While the majority of my current day job revolves around combat sport, I still keep close tabs on the other sports I’ve covered over the years, and the 2021 motorsport season is almost ready to get underway.
I’ve always been a petrolhead, and I’ll be closely following some of motorsport’s biggest championships throughout the year as the fastest racers on the planet get set to do battle on track.
The main championships I’ll be watching are Formula 1 and MotoGP, with a sprinkling of Formula E, British Superbikes and Indycar mixed in through the season.
The Formula 1 season is almost ready to get underway, with pre-season testing currently taking place in the Middle East. The 2021 F1 season should be a fascinating one, with new teams, new drivers and some interesting driver moves taking place during the off-season.
It’s going to be particularly interesting to follow the newly-branded Aston Martin team – formerly Racing Point – as the Lawrence Stroll-owned outfit heads into the season with a new marque, new livery and a four-time world champion, Sebastian Vettel, joining Lance Stroll in the driver lineup. After a nightmare end to his tenure with Ferrari, Vettel will be a man on a mission in 2021 as he looks to prove that the only thing holding him back in recent seasons was the car.
The most exciting driver lineup for 2021 is definitely at McLaren, who welcomed Daniel Ricciardo into the fold to partner young gun Lando Norris in the team. Ricciardo and Norris are two of the most engaging personalities away from the track, but it’s what they do in the car that counts and they are also two of the most aggressive, exciting drivers on the grid. It feels like the momentum is building at McLaren, and it’ll be a lot of fun seeing what they can squeeze out of their 2021 car before the new regulations come into effect next season.
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Further down the grid, there will be plenty of eyes on the Haas F1 team, who have made wholesale changes ahead of the new season. Gone are Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Dane Kevin Magnusssen, with the team opting to go with new blood in the form of Formula 2 aces Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. There’s an element of nepotism in both hires – Schumacher is the talented son of F1 legend Michael Schumacher and therefore carries a ton of name recognition, while Mazepin is the son of the owner of the Haas team’s new main sponsor, Russian fertilizer producer Uralkali. Mazepin finished fifth in the 2020 F2 season. Schumacher finished as champion.
A turbulent season, including a season-ruining injury for the mercurial Marc Marquez, left the race for the MotoGP world title wide open in 2020, and Joan Mir’s consistency over the course of the COVID-hit season helped the 2017 Moto3 world champion to the MotoGP world title in only his second season at the sport’s highest level.
Marquez is back for 2021, but he’s still rehabbing his injuries and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be ready for the start of the season. It means much of the load at Honda could fall on his teammate, Pol Espargaro, who has always been a solid operator, but does he have what it takes to shoulder the burden of expectation at the Japanese manufacturing giants and mount a legitimate title challenge?
With Marquez likely to give the rest of the field a head-start in 2021, it means the championship could be wide open once again, with a host of riders looking to break from the pack and “do a Mir” in 2021.
Jack Miller now has full factory support after swapping the Pramac Ducati team for the official Ducati team, while the Suzuki duo of defending champ Mir and equally-quick teammate Alex Rins are expected to fare well again.
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The KTMs started to show some real potential last season, and hopes will be high that factory stars Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira can deliver wins for the team in 2021, while the factory Yamaha team will be desperate for success after years of underachievement. There’s a young gun and a Top Gun in the garage, with French prodigy Fabio Quartararo partnering Spanish ace Maverick Vinales.
But all eyes will be on the Petronas Yamaha team, which features the lightning-quick Franco Morbidelli and “The GOAT” himself, Valentino Rossi, who departed the factory Yamaha team in the off-season and, amid retirement rumours, opted to keep things rolling by joining the satellite Yamaha team.
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The 2021 Formula E season is already underway, with a successful double-header in Diriyah already completed, and the early signs are good for another crazy season of wheel-to-wheel electric racing.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t convinced when I first checked out the championship during its early years. But the advent of the championship’s Gen2 cars brought with it closer, better racing, and the championship has thrived to the point that the FIA has upgraded Formula E to a full world championship series in 2021.
The internal power struggle at the DS Techeetah team will likely be the story to follow again this year, with two-time champion Jean-Eric Vergne looking to re-establish himself as the team’s No. 1 driver ahead of defending 2020 champ Antonio Felix Da Costa. Their rivalry between the Frenchman and the Portuguese ace has ended in tears on the track on more than one occasion, and the dislike between the pair seems to be very real. Watching their ongoing feud will make for fascinating viewing.
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But while Vergne and Da Costa continue to squabble among themselves, a talented grid of racers will look to take advantage. Arguably best-placed to challenge DS Techeetah’s dominance at the front of the grid is the Mercedes-EQ team, with Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck De Vries both capable of pushing for race wins and, potentially, a championship charge.
Also looking really strong is the Jaguar Racing team, which added British star Sam Bird to the team to partner Aussie Nick Evans in a particularly strong lineup. There’s sure to be an internal rivalry between the pair, but if they can avoid the sort of issues that are happening elsewhere in the pit lane, one or both of them could mount a real challenge.
The championship that is quite literally closest to home – the iconic Brands Hatch circuit is a 30-minute ride from my house – will once again deliver some of the best racing found anywhere in motorsport. The competition is always super-close, and the racing is as fearless as you can find.
The fact that it all takes place at the picturesque circuits here in the U.K. only adds to the appeal. Going to watch the bikes has always held happy memories, and a trip to Brands once a year is always an essential part of my annual sporting calendar. Hopefully, fans will eventually be allowed back into circuits to watch the action once the season gets underway.
While my other commitments and the need for at least a little sleep will mean I probably won’t be able to follow every round of the 2021 Indycar championship, the series’ most iconic race will always form an essential part of my sport-watching year.
The Indianapolis 500 usually takes place on the same weekend as the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, making that weekend the best weekend of motorsport of the year. And while watching the stars of F1 hammering around the tight, twisty streets of Monte Carlo may be thrilling to watch, the wide-open, 240mph shootout at “The Brickyard” has always been a favourite of mine.
I first started watching back in the early 1990s when Nigel Mansell took Indycar by storm, and have been hooked ever since. Each race serves up a memorable story, and I’m looking forward to seeing who crosses that iconic yard of bricks first to claim the victory milk after 500 miles of racing this year.
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