While 2020 was a tumultuous year for motorsport, 2021 looks set to be bigger than ever.
With a host of new drivers, initiatives and circuits, plus fuller regular calendars on the cards across the series, there’s a lot to get excited about this year.
We’ve gone ahead and picked five drivers and riders from the world of motorsport we’re excited to get stuck into the new season. Each one comes with a race that could be a major turning point or milestone in their upcoming year.
Five drivers and riders to watch in 2021
A man who most didn’t expect to see on the grid in 2021.
Sergio Perez looked like he’s lost his spot in Formula 1, when it was announced Sebastian Vettel would replace him as Racing Point became Aston Martin. But if anything, it seemed the pressure lifted and his performances elevated.
Perez finished the season in 4th and best of the rest, despite COVID-19 ruling him out of both British rounds. After the first 7 rounds, Perez sat 11th in the drivers’ standings. But after the announcement he’d be leaving to the end of the season, he scored just 13 points less than Max Verstappen. This included a podium in Turkey – his first in three years – and a dramatic win in Sakhir. Despite this, he still finished the season without a confirmed seat for 2021.
However, his in-form performances gave Red Bull a decision to make. After the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Perez was announced to be replacing out-of-favour Alex Albon in the Red Bull seat for 2021.
Big race in 2021: Mexican Grand Prix
This won’t be Perez’s first home Grand Prix in front of his adoring fans. However, it will be his best shot at a podium – better yet a victory – in Mexico City. Red Bull machinery has traditionally been strong around the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Verstappen took wins in ’17 and ’18, plus provisional pole in 2019. If Perez was to take victory in front of the Foro Sol stadium, it would surely go down in F1 folklore.
Okay, this might seem like an obvious choice. The Spaniard was a six-time world champion before his 26th birthday. But going in 2021, there are a lot of unknowns for Marquez.
An injury sustained during a crash in 2020’s opener, exacerbated by a plate in his arm breaking while opening a window ruined his season. However, he will have spent the season recuperating, resetting and refocussing to a fuller 2021 MotoGP season. The question is whether Marc Marquez will hit the ground running when he returns to the track.
There’s question marks around his team, too. Having won the teams’ championship six of the last year years, in 2020, they came a lowly 9th. This, of course, could be down to the Marc’s brother Alex Marquez and replacement Stefan Bradl unable to get the most out of the bike. But Marquez and Pol Espargaró will be eager to understand how the bike fares up for the ’21 season.
Big race in 2021: British MotoGP
Silverstone dropped off the 2020 MotoGP calendar, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means the last race at the track was the thrilling 2019 race, in which Alex Rins snatched the win from Marquez in the final corner of the race. The Honda rider will be looking to make amends as the sport returns to Britain in ’21.
It’s a huge year for the W Series. 2020 was meant to see the series support F1 in North America. But for ’21, every W Series race will be part of an F1 undercard.
Eight races – six in Europe, two in North America – for inaugural champion Jamie Chadwick to defend her title. The Williams junior driver finished on the podium in all but the final race in 2019, and will be looking to be as strong at circuits like Silverstone, the Red Bull Ring and the Hungaroring.
There’s more on the line this year, too, with FIA Super Licence points on offer for the top 8 finishers.
Big race in 2021: Belgian Grand Prix
Spa-Francorchamps is a circuit every racer in the world wants to taste. As the second half of the season gets underway, the title fight will be hotting up and this will be the race that separates the challengers and the contenders.
This young Japanese driver has been a revelation in open-wheel racing. The 20 year-old spent just one season in both F3 and F2 before receiving the call up form Red Bull Academy boss Helmut Marko. He replaces Daniil Kvyat in the AlphaTauri, partnering Pierre Gasly after his strong 2020 season.
Tsunoda will be keen to show what he’s all about on the big stage. He’ll be the first Japanese driver on the grid since Kamui Kobayashi, and racing with a Honda engine in their final year – a lot for his rapidly growing fan base to be excited about.
Big race in 2021: Austrian F1 Grand Prix
The home of Red Bull, this could be the place Tsunoda stakes a claim to a Red Bull seat for 2022. While the Japanese Grand Prix will be a major moment later in the year, this will be an early opportunity for Yuki to impress.
The Belgian driver has been busy since leaving the F1 grid in 2018. While supporting the Mercedes F1 team, Vandoorne spent two seasons in Formula E, finishing 2nd in 2020, and raced Le Mans in 2019 finishing 3rd overall.
2021 is set to be a busy year for Stoffel, too. He will continue to race in Formula E, hoping to better last year’s result and take the championship, and will be spending a whole season in WEC. Jota Sport’s team for season nine will feature Vandoorne alongside Tom Blomqvist and Sean Geleal.
Big race in 2021: Le Mans
Vandoorne finished third in 2019 in Le Mans, and entering with a strong team in the LMP2 category, Jota will be hoping to take the category win after coming close with Antonio Felix da Costa, Anthony Davidson and Roberto Gonzalez in 2020.