The final year for fully matured technical regulations and a new-found equity that should follow the introduction of a budget cap promises a tightly-fought Formula 1 season after a remarkable Covid-defying show in 2020. But can anyone really stop Mercedes-AMG sweeping to another world crown after the longest spell of one-team domination in grand prix racing history?
As the 10 teams dive into a wince-inducing 23-race season, a new F1 record, here’s your guide to the hopes, expectations and glaring reality that face each one. We’ve classified each on last season’s position and given each team a rating based on how we think they performed last year, based on its quality and performance in 2020.
Is this the season when a record-breaking Formula 1 reign will finally be brought crashing down? Don’t bet on it, just because the team lost the short pre-season testing war in Bahrain. Mercedes-AMG is the finest F1 team in history, and not just because it’s bidding for a record-extending eighth world championship. In this high-tech hybrid turbo era, no other team has married a chassis department (in Brackley) and powertrain expertise (in Brixworth) in such perfect harmony, and with sustained consistency. It will take more than a slightly off-colour three-day test to convince us this super-team has lost its sparkle.
Last year: 1st | Our 2020 rating: 10/10
Red Bull Racing
Powertrain supplier Honda pulls the plug at the end of this season, just as Red Bull finally looks ready to give Mercedes-AMG a proper run for its money. The trouble-free, time-topping test in Bahrain backed up claims that momentum is with the Milton Keynes squad. It took time last year for Adrian Newey and his engineers to find the sweet spot of the RB16, but Max Verstappen’s conclusive win at the 2020 Abu Dhabi season finale showed the car’s true capability. Time to carry over that form into the new season, then, if nothing else to ensure mercurial Verstappen keeps the faith for Red Bull’s newly independent future.
Last year: 2nd | Our 2020 rating: 8/10
Let’s get the band back together. After the Honda debacle and three seasons with Renault customer power, McLaren is propelled once again by Mercedes this year, just like the good old days. It’s not quite the same as the past, as the team is a paying customer rather than a true partner. But mating the era’s dominant 1.6-litre turbo and energy recovery systems to a decent MCL35M chassis should give new recruit Daniel Ricciardo and team-mate Lando Norris something to work with. Third place last term represented McLaren’s best season since 2012, also the last time the team won a grand prix. Time to set that straight.
Last year: 3 | Our 2020 rating: 7/10
From a pink Mercedes to a green one… the team formerly known as Racing Point ran into controversy last year for ‘copying’ the design of the 2019 championship winner from its power unit partner – but despite a mid-season 15-point penalty, the strategy worked. Yes, it lost out to McLaren in the standings, but Sergio Perez won a race. Now carrying the name of one of the world’s great performance car manufacturers, Lawrence Stroll’s millions and a tightening alliance with part-owner Mercedes make the old ‘punching above its weight’ adage truly redundant. There are no excuses now, and the same goes for Sebastian Vettel.
Last year: 4th | Our 2020 rating: 7/10