GULFWEEKLY: As the inaugural race of the 2021 Formula season approaches, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and team principal Toto Wolff are stretching out their ‘will they, won’t they’ moment.
Ahead of the season’s first race to be held in Bahrain for the first time since 2010 and ideally, ahead of the pre-season testing on March 12 in the kingdom, all teams have to sign or renew contracts with their drivers.
Haas became the first team in December to completely remove their previous drivers, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, in favour of a new stable presumably led by Mick Schumacher, son of the motorsport legend and his infamous team mate Nikita Mazepin. Schumacher and Mazepin will race under the numbers 47 and 9 respectively.
Meanwhile, AlphaTauri washed their hands of Daniil Kvyat and brought on F2 superstar Yuki Tsunoda who will be continue to race under his lucky number 22, alongside Pierre Gasly’s number 10 beast.
Both Red Bull and Ferrari’s eyes will be on Tsunoda to see if the young superstar can make the most of his F1 seat after having rocketed through the ranks of F4, F3 and F2 within four years.
Tsunoda, Schumacher and Mazepin are the new blood this year and will have the most to prove to sustain a career in F1 as older drivers keep deferring their retirement.
Making a comeback and bringing drama back to F1 is its diva, formally known as Fernando Alonso, who will be taking a seat at Alpine, formerly Renault, alongside Esteban Ocon.
Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, was stepped out of his spot in the Ferrari masterplan to come back to the top of the standings and found a new home at Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, alongside Lance Stroll.
Ferrari held on to Charles Leclerc and have paired him with Carlos Sainz Jr, who had to end his ‘bromance’ with his McLaren team mate Lando Norris to make the jump to the Italian team.
Norris might be looking forward to doing ‘shooeys’ – drinking bubbly rosewater out of racing shoes – with his new fellow at McLaren – Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo and Norris have big shoes to fill and drink out of, as the team, owned by Bahrain’s Mumtalakat sovereign fund, improves on its third place in the constructor standings last year.
Alex Albon is also taking the backbench in F1 as he was not able to show the high calibre that Red Bull is notorious for demanding.
Taking his place will be Sergio Perez, who took his first ever F1 race win in a decade long career, right here during the Rolex Sakhir F1 Grand Prix, after a truly stellar season of driving.
Perez and Max Verstappen will be leading the Red Bull charge for the top of the standings, as incumbents Mercedes have yet to formally announce their second driver, after Valtteri Bottas.
Alfa Romeo and Williams are the only team this year to keep their faith in the old guard and hold on to their previous drivers – Kimi Räikkönen and Antonion Giovinazzi for Alfa Romeo, and Nicholas Latifi and George Russell for Williams.
As March 12 and 28 loom, the expectation is that Hamilton will drive alongside Bottas as he seeks to claim his record-setting eighth world championship.
But if there’s one thing we learned from all the F1 Bahrain has seen in 16 years, the sands at Sakhir and their abilities as the harbingers of change can never be underestimated.