F1 2021 Driver Preview - Midfielders
By Jim K. March 15 2021
Image: Aston Martin
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Image: © Red Bull Media House
Even though Mercedes are likely to reign supreme once more for F1's 2021 season, the order is not so clear further back. The midfield fight was intense last season and looks set to be just as fierce this year. With a certain Spanish champion returning to the sport, too, the scraps in the middle of the pack will be captivating. Here are those you will see duelling all season long.
It's an important year for Lance Stroll. There is no championship battle on the cards, but you get the feeling that it's around now when the young Canadian will be under the microscope more than ever. Regardless of any perceived "shortcut" route to F1, Stroll has shown enough, for me, that he's capable of fighting amongst the top twenty drivers. With Racing Point turning into Aston Martin, we'll need to see if that's going to be enough.
The expectations he had at Williams and Racing Point will be quite different from the upcoming years. The sponsorship, fanbase, and history of his team have all grown over the winter. There will be more eyeballs on Stroll than ever. And with a four-time champ driving the other green machine, the benchmark for his ability has dramatically changed. I won't be surprised to see Vettel outperform Stroll in 2021. That won't necessarily be a problem, though. It's the margin of outperformance Lance needs to control.
Predicted finish - 12th
Perhaps everyone has got it all wrong? Maybe you need to go from Red Bull to AlphaTauri, and not the other way around? Pierre Gasly's career certainly suggests that. I struggle to think of any driver in recent years who rescued their name as much as Gasly did in 2020. After completely failing to deliver in the senior team, Gasly repeatedly outdrove his AlphaTauri last year.
Much attention deservedly goes to his spongelike ability to soak up pressure at Monza to become F1's latest winner. However, Gasly's plaudits were thrown at him throughout the season, and rightly so. With Racing Point, McLaren, Renault, and occasionally Ferrari always in the hunt for points, there was no room for anyone else. Yet more often than not, Pierre Gasly's red helmet and that AT01 livery seemed to be there too. Expect more of the same this year.
Predicted finish - 11th
The highly-rated Charles Leclerc would've been hopeful that his 2020 season would still see regular silverware after those early races. How quickly things changed. The saving grace for Leclerc was his ability to pull the underpowered car Ferrari had given him well ahead of teammate Vettel. Despite a thoroughly disappointing year, Charles showcased that he could be Ferrari's number one.
If you subscribe to the school of thought that Vettel is a has-been, Leclerc is up against a stronger stablemate for 2021. Sainz is arguably even hungrier than Leclerc to prove himself after bouncing between teams throughout his F1 years. Leclerc can't hope for more than regular points this season. Nevertheless, he may have to convince everyone that the Spaniard in the other Prancing Horse isn't on his level.
Predicted finish - 9th
Image: Scuderia Ferrari
Image: Groupe Renault