Exclusive – F1 teams to watch in 2021: Simon Lazenby assesses Mercedes, Red Bull and more
Sky Sports F1's Simon Lazenby assesses the top teams in 2021 including title contenders, dark horses and more
It's easy to become complacent about Formula 1 cars, after all, we've seen them for generations, sliding through turns, slipping over curbs, skimming the surface of the Earth in effortless fashion.
We take them for granted on TV – the noise, the speed, the outrageous looks – under-appreciating just how much time, manpower, expense and microscopic detailing goes into every aspect of the 700kg bullets.
Mercedes, the crème de la crème of F1 teams, to put it extremely simply, are the best at making them. Their W11 car was used by Lewis Hamilton to claim his stunning seventh world title and no cars could even come close to matching it on almost every front.
So that raises the question ahead of the F1 2021 calendar: why bother? Why does anyone bother? Can anybody really challenge the might of Mercedes? Sky Sports F1's Simon Lazenby believes so.
We chatted exclusively to the TV personality and F1 expert to get his thoughts on teams going into the season ahead from every row of the grid – title contenders, dark horses and beyond
Lazenby walks RadioTimes.com through some of the key F1 teams to look out for in 2021.
It's a two horse race for this championship, particularly because everybody will be switching their attention to 2022 and the difference in regulations there. That's a big reset. That's the reset Fernando Alonso has come back for. That's the reset where everyone's hedging their bets. If Mercedes get too far ahead [in 2021].
I can see Red Bull, rather than developing all the way through the year, switching it off and doing what everybody else is doing and looking ahead to 2022. I think it will be Mercedes and Red Bull and then the rest will be trailing in their wake. I'd like to see Ferrari make some gains, we all would, but absolutely I think Ferrari will look ahead to 2022.
What most people got [from testing], and the general acceptance, is that Red Bull have got a better chance than ever of having a really great start to the season and taking the fight to Mercedes.
It's really exciting to have that right now, because I think that's what the sport has been missing the last few years, a fast-starting Red Bull.
One of the great things about last year is we had a lot of different podium sitters, and I know that it was a strange year, COVID. I see Fernando Alonso really giving a lift to Alpine.
Esteban Ocon took a while to get back into it after a year out, but towards the end was was making some gains. He's known for getting his elbows out, but woe betide anybody who gets hot against Fernando Alonso.
They weren't giving away too much in a pre-season testing, but they've got this fat airbox which is creating drag, but a lot of people are saying, they are insistent, that it's basically an improvement. I don't think Fernando knows whether his Alpine will be fifth or 15th. I think we're in for some really good battles in the midfield this year. Ahead of that pack, I'd put McLaren and then Aston Martin around there too.
Ferrari are seeing improvements in the straight line speed. Obviously they were hurt by those technical directives at the beginning of last year and the back end of the year before and it meant that, whatever they were doing, they couldn't do last year. Ferrari were hamstrung.
They've got Carlos Sainz, a really classy driver. He will challenge Charles Leclerc, what a what a mouth-watering line-up that is. I think sometimes Sainz is underestimated. He's going to be a real positive for them. They could be in a really good position for next year, Ferrari.
Back of the grid
I'm kind of encouraged by what's happened at Williams. I know it's very sad to see the end of the Williams family in the sport, but the name remains and I think what they're trying to do is bring it very much into the here and now. They were very stubbornly remaining, they wanted to independently make everything, and that's just not the way the sport has gone.
They've got to start – and they are beginning to – taking more parts from Mercedes from next year. Then they've got George Russell, who is in the last year of his contract and probably will go to Mercedes, but he's still just one of the best drivers on the grid. He asks so many questions of the team and really is a leader.
When you speak to George, you think how young he is, I think he's a great guy. He's one of the friendliest drivers on the grid, so mature for his years. And he's had to graft.
You hear the stories of him putting together presentations for Toto Wolff to say, 'This is why I should be here.' He's not backed by big money, he's just driving on his talent, which is a lot. And he's got a lot of talent. He is huge; he's a hugely talented driver, as he demonstrated when he filled in for Lewis Hamilton last year.
For the full breakdown of F1 races coming up check out our F1 2021 calendar guide.