Will we have a more competitive championship? Will we have a championship at all? Here are the 10 things I most want to see from the 2021 F1 season.

…for it to actually start at some point

Formula 1 originally planned for its longest-ever 23-race championship to begin on March 21st. But the new year was only two days old when it emerged that first race is in doubt.

The pandemic is worsening in many countries. Britain, home to most of F1’s 10 teams, is entering its third lockdown. It’s probably too much to hope the Australian Grand Prix will be the only race which is postponed or cancelled this year.

However in 2020 Formula 1 demonstrated how effectively and safely it could hold races amid a pandemic. With vaccination programmes beginning to roll out worldwide, hopefully we will see far fewer grand prix cancellations this year. Getting fans back to track would be a superb sight too, though this may also be an unrealistic hope at this stage.

Bottas taking the fight to Hamilton

Bottas needs to keep Hamilton under pressure this year

With the technical regulations largely unchanged for the new season, there is a strong chance that the drivers championship could be an all-Mercedes contest once again. In which case, in the interest of a competitive season, Valtteri Bottas needs to step up and take the fight to his team mate more often.

That’s a daunting task: Lewis Hamilton did not amass seven world championships and 95 race wins by being complacent about any area of his game. But Bottas has proven capable of beating his team mate to pole position and reckons he made gains with his race pace last year.

If he’s close enough to keep Hamilton honest, and has slightly better luck, we may at least see a longer-lasting title fight than last season. More importantly for Bottas, it may be his best chance of holding on to his seat, now we’ve seen what George Russell can do.

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Anyone taking the fight to Mercedes

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a team might get close enough to Mercedes to offer their own fight for the title. Only Red Bull got close enough to beat them on merit last year, however.

A worthwhile track getting the ‘TBC’ slot

Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, Autodromo do Algarve, 2020
Unusual Algarve track was great for F1

No venue has been declared yet for what is currently the fourth round on the 2021 F1 calendar. Various possible locations have been suggested but again, given the logistical difficulties presented by the pandemic, a European destination looks most realistic.

Imola seems the likeliest option. But although it’s a fine, historic and picturesque circuit, I’d prefer to see F1 choose a country they don’t already race in, and a circuit better suited to modern F1 cars.

Portugal’s undulating Algarve track would be my first choice, or Istanbul Park in Turkey, both having had time for their new surfaces to settle.

Vettel rediscovering his touch

It was hard to watch Sebastian Vettel’s dire 2020 campaign and remember this was the same driver who’d won four world championships and more races than any driver bar Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.

Vettel is clearly capable of far better than he produced last year. His Mercedes-powered Aston Martin could well be one of the most competitive cars on the grid this season. So for the sake of the standard of competition on the grid this year, here’s hoping he’s back to his best.

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Fewer early-race Safety Car periods

Safety Car, Sochi Autodrom, 2020
Early Safety Car periods tend to ruin races

As F1’s over-complicated tyre strategy rules force drivers to make one pit stop per race, early Safety Car periods tend to end any tactical variety by giving them an opportunity to fit the hard tyre compound and run to the end without pitting again. The final race in Abu Dhabi was just one particularly tedious example of this happening last season.

There’s no sign F1 is going to give teams greater strategic freedom in the near future. That being so, hopefully we will avoid too many race-ruining early Safety Car periods in 2021.

A new team signing up

We’re well into the realm of wishful thinking here, particularly given the huge economic challenges arising from the pandemic. And, of course, the not insignificant matter of the $200 million fee new entrants need to pay from this year.

Still, F1 is badly in need of more cars, as demonstrated by the number of talented drivers left without a seat at the end of last season. But if the new financial regulations and incoming technical rules changes are going to make owning an F1 team a truly attractive prospect, it may tip the balance eventually.

Alonso’s class speaking for itself

Fernando Alonso, Renault, Yas Marina, 2020
Podiums have to be a possibility for Alonso

During his last stint in Formula 1 at McLaren, Fernando Alonso never left anyone in doubt of how highly he regarded his performances, even when the limitations of his hardware meant he was only competing for meagre points finishes on a good day.

The chest-thumping got tiresome quickly. And, however justified it might have been, it didn’t reflect well on him, his team or the sport.

But Alonso’s Alpine should be a far more competitive proposition given Renault’s 2020 campaign. Hopefully on his return he can produce the kind of performances which mean we don’t have to write headlines like ‘Alonso hails best-ever drive after finishing 12th’.

No repeat of 2013

The 2021 F1 season will be the final year of the current technical regulations before a drastic overhaul of the rules arrives. The last time we were in this situation the leading team of the time pressed on with development of their current car and dominated the second half of the year while the others busied themselves with their new hardware. The outcome was a double dose of domination: Red Bull swept the final nine races of 2013, and Mercedes took over as F1’s dominant force at the beginning of the following season.

But there is good reason to believe that won’t happen again this year. F1 are confident their extensively-researched new aerodynamic regulations for 2022 will bring the field closer together. What’s more, they’ve had an extra year to identify and close off any development avenues they do not want the teams to exploit.

The final race with DRS

Romain Grosjean, Haas, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
The DRS sticking plaster is still stuck

Next year’s cars are also intended to produce much closer racing and easier overtaking. This should mean F1’s Drag Reduction System, now in its 11th year, can finally be dispensed with.

Sadly, there’s no sign yet that the adjustable rear wing flap will be done away with for 2022. This smacks of a lack of ambition on F1’s part.

If the artificial push-button passing system remains, there’s no incentive for F1 to ensure its new rules render it obsolete. The temptation will remain strong to keep it out of a fear overtaking will be too hard without it. Better, surely, to be rid of the gimmick and focus on restoring natural racing by getting the 2022 aerodynamic package right.

But here’s the thing: I’ll settle for this wish not being fulfilled, and the other eight points before it, as long as we get that first one. As last year demonstrated, there’s no point setting your hopes too high for a season which may yet be badly disrupted by factors far beyond F1’s control.

Over to you

What are you most looking forward to this year? What’s your top hope for the season ahead? Have your say in the comments.

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