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Five F1 Drivers Under Pressure for 2021

It may not seem long ago that the curtains came down on a manic 2020 season, but all eyes are firmly on F1 2021. With cost-cutting measures resulting in teams using the same cars from 2020, the change in the pecking order is likely to come from driver line-ups, with all but 3 teams (Mercedes, Williams and Alfa Romeo) changing at least one of their drivers.


Expectations are high across the grid - but which drivers are already under pressure to deliver the results come the season opener in Bahrain?


Esteban Ocon


Hopes were high for Ocon's return to F1 in 2020, having been dropped by Racing Point at the end of 2018 for political reasons over performance. But the Frenchman was comprehensively outperformed by team-mate Daniel Ricciardo throughout the 2020 season, qualifying behind in 15 of 17 races and only scoring 62 points compared to Ricciardo's 119.


Ocon can be forgiven for taking some time to get back up to speed after a year out, and to his credit he gradually closed up to Ricciardo in pace as the season went on. But with two time world champion Fernando Alonso replacing Ricciardo for 2021, there can be no excuses if Ocon is outpaced by Alonso in the same manner - especially as Alonso is returning from a two year sabbatical of his own.


The pressure will be on Ocon, and he will know that Alonso has a reputation for severely damaging the reputation of team-mates by outpacing them so emphatically. With rumours circulating that Pierre Gasly is being considered by the Alpine team for 2022, Ocon could once again find himself without a seat should he flatter to deceive once more in 2021 - and this time because he simply hasn't been good enough.




Valtteri Bottas


Whilst Bottas receives plenty of harsh criticism for lagging behind his all conquering team-mate Lewis Hamilton, the Finn's future with Mercedes already looks bleak. Hamilton appears likely to sign a new two or three year contract with the team, whilst George Russell has shown enough potential for Mercedes to offer him a drive once his Williams contract expires at the end of 2021.


Bizarrely, the absence of Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP felt like the final nail in the coffin for Bottas. Russell, driving for Mercedes in place of Hamilton and driving the car for the very first time that race weekend, overtook Bottas at the race start and would surely have won but for a Mercedes pit stop calamity and an unfortunate puncture.


For Bottas, 2021 seems like a case of damage limitation - if he can challenge Hamilton on a more regular basis and win far more than the two races he won in 2020, despite being in the fastest car on the grid, then he'll likely secure a seat at a midfield team. With new regulations for 2022 likely to shake up the competitive order, Bottas needs to deliver in 2021 in order to secure a seat and have any hope of continuing to challenge at the right end of the grid.



Lance Stroll



A promising start to 2020 began to silence criticism of Stroll as merely a pay-driver, but an extremely disappointing second half of the season has reignited question marks over his potential. Racing point missed out on 3rd place in the Constructor's Championship by just 7 points, and with Stroll only finishing 11th in the drivers standings compared to team-mate Sergio Perez's 4th place.


Stroll has had moments in his career that have shown huge promise- notably a sensational pole position in a wet qualifying at Istanbul - but has also failed to grasp opportunities when they have come up. Stroll has managed 3 podiums in his career so far, but all of them have come through huge fortune rather than on merit. The second of these- the 2020 Italian gp- should have been a victory through fortune, but Stroll fluffed a race restart and could only manage third.


Now entering his fifth season in F1, Stroll needs to start delivering more consistent performances to fully justify his place on the grid. With his father Lawrence the owner of the team, his seat will remain secure even if he fails to deliver once again - but the criticism will grow ever louder, particularly with high expectations of the newly-branded Aston Martin team.



Vettel

With Vettel joining Stroll at Aston Martin for 2021, the team enters a new era with both drivers under pressure to deliver. A torrid 2020 , dominated by team-mate Charles Leclerc in an uncompetitive Ferrari, amplified the voices that suggest that Vettel is long past his best, with his four consecutive world titles from 2010-2013 a distant memory.


Vettel's last 4 years at Ferrari were mired with errors, often making unnecessary mistakes which cost him a shot at the world title in 2017 and 2018, and spinning a number of times in wheel to wheel combat which led Daniel Ricciardo to dub the term 'Seb Spin'.


Aston Martin's decision to sign Vettel in place of retaining Sergio Perez is a sizeable gamble. All eyes will be on the German to challenge for podiums in 2021 - as Perez did in 2020 - and prove that he still has much to offer.


Mazepin


It's not often that a driver comes under such scrutiny before even taking part in an F1 race - especially when your to-be team mate, Mick Schumacher, is the son of the most famous driver in the sport's history.


Mazepin, signed for the Haas team for 2021, has dominated F1 headlines in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons - having posted a video on his own Instagram account of him groping a woman in the back of a taxi, leading to a public outcry and #WeSayNoToMazepin trending on Twitter.

Having condemned the incident as 'abhorrent', Haas have since refused to explain any of the actions taken internally, only increasing scrutiny on the team and Mazepin.


It remains to be seen how the situation will be resolved, but all eyes will be on Mazepin on and off track and any mistake he makes will be immediately thrust into the spotlight. Fans are desperate for him to fail, and as a rookie in one of the slowest cars on the grid, it promises to be a challenging season in a way that no other driver has faced before.


Charlie Widdicombe

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