Twenty racing drivers who are purported to be the best in the world. That’s not quite the case, as ever, but this is by our reckoning one of the most talented Formula 1 grids for a long time, with several future superstars and eight of the 10 teams having at least one very talented driver on its books.
There are many plots due to unfold this year ahead of the new technical regulations being introduced in 2022, not least the possibility of Britain’s finest breaking the record for the most world titles in F1 history. Here's who will line up on the grid over the next ten months, and what we think their chances are of taking home victory.
Sir Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes-AMG
Britain’s greatest ever F1 driver – perhaps the greatest ever F1 driver in general – has been so consistently brilliant since joining Mercedes in 2013 that he recently became the first to be knighted before retiring. He’s still with the best team in F1 history, so a record-breaking 100th grand prix victory and eighth world championship look to be all but nailed on. Characteristically faultless last year to win the title by miles, at 36 he’s aging like the finest of wines.
Last year: 1st | Our rating: 10/10
Valtteri Bottas - Mercedes-AMG
It’s probably more an indication of how supremely good Hamilton is, rather than an indictment of Bottas’s talent, that the Finn has in four seasons never looked like having a chance at the title, because we know that he’s far from a laggard. His ‘Valtteri 2.0’ efforts faded throughout 2019 and Valtteri 3.0 never showed up last year. He won just two races to Hamilton’s 11 and was outperformed by emergency stand-in Russell at the penultimate Sakhir Grand Prix. He simply has to really transform himself this year, otherwise…
Last year: 2nd | Our rating: 5/10
Max Verstappen - Red Bull-Honda
F1 fans would love nothing more than to see the Flying Dutchman as Hamilton’s team-mate. Viscerally exciting and blessed with an ability to drag a frightfully tricky car to marvellous results, Verstappen is widely regarded as the possessor of the fastest raw pace on the grid. Red Bull has centred around him, and he paid back that faith with 11 podiums, including two wins, from 17 races in 2020. He still occasionally lets his determination-slash-frustration get the better of his wiser judgement, but isn’t that burning passion exactly what fans want to see? If Hamilton loses the title this year, it will surely be to this man.
Last year: 3rd | Our rating: 9/10
Sergio Pérez - Red Bull-Honda
There was universal consternation throughout the latter half of last season that Pérez looked set to miss out on a seat for 2021, after losing his Aston Martin drive to Sebastian Vettel. It’s immensely gratifying that he has at last secured a drive for a top team, because if ever there was a chance for a midfield car to snatch a podium in the past decade, you knew who would be most likely to take it. A stunning first win in Bahrain last year after he had been spun into last on the first lap topped off a consistently immense season. With Pérez instead of Albon in the second car, expect Red Bull to be much better placed to fight for victories.
Last year: 4th | Our rating: 10/10
Daniel Ricciardo - McLaren-Mercedes
Ricciardo was the golden boy at Red Bull, the future star – until Verstappen came along, after which he jumped ship to Renault and a poor 2019 poured water on his hot reputation. The fun-loving fan favourite looked rejuvenated last year, however, despite the awkwardness of him announcing his departure for rival team McLaren before the season could even start. He consummately beat team-mate Esteban Ocon, always looked sharp and scored two highly impressive podiums in what was realistically only the fifth best car. Expect that smile to get even wider with a Mercedes engine behind it this year.