Eight out of the 20 drivers on the 2021 Formula 1 grid are either brand new to the pinnacle of motorsport or have swapped seats for the new season. As the start of the campaign draws ever closer, which of those movers and shakers are likely to make the biggest impact?
But is he the only new driver all eyes will be on?
A number of drivers will want to catch the eye quickly, with plenty of experience and potential behind them.
We take a look at these eight drivers in the order of where their teams finished in the 2020 constructor standings.
Sergio Perez – Red Bull
All eyes will start on Sergio Perez for the first few races in 2021. His every move will be scrutinized as to whether he is up to the task of being in one of the best seats in Formula 1 after replacing Alexander Albon, one of the Red Bull team’s own academy drivers.
Perez’s form in the second half of 2020 was spectacular, certainly proving he’s got what it takes to perform consistently at a very high level, but it’s an entirely different ball game when you’re expected to challenge at the sharp end every race. A strong start will be needed to ease the nerves and silence any critics. His role is to provide able backup to Max Verstappen, but he’ll want more than that.
Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren
When it was announced Daniel Ricciardo would sign with McLaren back in May, it could have been viewed as little bit of a sideways step. Of course, there had been no racing yet in 2020 when this was announced, and Renault were right behind McLaren in the 2019 constructor standings.
But looking in more detail, McLaren finished with a podium finish and were 54 points clear of the French manufacturer in 2019. The switch will have been justified even further with McLaren winning the “best of the rest” contest in 2020 as well, scooping in the mammoth extra prize money that a third place constructor finish brings.
Although Renault closed the gap to just 21 points, they finished two spots behind McLaren. We know how quick Ricciardo can be, and he might have finally joined the right team at the right time. If McLaren build on last season, watch this space for podiums, and maybe even the odd race win when in position to pick up the pieces.
Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point)
This was the first part of the puzzle that ended up with Sergio Perez securing a Red Bull seat. It was announced in September that Sebastian Vettel would swap the Prancing Horse to be the headline act for Aston Martin’s return to Formula 1. Much had been made about his unhappiness at Ferrari, and this move may have initially raised a few eyebrows.
The Racing Point car was strong in 2020, bearing a close resemblance to Mercedes of seasons past, and found itself at the sharp end of the field on many occasions throughout the season as a result. In a four-time world champion’s hands, it could push the team on to even greater things in 2021.
Fernando Alonso – Alpine (formerly Renault)
An icon returns. After Ricciardo’s move to McLaren was confirmed, Renault dropped the news every Formula 1 fan wanted to hear in July: two-time world champion and cult hero Fernando Alonso would be returning to the sport in 2021.
In a way, he’ll have big shoes to fill following Ricciardo’s stature with the team and the way he dragged that car to two podium finishes in 2020. A couple of years out will go one of two ways: it will mean Alonso will need to get back up to speed, or it will mean he’ll hit the ground running. If Renault deliver a decent car, I’d back the latter.
Carlos Sainz Jr. – Ferrari
It was announced that Carlos Sainz Jr. would partner Charles Leclerc at Ferrari after Ricciardo’s move to McLaren as his replacement was confirmed. Sainz is a quick driver, there’s no doubt about that, and he was pushed all the way by younger teammate Lando Norris in 2020, with Sainz edging him in the intra-team battle by eight points.
He was gutted when he could not close the gap quickly enough to AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in the Italian Grand Prix last season, with the Frenchman scooping his maiden win. It was just Sainz’s second podium finish that day, but that desire and hunger to win was laid bare for all to see.
Ferrari had a disastrous 2020, but with a new engine and revised aero package, the Prancing Horse wants to be back up there this coming season. And in the hands of a man who has little else but winning on his mind, that could prove a dangerous combination.
Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri
The talented 20-year-old was announced as Daniil Kvyat’s replacement after the 2020 season concluded. The youngster scooped the F4 Japanese Championship title back in 2018, and his rise has been meteoric since. He raced in both the Formula 3 championship and Euroformula Open Championship in 2019 before scooping a Formula 2 seat last season with Carlin.
He was part of the title fight until the very end, finishing in third place with 200 points and winning three of the 24 races in a closely fought campaign. He also competed for Toyota in the M2 Competition last year.
At a team with a welcoming nature which typically provide a car that’s easier than others to drive, Tsunoda could be one to watch. It might take some time for him to settle in, but when he does, he could very well give Gasly a run for his money. He’ll have his eyes on that Red Bull seat in the years to come…
Nikita Mazepin – Haas
Haas took the plunge to sign two rookies for 2021. 21-year-old Nikita Mazepin spent the last two seasons competing in Formula 2 as well as the F3 Asian Championship, where he finished in third place.
In the 2019 Formula 2 season, competing for ART Grand Prix, he finished in a distant 18th place in the driver standings. But in more competitive machinery last season, he raced for Hitech Grand Prix, and he scooped two wins on his way to a fifth place finish.
After a slow start with just one point in the opening four races, Mazepin found his groove and consistently competed for race wins and strong points finishes. Controversies aside, he could very well prove to be an asset for the American outfit.
Mick Schumacher – Haas
A lot of fans wanted to see the Schumacher name back in Formula 1, and Mick Schumacher has earned his spot on the 2021 Formula 1 grid on merit. He scooped the Formula 2 title last year. He won just two races, but his consistency proved to be his greatest strength. An impressive CV reads second place finishes in the 2016 Formula 4 Championship and Italian Formula 4 Championship as well as the Formula 3 European Championship crown back in 2018.
He seems to be a very consistent racer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start the season stronger than his teammate.