this season until the next generation of power units are introduced.

Haas has revealed a new title sponsor in the form of Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali, which is also owned by Dmitry Mazepin. The deal has inspired the team’s new white, blue and red livery, although its resemblance to the Russian flag has led to an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Russia has been banned from world championship events for the next two years following revelations of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and it’s for this reason that Nikita Mazepin must race under a neutral flag.

Constructor

Car

Engine

Mercedes

F1 W12

Mercedes

Red Bull

RB16B

Honda

McLaren

MCL35M

Mercedes

Aston Martin

AMR21

Mercedes

Alpine

A521

Renault

Ferrari

SF21

Ferrari

AlphaTauri

AT02

Honda

Alfa Romeo

C41

Ferrari

Haas

VF-21

Ferrari

Williams

FW34B

Mercedes

Calendar

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, F1 plans to hold a record-breaking, 23-race calendar in 2021. The season-opening Australian Grand Prix has been postponed until November, with the first race of the year now set to take place in Bahrain a fortnight after pre-season testing at the same venue.

For the second year running the Chinese Grand Prix has been called off, with its place taken by the Portuguese Grand Prix as the third round of the championship. Imola features once again following a successful event (albeit held behind closed doors without fans) in 2020, with the abandoned Vietnam Grand Prix making way.

Last year there had been speculation that the Brazilian Grand Prix could move to Rio de Janeiro for 2021, however that project has fallen apart and F1 has since signed a five-year deal to keep the race at Interlagos.

Read Also:

Two new races have been added to the calendar: F1 is set to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time for the penultimate round of the 2021 championship, with a new street circuit constructed in Jeddah. At 6.175km the track will be the second only to Spa-Francorchamps in terms of length, with simulations predicting an average speed of 250km/h (155mph) over a single lap.

The Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort is the second new addition to the calendar, with the heavily upgraded track featuring two banked corners twice as steep as those found at Indianapolis. Last featured on the calendar in 1985, the Dutch Grand Prix was set to reappear in 2020, but those plans were scuppered by COVID-19 as the race became unviable without fans.

New F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali admits that the series will need to be “flexible” to successfully host 23 races this year: F1’s longest seasons to date featured 21 grands prix, which was completed without the headache of navigating a global health crisis. The challenge of COVID-19 will also dictate when (and in what numbers) fans can attend races throughout the season, with some events more vulnerable than others if ticket sales suffer as they did in 2020.

Current 2021 F1 calendar

Race

Date

Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit

26-28 March

Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola

16-18 April

Portuguese Grand Prix, Algarve International Circuit

30 April - 2 May

Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

7-9 May

Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo

20-23 May

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit

4-6 June

Canadian Grand Prix, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

11-13 June

French Grand Prix, Circuit Paul Ricard

25-27 June

Austrian Grand Prix, Red Bull Ring

2-4 July

British Grand Prix, Silverstone

16-18 July

Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring

30 July - 1 August

Belgian Grand Prix, Spa-Francorchamps

27-29 August

Dutch Grand Prix, Zandvoort

3-5 September

Italian Grand Prix, Monza

10-12 September

Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Autodrom

24-26 September

Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay Street Circuit

1-3 October

Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka

8-10 October

United States Grand Prix, Circuit of the Americas

22-24 October

Mexico City Grand Prix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

29-31 October

Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Interlagos

5-7 November

Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park

19-21 November

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah Street Circuit

3-5 December

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit

10-12 December

Rules

A major overhaul of the F1 rulebook had been planned for 2021, but COVID-19 severely hit the teams’ income in 2020. So in order to reduce costs for this season the big regulation change has been pushed back until 2022, allowing the teams to save money on development (which has been restricted further by a token system). This year’s cars are effectively ‘B-spec’ versions of last season’s machines, although minor changes could still see the pecking order shaken up.

The biggest difference is a reduction in the cars’ floor, which - together with changes to the diffuser and brake ducts - is intended to reduce downforce by around 10%. This is to avoid a repeat of the punctures that marred the British Grand Prix, where Pirelli’s compounds were pushed beyond their limits.

Read Also:

As well as reducing downforce, Pirelli has introduced a new range of tyres for 2021 that should prove more durable, and despite initial predictions that the 2021 cars would be around one second per lap slower, after pre-season testing Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola said this year’s cars will be just as fast as 2020.

Elsewhere, Mercedes’ dual-axis steering (DAS) system - which allowed its drivers to alter the toe angle of the front wheels by pulling the steering wheel back and forth - has been outlawed for 2021. The copying practices that allowed Racing Point to effectively reverse engineer the 2019 Mercedes last season have also been tightened up.

Although the regulation overhaul has been delayed, F1’s long-anticipated cost cap has finally been introduced. In 2021 the teams will be limited to a budget of $145 million, although this doesn’t cover driver salaries, engine supply deals or the wages of the three highest-earning members of each team. Marketing, employee bonuses and travel costs are also exempt from cost cap limits.

The cost cap is designed to make it easier for smaller teams to compete with the frontrunners, and further reductions in the spending limit are set to be introduced over the next few seasons. These have yet to be agreed, however.

Another measure that’s meant to close up the field is a new success handicap on the amount of time teams can spend developing their cars in the windtunnel. As Williams finished last in the constructors’ championship in 2020, it can do more aero testing than anyone else in 2021. Mercedes, as champions, are permitted to do the least of all 10 teams.

As this is the first year of the new system the differences are relatively small for now, with Williams permitted to spend 22.5% more time than Mercedes in the windtunnel and the rest of the teams spread evenly between those two extremes. However from 2022 the disparity will grow to 45%; a figure which could have a much greater effect on the championship.

The last big change is the planned introduction of sprint races at three grands prix in 2021. At these events, qualifying would take place on a Friday, setting the grid for a 100km sprint race the following day. The results of this would then set the grid for the grand prix itself on Sunday. A final decision on the format and which races will be selected is due before the start of the season.

shares
comments

Related video

Williams plays down talk of Renault B-team future

Previous article

Williams plays down talk of Renault B-team future

Next article

2021 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix session timings and preview

2021 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix session timings and preview
Load comments

About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Joe Holding
Why Mercedes isn't confident it's really ahead of Red Bull at Imola Prime

Why Mercedes isn't confident it's really ahead of Red Bull at Imola

While Mercedes struck back against Red Bull by topping the times at Imola on Friday ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the overall picture remains incredibly close. Despite having a possible edge this weekend, the reigning Formula 1 world champion squad is not taking anything for granted...

What Mercedes must do to keep its F1 title challenge on track Prime

What Mercedes must do to keep its F1 title challenge on track

Mercedes may find itself leading the drivers' and constructors' standings after Lewis Hamilton's victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix, but it is well aware that it came against the odds, with Red Bull clearly ahead. Here's what the Brackley team must do to avoid its crown slipping .

The double whammy that is defining Vettel’s F1 fate Prime

The double whammy that is defining Vettel’s F1 fate

It's been a tough start to Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin F1 career, with a lack of pre-season testing mileage followed by an incident-packed Bahrain GP. But two key underlying factors mean a turnaround is no guarantee.

Formula 1
Apr 14, 2021
The themes to watch in F1's Imola return Prime

The themes to watch in F1's Imola return

Three weeks is a long time in Formula 1, but in the reshaped start to the 2021 season the teams head to Imola to pick things up after the frenetic Bahrain opener. Here's what to look out for and the developments to follow at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Formula 1
Apr 13, 2021
The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola Prime

The 'new' F1 drivers who need to improve at Imola

After a pandemic-hit winter of seat-swapping, F1 kicked off its season with several new faces in town, other drivers adapting to new environments, and one making a much-anticipated comeback. Ben Anderson looks at who made the most of their opportunity and who needs to try harder…

Formula 1
Apr 12, 2021
The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture Prime

The delay that quashed Aston Martin’s last F1 venture

Aston Martin’s only previous foray into Formula 1 in the late 1950s was a short-lived and unsuccessful affair. But it could have been so different, says Nigel Roebuck.

Formula 1
Apr 10, 2021
Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace Prime

Verstappen exclusive: Why lack of titles won't hurt Red Bull's ace

Max Verstappen’s star quality in Formula 1 is clear. Now equipped with a Red Bull car that is, right now, the world title favourite and the experience to support his talent, could 2021 be the Dutchman’s year to topple the dominant force of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes?

Formula 1
Apr 9, 2021
Is Formula 1 as good as it has ever been now? Prime

Is Formula 1 as good as it has ever been now?

For many, many years Formula 1 has strived to do and to be better on all fronts. With close competition, a growing fanbase, a stable political landscape and rules in place to encourage sustainability, 2021 is on course to provide an unexpected peak

Formula 1
Apr 8, 2021