As one crazy year ends, it feels a bit risky writing this feature because my similar one from a year ago took the world we live in for granted. After 2020 of course what we all want is an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and return to normality, but as I’m not a professional in that domain, I’ll stick to Formula 1.
I very much want fans back at races, and all teams fighting for wins, but I thought I’d focus on a few key topics on my wishlist that would hopefully provide entertainment and excitement. And to that end, I’m completely contradicting myself and starting with indecision.
I don’t know what I want from Red Bull
Aside from giving Mercedes a proper title challenge, I’m torn on what I’d like to see happen at Red Bull in 2021. On the one hand, it would be great to see Sergio Perez excel in a front-running car, taking the fight to Mercedes and giving Max Verstappen a run for his money.
On the other, not only would that restrict podium opportunities for others (more on that in a bit) it would also be very damaging to the futures of Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly, and would also suggest Verstappen is not quite as brilliant as he appears.
If I’m honest, I don’t see it happening. I can’t envisage Perez getting that close to Verstappen, and fear he’s being saddled with massively high expectations that are unfair. But I just can’t settle on how I want it to pan out. Maybe that’s a good thing, because it’s certainly going to be one of the main storylines to keep an eye on.
The season to start on time
OK, so I’m not steering totally clear of the COVID-19 pandemic. Short and sweet this one, but F1 has targeted a record-breaking 23-race season that is due to begin in Australia on March 21. Given the ridiculous scenes we had to put up with in Melbourne 12 months ago, it would be great to be in a position to safely deliver a race at Albert Park – ideally with fans on site – and start to make up for that shambles.
F1 did brilliantly in the end to get 17 races in during 2020, but that came only after learning from what went wrong in Australia. The situation in Europe right now suggests it will be a challenge once again to get the ball rolling, so the main thing is I hope is that F1 handles Melbourne better this time. No repeats, please.
Ferrari to not make massive improvements
Hear me out on this one, Ferrari fans. The main reason we had such an exciting year in terms of shock podiums and winners is all thanks to Ferrari. By having such a poor season, the Scuderia ended the recent spell of there being three dominant teams at the front (or Mercedes and two teams chasing) and then a massive gap to the rest. The gap to the midfield was still substantial, but that midfield was always fighting for at least fifth place – often fourth, given Alex Albon’s struggles.
So that meant you only needed one of the top three to hit trouble, and there’d be a podium up for grabs. In the past you’ve needed four of the top six, or at least three of the top five, and that was just so unlikely.
I do want to see Ferrari improve and be right in the mix with the midfield rather than at the back of it, but I don’t want it to pull half a second clear of McLaren, Renault, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri. Let’s leave the proper recovery to 2022.
It’s a bit of a contradiction for F1 because unreliable cars tend to cost more money due to the need to regularly replace components, but that jeopardy is something that the sport has been lacking more and more with each passing year. The regulations call for reliability and teams were pretty well set before the rejigged calendar, but we saw a few occasions where problems only added to the drama.
Think of Silverstone, where late punctures turned a dull race into a potential thriller. Imola had a great finish in the podium fight courtesy of a failure for Verstappen, too. Perez losing a podium late in Bahrain was heartbreaking, but you’d be more on edge to the very end if that felt like a possibility each week. At least Perez did also get some good fortune the following week thanks to George Russell’s puncture, so as I list these it’s clear Pirelli is trying its best to cover off the reliability topic…
I know it’s not always fair, but unreliability is a dynamic that makes races more watchable.
A stronger Sebastian Vettel
2020 was a tough one to watch if you were a Seb fan. In fact, it was pretty tough to watch even if you were impartial when it came to Vettel. He’s a four-time world champion, the third most successful driver of all time in terms of race wins, third on the list of podiums and fourth when it comes to pole positions, and yet he finished 13th in the drivers’ championship last season with a third of the points of his teammate Charles Leclerc.
Vettel had one third place (accounting for 15 of his 33 points), a sixth, a seventh and four P10s. More often than not, he finished outside the top 10.
And that just doesn’t tally with what he has achieved before, and what he is capable of. For my own sanity and ability to tell people ‘it’s not all about the car, you don’t win four world titles by getting lucky’, he has to fare better at Aston Martin alongside Lance Stroll. He just has to.
More driver swaps between teams
It wasn’t just about George Russell’s appearance for Mercedes last year. Nico Hulkenberg’s last-minute calls from Racing Point added plenty of intrigue around what could have been dull races, and it was good to see Jack Aitken and Pietro Fittipaldi getting their F1 debuts, too.
Just having new names in different cars adds a level of intrigue and interest that I think we’re going to need even more of in 2021, with 23 races planned in what will potentially be another disrupted year. It’s a tough one, because you don’t want to see drivers unwell or injured, but the variety that can be provided by more names taking part is good. And for some that means getting to prove their talent, even if it frustratingly ignites the ’it’s all about the car’ debates.
Williams to make another step
This one is a little more predictable, but there’s a reason I’ve highlighted Williams and not Alfa Romeo or Haas. Quite often, Williams had a car that could beat both of those teams on raw one-lap pace, but race performances were less consistent. What we can expect from the Ferrari-powered teams though is an instant gain – and probably a noticeable one – based on the new power unit.Williams is unlikely to get such a boost, so the improvements will need to come from the car itself. And if it can find them, then we might just see the lines blurred between the midfield runners and the bottom three. But even if we don’t, it was good to have Williams actually racing other teams again and I want that to continue.
And seeing as it’s my list and it doesn’t all have to be remotely realistic, I also want…
An F1 driver to race at Indy
For the first time since 2003, the Indy 500 will not clash with a Formula 1 race. Usually it is Monaco, but on a couple of occasions the Turkish or European GPs have got in the way. Regardless, it’s rare that the two are on different weekends.
We saw how exciting it was when Fernando Alonso took on the 500 for the first time while still an active F1 driver, and it would be even bigger if someone could do it without missing a grand prix. Of course they couldn’t qualify the car due to scheduling, but even if I’m stupid enough to put this on my wishlist I’m still not stupid enough to expect them to win the thing, so it’s all just about taking on the challenge.
I don’t even know why I’m restricting this to one driver either – let’s get a few of them involved. It would be huge.