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What do the new F1 cars tell us about the 2021 season?

Less is more in this year's Formula One preseason testing schedule. Other than Aston Martin, the rest are shrouded in mystery. Might this be the season of upsets?
Thu, Mar 25, 2021

Aston Martin Cognizant's sleek new car is the sexiest of the 2021 season. PHOTOS:

When you think of Formula 1, you visualise the pulsating track racing and the extravagance, even gaudiness, of its stars.

Usually, the bombast and the showy trend begins long before the race calendar even reaches the streets of Monte Carlo for the Monaco GP in May. It begins when the teams unveil their new cars ahead of a new season – customarily with immoderate ceremonies featuring loud music, pyrotechnics and, presumably, bottomless champagne.

It's like a Victoria's Secret show (remember those?), but for machines (accompanied by the inane comments from their manufacturers and drivers).

What else would you expect from a sport that's been embraced by A-listers including Nicole Kidman, Usain Bolt, Kit Harington, Serena and Venus Williams, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, George Lucas, and even former US President Bill Clinton?

This year, however, with a truncated preseason testing schedule and new regulations curbing spending by teams in an effort to ensure the sport's sustainability, there's an air of, dare I say, humility around the paddock.

Watching the 2021 team launches earlier this month, it was clear that most teams believe it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver… Except, for Aston Martin.

It's blasphemous to refer to Aston Martin as 'new money', but that's exactly how they behaved when launching their AMR21 car.

To mark its return to the sport after a 61-year absence (Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll invested in the British brand, turning his Racing Point F1 team into Aston Martin Cognizant F1 for the 2021 season), and the addition of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, the team did the most: former Bond Girl Gemma Arterton presented the show, conducted interviews with the drivers (Vettel's teammate is Lance Stroll), introduced NFL god Tom Brady and agent 007 Daniel Craig (who both sent shoutouts and well-wishes to the team via Zoom), before reminding us of the age-old motorsport saying that "if it looks fast, it usually is".

But is it?

I will fight anyone who disagrees that the AMR21 is the best-looking car on the grid. It's the British racing green colour livery (we can excuse the streaks of pink, remnants of Racing Point's 2020 car which was condescendingly nicknamed 'pink Mercedes' by rivals), that give it such a sleek look.

Aesthetically, it was like Rihanna arriving at the 2015 Met Ball in that iconic yellow Guo Pei gown. Performance-wise, it was exposed like Ashlee Simpson on SNL in 2004.

Andrew Green, Aston Martin's technical director said: "I wish there was a direct correlation between how a car looks and the performance of the car because we would be world champions." Yeah. Sadly, it isn't anywhere near as fast as it looks – not to mention, it proved quite unreliable during the testing in Bahrain.

Completing the top three in terms of the best-looking cars were multiple (read: a million times) Constructors Champions Mercedes (who have managed to keep Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas), and Ferrari. The latter (with its red and burgundy SF21) is seeking to recover from an almost traumatic 2020 season, while the former may already be playing mind games.

Mercedes may have deliberately concealed their real pace during testing (known as "sandbagging" to aficionados), and it is Team Principal Toto Wolff's words during the car launch that give us a clue. "I think we all look very closely at what our competitors do, so we know our competitors will be looking and we don't have to show it [aerodynamic details of the Mercedes F1 W12] yet, so we won't," he said.

The Mercedes AMG Petronas team's W12. PHOTO:

As a Tifosi (supporter of Scuderia Ferrari), I can only hope Ferrari's taken a similar approach, because if we're taking the SF21's performance during testing at face value, then it will be another long and painful season for us – not to mention, Charles Le Clerc and Carlos Sainz.

What of Red Bull Racing? Judging by the understated RB16B car reveal (before we saw it during testing, they had given us nothing but two digital renders and video teasers via social media), Red Bull wants to keep everyone guessing. One thing is for sure, they have Mercedes worried.

I'll be mad if the season isn't as unpredictable as that Aston Martin launch.

  • Watch the season-opening of Bahrain GP on March 28 at 5pm, live on SuperSport Motorsport, DStv channel 215