The first race of the 2021 Formula 1 season is less than a fortnight away. The reigning champions, Mercedes, go into the season off the back of a poor pre-season test.
Will the champions reign supreme for another season, or are we likely to see a challenger to the throne?
The turbo-hybrid era brought with it a period of unparalleled dominance by Mercedes. The change from naturally-aspirated V8 engines to hybrid V6 turbos in 2014, gave Mercedes an unprecedented advantage in the engine department.
Mercedes have won every constructors' championship in the turbo-hybrid era, and while they have faced fierce challenges from Ferrari and Red Bull, the Brackley-based team has overcome them all.
Mercedes is one of the most well-rounded teams on the grid. The team has the best power unit, best driver, and the best aero in the series. Even off the back of a poor pre-season test in Bahrain, Mercedes remain the favorites to win it all this season.
Going into the 2021 season, the biggest weakness for Mercedes is undoubtedly the reliability problems they faced during the pre-season test. Experts and Mercedes team personnel claimed that Red Bull have the faster car.
With less than two weeks to go before the first race, Mercedes face an uphill battle to overcome the deficit to Red Bull.
Sir Lewis Hamilton has one of the most illustrious careers in Formula 1. The seven-time world champion will look for an eighth this season with Mercedes.
Nonetheless, Hamilton had a shaky start to the season. He was visibly struggling with the rear end of the car and subsequently beached the Mercedes near Turn 13. However, Lewis Hamilton remains the favorite to win the title.
Valtteri Bottas needs to challenge Lewis Hamilton this season. The Finn has struggled to match Hamilton's pace and consistency since joining Mercedes in 2017.
Bottas signed a one-year extension with Mercedes which keeps him with the team until the end of the 2021 season. Unfortunately for Bottas, George Russell is waiting in the wings. The young Brit was given a chance in the Silver Arrow last year where he outperformed Bottas with equal machinery. Valtteri Bottas needs to mount a season-long challenge for the championship to have any hope of retaining his seat at Mercedes for 2022.
Pre-season Test Form Guide
Mercedes had the worst reliability and mileage during the pre-season test in Bahrain. Uncharacteristically, the team struggled with balance and gearbox issues throughout the test. Mercedes team personnel conceded that according to their calculations, they were slower than Red Bull.
Although both drivers felt they had made progress with the car, the team is yet to fully optimize their 2021 challenger and extract its true potential.
The team's poor pre-season form suggests that Mercedes will not start the season as the fastest car on the grid. However, they are the defending champions and it would be foolish to rank them anywhere other than second on the pecking order.
2021 Formula 1 season predictions
Mercedes are challenging for their eighth consecutive constructors' championship in Formula 1. However, the ascendancy of Red Bull during the pre-season test could suggest a change in fortunes for the Silver Arrows. Mercedes are in a period of transition. Both drivers have a one-year contract, and with rumors of their team principal Toto Wolff leaving, this could mark the end to their dominance of the sport.
We predict Mercedes will consistently challenge for wins and podiums in 2021. However, if the pre-season test is accurate, Red Bull should dethrone the Silver Arrows.