With only a week to go before the start of the 2021 season and Netflix 'Drive to Survive' getting the world talking F1, speculation on the year ahead has reached fever pitch.
Despite pandemic-enforced limitations on car development from last year, there are many factors at play that will have shaken up the F1 pecking order - including minor aerodynamic changes for the cars and a focus on the major regulation overhaul in 2022.
The 3 day pre-season test in Bahrain has created more questions than answers, but here's out best shot at who will finish where come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi on 12th December 2021.
Last year - 9th
Has there ever been a team that wrote off their whole season before the first race?
Haas enter 2021 as the only team not to spend its two permitted development tokens in order to improve the car from 2020. Whilst there have been some minor changes, the team have already made it clear that their sole focus will be on producing a competitive car for the new regulations in 2022 and that the car that begins the season opener in Bahrain will remain unchanged throughout.
Struggling to remain financially viable, Haas have opted for two rookies. The return of the Schumacher name to F1 in the form of Mick - son of Michael - has been overshadowed by the controversy of team-mate Nikita Mazepin, his inappropriate actions off-track, and his billionaire father Dmitri, who owns new title sponsors Uralkali. A challenging season lies ahead, and either driver will do remarkably well to achieve a single point over the course of the season.
Last year - 10th
Bottom of the pile last year with 0 points, Williams won't be expecting any miracles this year and their primary focus will likely switch to 2022 very early on. But with new owners and financial security in the form of American group Dorilton Capital, points really should be on agenda this time round - especially with a driver of George Russell's calibre.
The car had a relatively successful pre-season test, with very few reliability issues. But the team have opted for a risky approach this year with the car designed to suit only a few specific circuits across the year in the hope of getting points, and will also be extremely wind sensitive. There will likely be races where Williams is right at the very back, and others where it can compete at the tail end of the midfield.
Nicholas Latifi will hope to build on an unspectacular rookie season - and will need to if he has any hope of staying with the team into 2022. Russell is surely the driver likely to start dragging the team back in the right direction after five years of regression.
8. Alfa Romeo
Last year - 8th
The fastest of the 'Class C' teams in 2020, Alfa Romeo showed promise in this year's pre-season test at Bahrain, completing the joint most laps of any team. Their new car, the C41, will also benefit from the upgraded Ferrari engine, which appears to be a significant step forward from last year.
Some pundits have suggested that Alfa's progress will be big enough to see it challenging towards the top end of the midfield on occasion this year, but a more likely outcome is seeing the team marooned in 8th - comfortably ahead of Williams and Haas, but lacking the pace to latch onto the rest of the midfield.
Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi remain at the team for a third season each, and whilst Raikkonen still shows glimpses of brilliance aged 42, the driver line-up is unlikely to push the team to levels above where they would expect to be.
Last year - 5th (As Renault)
The midfield pecking order really is a guessing game at this point. But the winter break has been far from smooth for Alpine, and whilst the team experienced no major issues during testing, the team's pace failed to catch the eye and was more notable for its bulbous airbox that has drawn comparison to F1 cars of the 1970s.
The departure of Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul was part of a reshuffle that saw the arrival of Davide Brivio as Racing Director - widely considered a strong appointment, but leaving Alpine with a more fluid structure at top level management which appears far from ideal.
The return of two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is an exciting prospect, but even without considering the impact his broken jaw from a cycling crash in February may have on him, it's probably not a downgrade on the departed Daniel Ricciardo. With Esteban Ocon failing to fully convince last year and the Renault engine likely to be the weakest on the grid, it's a distinct possibility that Alpine fail to build on the progress made on 2020, and may even struggle to reach the podium.
6. Aston Martin
Last year - 4th (As Racing Point)
The return of the Aston Martin brand to F1 after 60 years away has been greeted with much fanfare and expectation, especially with billionaire business Lawrence Stroll investing in the team's infrastructure and focused on a long term future.
Money and high profile branding does not equate to on-track performance, though, and Aston Martin's pre-season was disrupted with a number of reliability issues that left it completing the least number of laps of all teams except for Mercedes.
All eyes will be on new driver Sebastian Vettel, and whilst the Aston Martin is likely to provide more rear stability than the 2020 Ferrari that the four-time world champion struggled with so desperately, there is a nagging feeling that Vettel is not the driver he once was. Team-Mate Lance Stroll showed some promise in the early races of last year, but suffered a dismal end to the season - and so with question marks over both drivers, this may not be the romantic return to F1 that Aston fans are hoping for.
5. Alpha Tauri
Last year - 7th
The 'junior' Red Bull team has only finished higher than 7th once in its history- achieving 6th place in the 2008 season under its previous name of Toro Rosso. In recent times, personnel have began to label Alpha Tauri as a 'sister' team instead, and this may be the year that the team establishes itself as a true challenger to the midfield and beyond.
The team enjoyed a very promising pre-season test, and as a customer team have managed to upgrade their front suspension to the Red Bull 2020 spec without spending any development tokens and focus their resources elsewhere.
Pierre Gasly will build on a stunning 2020 which included a shock win at Monza, whilst Yuki Tsunoda enters F1 with high expectations on the back of a very impressive season in Formula 2. A strong driver line-up, improved Honda engine and progressive car will surely see the team move up the pecking order, and maybe even challenging for podiums on a frequent basis.
Last year - 6th
Ferrari enter 2021 on the back of one of the worst seasons in their history, and anything other than a sizeable improvement may well see the axe swung on top management such as team principal Mattia Binotto.
The car appeared relatively competitive at pre-season testing, and there is no doubt that the new Ferrari engine is a big step forward from the underpowered 2020 version. Exactly how far this improvement will take the Scuderia up the grid, though, is hard to predict.
Charles Leclerc dragged last years car to places it didn't belong, and Carlos Sainz joins the team after a highly impressive couple of seasons with McLaren. Ferrari may not have the fourth fastest car, but their incredibly strong driver line-up may see the team finish higher the cars pace deserves.
Last year - 3rd
McLaren delivered beyond expectations in 2020, finishing top of the midfield despite having a car that was considered slower than the likes of Racing point.
An anomaly this year as the only team to change engine supplier (from Renault to Mercedes), the teams pre-season was nothing short of seamless and has even led some to believe that a first race win since 2012 is not out of the question in 2021.
Whilst the now departed Carlos Sainz will be missed personally and professionally by the team, Daniel Ricciardo is a proven race winner that will be absolutely determined to continue his exceptional form that brought him two podiums at Renault last year. Lando Norris will be aspiring to enhance his reputation further and add to his 3rd place finish at Austria 2020. Regular podiums should be the aim for McLaren - but consolidating their place as the third best team in F1 would be a successful season and a solid grounding to push for more in the future.
2. Red Bull
Last year - 2nd
There is a wave of expectation that Red Bull will finally dismantle the Mercedes juggernaut that has taken the last seven drivers and constructors crowns.
The team's pre-season testing was absolutely flawless, and the rear end instability that hampered both Max Verstappen and Alex Albon last year has been replaced by a car that looked both quick and planted in the corners. Honda have poured everything into their final season in F1, and so the engine could even prove to be the quickest on the grid.
If the car turns out to be quick enough, Verstappen will have no problems mounting a title challenge to Lewis Hamilton, whilst Sergio Perez has the experience and outright pace to put a second car in the fight for race wins - something that Alex Albon was unable to achieve in 2020.
Testing suggests that Red Bull currently have the faster package, and whilst they seem the most likely team to win the season opener at Bahrain, 2021 will be a long season and we fear Red Bull will fall short of their ultimate goal.
It's fair to say that at the close of the 2020 season, everyone expected Mercedes to stroll to an easy drivers and constructors title in 2021 considering their dominance last year and the limit on car development for this season.
Pre-season testing has well and truly inverted that narrative, with the car completing the least number of laps of all the teams, enduring reliability woes, and both drivers struggling with rear-end instability.
Despite their visible issues, Mercedes have always been able to bring new upgrades to their car in early races, and the incredibly short pre-season means that teams are likely to make big improvements to their performance in the early races of 2021.
Combined with the continuous brilliance of Lewis Hamilton, the solid Valterri Bottas and the know-how of winning championships, Mercedes should add an eight consecutive driver and constructor double world championship to their honours - but all the signs point to 2021 being the closest title fight for years.
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