More people have gone to space (568) than have won a Formula 1 race (110) in the entire history of the sport. F1 drivers are among the rarest breed of megastars on the planet.
And they’re back. The F1 2021 calendar will pit the current crop of 20 against each other across a mammoth 23-race season, with huge names shifting around the grid and new legends primed to be born.
A cluster of drivers will have their eyes fixed on the prize, others will be engaged in more humble battles in the midfield, while back-markers simply dream of competing in the same race as everyone else, yet they are all supremely talented individuals, regardless of the cogs and metal around them.
We chatted exclusively to Sky Sports F1 star Simon Lazenby to get his thoughts on the current stable of drivers and work out who the title contenders and dark horses are, as well as looking at the under pressure stars who must deliver.
Lazenby discussed one driver who “is the best driver on the grid” and he wasn’t talking about seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who is aiming for an unprecedented eighth crown.
Lazenby walks RadioTimes.com through some of the key names in the F1 driver line-up to look out for in 2021.
Everyone’s quick to look for any chinks in the armour of Lewis Hamilton. He’s just parted company with his right hand man and friend, Mark Heinz, who’s gone off to pursue other opportunities; he only got his contract done five weeks ago; he’s only signed this year for Mercedes – is he thinking that it’s eight and out? He’s talked about it often enough, he’s achieved everything he wants to achieve.
If he beats Michael Schumacher, will he walk away? I think he will. But it’s between him and Max. If Red Bull start fast, we’re in for a really, really good championship. To see those two hammer and tongs every weekend, our audience will love that.
I’d go as far as saying that I think Max is the best driver on the grid. And I don’t mean that out of disrespect for Lewis, you cannot doubt what he has done. But Max is just, there’s just something about him that he drags everything out of that Red Bull and more.
And Lewis does, but I feel that Max, his hunger, because he’s had to wait so long is enabling him to just exceed perhaps that of every other driver, or has done over the last year. He’s so good wheel-to-wheel and he’s quite aggressive as well, which I love.
I think McLaren are the ones who are obviously moving in the right direction and, now they’ve got a Mercedes engine, I think they’ll be right up there – I think competing for podiums. In Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, they’ve got a really exciting team.
You’ve got the experienced guy who has wanted to be the team leader at a big team. Lando, you know he’s fighting for number one. I think he’s coming into a period of his career where he doesn’t want to be just seen as this newbie coming into the sport. He’s got to evolve into a senior driver.
And so I wonder, actually, if it will be as friendly as everybody says it will be at McLaren. They’re at the point in their careers where Ricciardo has got to start winning championships, and Lando has got to start establishing himself. That always makes for a fascinating dynamic.
Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel. I’ve always thought that with Sebastian – he’s a four-time world champion, you have to respect that – but I’ve always thought in his time at Ferrari that he looked like a driver on the wane, and in wheel-to-wheel combat, he’s quite often making mistakes.
It’s a big call for Aston Martin. Obviously, Vettel is a huge name to get there, but should he get taken down by Lance Stroll this year then where is he in terms of his career? I think he’s under a lot of pressure.
He was always so good when he had clean air and he could control the race from the front, but when he didn’t, then a different question mark started being being raised. Let’s see. It’s a reset for him, but it’s a reset that he’s got to get right.
For the full breakdown of F1 races coming up check out our F1 2021 calendar guide.