Hamilton’s contract: The cherry on an intriguing F1 cake

Hamilton’s contract: The cherry on an intriguing F1 cake

Evening all. Saturday was one of those days when I really wished a wasn’t a sports fan.

I began the day by getting up at 6am to watch Arsenal take on Aston Villa in the Premier League. I had barely finished rubbing my eyes when, in the second minute of the match, we conceded a sloppy goal in fantastically Arsenal fashion. We duly lost 1-0 in a drab and entirely forgettable encounter. I stared at my empty bed filled with regret.

I then made some coffee and got ready for England vs Scotland in the Six Nations. England hadn’t lost at home to the Scots in 38 years so I thought victory was more or less assured. How wrong I was. Scotland produced an inspired, controlled and thoroughly dominant display against an insipid England side to win 11-6. My day went from bad to worse and my weekend never recovered thereafter.

With no great desire to ruin my Monday as well, I am choosing to ignore rugby and football today. Instead, I want to discuss Formula One and the news that Lew Hamilton has signed a new one-year contract to drive for Mercedes during the 2021 season.

I say “news” – Hamilton’s future was never really in doubt and this announcement was no more than a formality. The Stevenage man, who is just five shy of a mind-boggling century of Grand Prix victories, was never going to pass up the opportunity to write his name even further into the history books with a record-breaking eighth world title in 2021. From Mercedes’ point of view, Hamilton is expensive – the German team reportedly pay him up to £40m per year – but the 36-year-old more than makes up for that outlay in results, performances and his global reach (including some 21.5m Instagram followers). It is a match made in heaven.

Now that it is out of the way, the driver lineup for the upcoming season is confirmed. With fascinating subplots up and down the grid, the stage is set for an intriguing F1 story in 2021.

At the front of the pack, Red Bull will be hopeful of finally bridging the gap to Mercedes with the signing of Sergio Perez. Last year, the Milton Keynes-based team were not far off in terms of performance, with Max Verstappen regularly splitting the Silver Arrows drivers on both Saturdays and Sundays. The Dutchman finished the season on a high, too, with victory in Abu Dhabi. But Red Bull were unable to mount a sustained title challenge thanks mainly to the sub-par performances of Alex Albon. In Perez, the team might just have addressed that issue. The Mexican is talented, driven and confident. He should, at the very least, provide sterner competition for Verstappen.

The midfield should be as tight as ever. In place of Perez, he newly-rebranded Aston Martin team have snapped up four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to lead them this year. I have my doubts about Vettel. The German has been on a gradual but constant decline since his most recent title in 2013, and last year he was so far off the level set by Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc it was embarrassing. However, a new team might just breathe life into Vettel’s career and if he can rediscover his Red Bull form, Aston Martin – armed with a Mercedes engine – will be an imposing force.

Hoping that they have moved on from Vettel at the right time will be Ferrari. The Italians had their worst season since 1980 last year, finishing a lowly 6th in the constructors’ championship despite the sterling performances of Leclerc. They have, however, secured the services of an exciting talent in Carlos Sainz for this season. After six consistent years in the midfield, the Spaniard has finally been given the chance at a top team and will be raring to go. With two young and brilliant drivers in their armoury, it would be great to see Ferrari fighting for podiums and race victories again. In any case, it surely can’t get any worse. Right?

And then, of course, there is the Fernando Alonso factor. After a two-year hiatus, the two-time world champion will make a highly-anticipated return to the F1 grid this year after signing for the Racing Alpine team (formerly Renault). The Spaniard, who turns 40 in July, has not done much racing over the past couple of years and there are legitimate questions regarding whether or not he still has his former speed. If he does, Alpine, who finished a solid if unspectacular fifth last season under their former moniker Renault, will be a dangerous dark horse to keep an eye on this year.

Finally, its worth noting some of the rule changes set to be introduced this year. The most important would appear to be the new budget cap. To promote fair and even competition, and to ease the financial impact of the pandemic, each team will only be allowed to spend a maximum of USD 145m each year on “car performance.” This does not include expenditures on driver salaries or marketing, however. With vast disparities between the financial clout of Mercedes and, say, Haas, the playing field will not be quite as even as it might seem.

There will also be some technical adjustments involving things like downforce and brake duct winglets, but I am about as close to being an expert on F1 engineering as Vettel was to matching Leclerc’s speed last season. So I think I’d best say no more.

So there you have it. With the traditional season-opener in Melbourne re-scheduled because of the pandemic, there is still a way to go before the engines start in earnest. Pre-season testing in Barcelona gets underway on March 12 and the first race takes place in Bahrain a fortnight later. But when it does eventually get going, F1 in 2021 should be a cracker.

Right, I’ll leave it there for today. There’s some wine in the fridge that won’t drink itself. Have a good start to the week all, I’ll be back here on Wednesday as usual.

—What do you expect to see in F1 this year? Let me know in the comments section below!—