Mercedes unveils “old friend” W12

Mercedes has unveiled its new W12, the car with which it hopes to win an eighth consecutive pair of F1 titles in the hands of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1

The Mercedes AMG F1 W12 keeps the black base livery introduced last year as part of the team’s anti-racism commitments, fading to silver on the engine cover. It also features much more prominent AMG branding across the car as per Mercedes’ plans to foreground its high-performance division within its F1 marketing.

The most visible changes to the design that’s carried over from 2020 are towards the rear, which is more tightly packaged around the engine. The front of the car is largely the same, which bucks the trend of the front-end development seen in the launches so far, but that could still change before testing next week.

Mercedes technical director James Allison called the W12 “an old friend in many ways”. However, he admitted that the launch spec of the car was missing some aero developments to the floor, which the team wanted to keep hidden from its rivals before testing.

Allison also said that AMG High Performance Powertrains have added more power to the engine for 2021. Beneath the chassis, the W12 features further improvements to the suspension and cooling systems.

Although the W12 is the clear title favourite for 2021, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff greeted the new challenger with his trademark scepticism. “Every year we reset our focus,” he said. “The scoreboard goes to zero and there’s always more performance to be found.

“It’s very natural to get used to success, and therefore not fight as hard for it. But this team has not shown any of that. I see the same fire, hunger and passion now as I did the first time I walked through the doors in 2013.”

Courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1

Pourchaire joins ART for full-time F2 move

ART have confirmed that Theo Pourchaire will reunite with the team for his full-time move to Formula 2 in 2021.

Sauber junior Pourchaire led ART’s Formula 3 charge in 2020. He took two wins early on in the season and the most podiums of anyone in the field, and came within three points of taking the title from Oscar Piastri at the Mugello finale.

Following his impressive F3 campaign, Pourchaire then stepped up to F2 with HWA in place of Giuliano Alesi for the final two rounds in Bahrain.

Theo Pourchaire, ART F3 (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I’m very happy to be able to continue with ART Grand Prix,” Pourchaire said. “This team gave me the opportunity to drive in F3 last year and now accompanies me to the gates of Formula 1, in F2.

“This year my aim does not change, I’m still aiming for the top. I feel perfectly ready for this new season.”

ART team principal Sébastien Philippe added: “Theo’s progress has been remarkable since his debut in motorsports. [In F3] he impressed the team by his evolution in a delicate context and with an extremely competitive field.

“Theo had nothing to gain by doing a second season in F3 and his move to F2 is the next logical step of our collaboration. The step is high, but between his talent, his determination and his thirst for learning, I’m sure he can make this transition a success.”

F2: Armstrong joins DAMS for 2021

DAMS have announced that Ferrari academy driver Marcus Armstrong will join the team for the 2021 Formula 2 campaign.

Armstrong made his F2 debut in 2020 with ART and scored podiums in the opening two rounds at the Red Bull Ring. After a difficult mid-season he returned to form by the end of the year, with points at Mugello, Sochi and Bahrain to end the season 13th in the standings. Armstrong then drove for DAMS in the post-season test at Bahrain.

Previously, Armstrong has been runner-up to Robert Shwartzman in the 2019 F3 championship, as well as 2017 Italian F4 champion and ADAC F4 runner-up.

Marcus Armstrong, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I’m very excited to be joining DAMS,” Armstrong said. “It’s been a long time coming as there was a lot of interest in working together last season. DAMS has a massive history, especially in GP2 and F2 — it’s one of, if not the, best to be with.

“We are aiming for the title. By no means is it going to be easy with such fierce competition, but I feel that when I’m in the right environment with a great team I can really do special things.”

DAMS co-team owners Gregory and Oliver Driot added: “We are very happy to welcome Marcus to DAMS. We have been following his career and his performance for several years so we are glad to finally join forces for this season.”

DAMS is set for an all-new lineup for 2021, with Sean Gelael having already announced that he will not return to F2 for another season and Dan Ticktum set to join Jehan Daruvala at Carlin.

HWA announces F2 graduation for Nannini, Deledda

HWA Racelab have announced that they will field Formula 3 graduates Matteo Nannini and Alessio Deledda as their lineup for the 2021 Formula 2 season.

Nannini had already been announced as one of HWA’s F3 drivers for this year, having made the switch from Jenzer Motorsport for his sophomore season. The decision to split the 2021 feeder series calendars, which will see F2 and F3 run on separate Grand Prix weekends, means Nannini is able to contest both championships for the team.

After initially struggling to score points with the uncompetitive Jenzer team in F3 last year, Nannini had a breakthrough weekend in Barcelona with tenth place in the feature race and his maiden series podium in third in the sprint race.

Matteo Nannini, testing for Campos during the 2020 F3 post-season test (David Ramos / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Deledda joins F2 as a controversial signing. In November last year he drew attention for a trio of videos posted on his Instagram, appearing to show himself weaving through a motorway traffic jam at high speed, exceeding 300km/h on a motorway, and driving at 200km/h on another public road. He subsequently claimed the videos were actually of other drivers, which he was sharing to “raise awareness” of “similar acts of villainy” on the road.

Speaking about the driver announcement, HWA team principal Thomas Strick called Nannini a “young and talented driver”, saying that HWA decided to field him in both feeder series’ so that he could be “introduced more quickly to the high performance of a Formula 1 car, as the Formula 2 car comes far closer to matching this performance”.

Nannini said: “I am really looking forward to such a busy season! 45 races in 2021 are going to be demanding, but I feel ready and determined to grow as a driver. I know it will not be easy, but I am willing to learn as much as possible.”

F3: Vesti announced as Mercedes junior, joins ART for 2021

Formula 3 race winner Frederik Vesti has been announced as a new addition to the Mercedes junior driver academy, and as part of ART Grand Prix’s lineup for the 2021 F3 season.

Vesti finished fourth in last year’s F3 standings driving for Prema, having taken three feature race wins across the season—the most of any driver—and was a title contender until the final round. The year before, Vesti won the Formula Regional European Championship, also driving for Prema, with 13 wins from 24 rounds.

In joining ART as a Mercedes junior, Vesti follows in the footsteps of Esteban Ocon and George Russell, who both won the GP3 title with the French team and Mercedes backing in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Frederik Vesti, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

On becoming a Mercedes junior, Vesti said: “To now be working with Mercedes, the best team in the world, is a massive boost for my career and I am really looking forward to building a powerful relationship in the future.

“The collaboration between ART, Mercedes and me is the beginning of an incredibly exciting journey for me,” he added. “I’m convinced that will take me one step closer to my goal, which is to reach Formula 1.”

Mercedes Driver Development Advisor Gwen Lagrue said: “Fred’s commitment and dedication is something we love to see and hugely respect. We are happy to welcome him into the Mercedes family and look forward to seeing him fight for the title this season in FIA F3.”

ART team principal Sébastien Philippe added: “We know Frederik very well since he was one of our most formidable opponents last season in Formula 3, and we were eager to start our collaboration with him in Barcelona during the off-season testing. With Frederik, ART will try and win back the FIA F3 title.”

ART also announced on Tuesday that one of Vesti’s F3 teammates will be Aleksandr Smolyar, who will remain with the French team for his second season in 2020. Smolyar had a successful debut campaign with a pole position in Hungary and a podium in the Monza sprint race.

Aleksandr Smolyar, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull announces feeder placements for Vips, Lawson, Daruvala

The Red Bull Junior Team announced a raft of feeder series’ placements for its drivers today, including seats in Formula 2 for Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala.

Vips will return to the series full-time after making a stand-in appearance for Sean Gelael at DAMS last year, and will partner New Zealander Lawson at Hitech Grand Prix. Lawson graduates to F2 from Formula 3, where he also drove for Hitech and took three wins in his 2020 sophomore season to finish fifth in the standings.

Daruvala will remain with Carlin for his second F2 campaign. The Indian driver improved on a difficult start to his rookie year with a run of strong results in the last five rounds, which were capped off with his first podium and sprint race win in the Bahrain double header.

Jehan Daruvala, Carlin (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull also announced that three of its juniors will make their F3 debuts this year. Jonny Edgar and Jak Crawford, who finished first and second in the 2020 ADAC F4 championship, will race for Carlin and Hitech respectively. Honda-backed 2020 French F4 champion Ayumu Iwasa will also join Crawford at Hitech as a new member of the Red Bull Junior Team.

This follows Red Bull-supported Dennis Hauger being announced as one of Prema’s drivers at the end of last year.

Red Bull also added 13-year-old Swedish-British karter Arvid Lindblad to its junior team, following his championship victory in the 2020 OK Junior WSK Super Master Series.

Jonny Edgar, Red Bull Junior Team (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

An optimistic future for new-look Alpine?

Renault’s Formula 1 efforts will undergo a major shift in 2021, with a new driver lineup, core changes to the team, and most notably, a complete rebranding of its works squad as the Alpine F1 Team.

But after falling short of its target to be a regular race winner and even title contender by last year, the Enstone-based team has some soul-searching to do under its new guise. So are the changes planned going to be enough for Alpine to succeed where Renault couldn’t?

The drivers

Fernando Alonso, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

Fernando Alonso. Like him or loathe him, he’s back to spearhead Alpine’s first year in F1.

The two-time world champion was coaxed out of his sabbatical to replace the team’s former star driver Daniel Ricciardo, and Alpine will be hoping he brings some of the insight and inspiration they need to catch the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull.

The big question mark over Alonso’s return is of course the fact that he’s now been out of F1 for two years. He’s not exactly been resting easy in that time, having taken a WEC crown, two Le Mans victories and one at Daytona, and made headline-grabbing entries into the Indy 500 and Dakar Rally. On top of that, he also conducted an extensive testing programme with Renault throughout last year.

But two years out of Grand Prix racing is a long time, and it remains to be seen if Alonso can return at the same level he left the sport in 2018.

On the other side of the garage will be Esteban Ocon, returning for his second year with the Enstone team. Ocon had a rocky campaign in 2020 and spent much of the season getting back up to full racing speed after 18 months on the sidelines as Mercedes’ test and reserve driver.

But by the end of the year Ocon had closed his qualifying gap to Ricciardo and scored Renault’s best result of the season (and his own maiden podium) with second at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Had Ricciardo stayed with Alpine this year, it’s likely Ocon would have made it a much closer teammate battle as he did over his two years with Sergio Perez at Force India.

Alonso and Ocon are an uncertain lineup for Alpine’s first season, and it’s not a given that their potential and past form will equate to strong results in 2021. But if everything goes as Alpine are hoping, this could be a formidable driver pairing in the midfield battle and one with a lot of promise for the team’s near future.

The team

Cyril Abiteboul, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

One of the big headlines this month was that Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s longtime team principal and CEO of the F1 operation, was stepping down from the team ahead of the new Alpine era.

It’s a move many have been calling for for some time now, as Abiteboul’s management has taken the lion’s share of blame for Renault’s failure to break out of the midfield. And whether or not that’s right, it is true that Abiteboul’s time in charge at Enstone was defined more by his engagement with the politics of F1 rather than the success of the team.

This is hopefully something that will change with Abiteboul’s replacements. Laurent Rossi, previously Renault’s Chief Strategy Officer, has already been announced as the new Alpine F1 CEO, while Executive Director Marcin Budkowski is tipped to take over as team principal.

Splitting Abiteboul’s role between these two is a sensible choice for Alpine. Rossi’s corporate strategy background makes him the ideal choice within the Renault group to lead the business side of Alpine’s rebranding. Meanwhile Budkowski, who has overseen the day-to-day operations at Enstone for years, will be free to focus on the sporting side of running an F1 team.

Add to that a new Racing Director in Davide Brivio, who just led Suzuki and Joan Mir to double MotoGP title glory in 2020, and Alpine has the makings of a real heavyweight team at the top.

It might take longer than 2021 for the full effect of these changes to be felt. But as we’ve seen in the likes of Toto Wolff at Mercedes or Andreas Seidl and Zak Brown at McLaren, sometimes the right leadership structure at the right time can be just what a team needs to propel itself out of a stall.

The car

Alpine A521 (Alpine F1 Media)

The car is a mostly known quantity at least, as under the 2021 regulations Alpine’s A521 is essentially a carry-over of last year’s Renault R.S.20. And that bodes well for Alpine, as the R.S.20’s power and rear traction made it a formidable package at low-downforce circuits last year, as well as through low- and medium-speed corners in high-downforce configuration.

The A521 will be slightly different to the R.S.20, as its floor will be trimmed off in accordance with the rules to reduce the aerodynamic pressure on the tyres. How much of a difference this will make isn’t clear. Several teams have played up the impact of this floor tweak throughout 2020—but the same noises were also made about the front and rear wing changes in 2019, which hardly produced the tectonic shift that was billed.

However, it’s thought that the A521’s low rake philosophy—which was a new, Mercedes-inspired direction for last year—will mean that Alpine has less of a headache navigating the change than some of its rivals, at least in the early part of the season.

And so long as the overall design isn’t too unsettled by the revised floor, Alpine will definitely have a car quick enough to challenge for third in the constructors’ championship again.

Ultimately, we won’t know if Alpine is able to make that breakthrough that eluded Renault until the season gets underway. And even then, with the focus this year almost entirely on 2022’s aerodynamic overhaul, we might be kept waiting to see if the team can finally make good on its ambitions to be title contenders again.

But with the performance gains made last year, combined with a hungry driver lineup and some canny leadership changes, it’s looking like an optimistic future ahead for Enstone’s new Alpine era.

Esteban Ocon, Renault (Renault Sport Media)

Interview: F3 Asian champion Joey Alders

Joey Alders has been one of the standout feeder series drivers since starting his single seater racing career in 2018.

After a strong debut in ADAC Formula 4, Joey swept the 2019 Asian Formula Renault Series. Driving for BlackArts Racing, he took eight wins, two second places and eleven poles from the championship’s twelve races, and won the title with 314 points.

Joey then moved onto the 2019–20 F3 Asian Championship, which he also dominated with BlackArts Racing, before making his Formula Renault Eurocup debut with MP Motorsport in the summer.

We spoke to Joey about his championship successes, his 2020 season, and his plans for the future.

Joey Alders, MP Motorsport (Gregory Lenormand, DPPI / Renault Sport Media)

1. First of all, you had a great start to the year by winning the F3 Asian Championship, after winning the Asian Formula Renault Series title in 2019. Can you describe what it means to win both titles and with such dominant campaigns as well?

Well, I have learned so much in a short period. With my team BlackArts Racing there was a chemistry, dedication, passion and a lot of fun. Even if we won, we worked harder to do better.

I can not describe how much this means to me. I can say it sucks that achievements in Asia are not highly regarded in general by people within the racing community in Europe.

2. Your move to Formula Renault Eurocup this year didn’t quite work out. What were some of the difficulties you had adapting to the Eurocup series and its car, and also what did you enjoy about it?

We had some very good testing days at Paul Ricard. I had never been there and I did enjoy it very much. I was within the top 5, and fastest in the rain most of the time. We did good and I was very grateful to Renault for this opportunity.

The budget is always a struggle for us, we were looking from race to race for support and sponsorship. In the end we went for a team [MP Motorsport] where we had the most chance for Dutch support. But I had never tested with this team.

When we look back, it was a gamble and unfortunately it turned out to be the biggest mistake we could make. It’s hard seeing the team we did test with battling for the podium.

3. You’ve said that your Formula Renault Eurocup season ended early because of budget. This year we’ve seen a lot of young drivers speak out about the rising costs of the feeder series’. Do you think more needs to be done to control the cost of single seater racing?

Well the costs are extreme. With this it’s more important having the budget than driving and getting good results. I don’t think that’s what we want.

4. You said earlier this year that you were targeting a move to Formula 2 for 2021. Can you give us any update on how that’s going? And are you looking at other options, like FIA F3 or Formula Regional?

Getting the budget is a race on its own. We’re still trying hard and I do have a unique concept with a cooperation with TrackSide Legends and Druktemaker. A sponsor gets these marketing companies with all opportunities with us.

I got the support of my team sponsor last year, Oloi, but I am a long way from the total budget. I have to keep my eyes open for other opportunities in single seaters because I am not done and I hope I still get the chance to show myself in Europe.

5. With your racing season having finished in July, how have you been keeping yourself ready and race fit for 2021 since then? Has the pandemic impacted how you would normally train this year?

The pandemic of course didn’t help at all. Finding support just got harder. I haven’t raced since July but the focus was on being physically fit and I did also E-Racing like everybody else.

It’s not ideal but also not a problem. I learn fast and after a few laps I know I will be there. It’s one of the strongest things of me as I have always have been the one with the least track time.

Arthur Leclerc joins Prema for 2021 F3 debut

Prema has announced that Arthur Leclerc will join their FIA Formula 3 team for the 2021 season.

Leclerc, a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and young brother to Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles, enters F3 after finishing runner-up in this year’s Formula Regional European Championship, also with Prema. Leclerc took six wins and eight poles to contend for the title, but a retirement in the final round left him unable to challenge eventual champion Gianluca Petecof.

In preparation for his move to F3, Leclerc has also driven for Prema in both of the post-season F3 tests at Barcelona and Jerez.

Arthur Leclerc, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“I am really happy to announce that I will step up to FIA F3 with Prema Racing next year,” Leclerc said. “It will be a completely new challenge for me, a lot more drivers on the grid and a weekend format that looks really exciting! I can’t wait to start the season.”

Prema team principal René Rosin said: “I am delighted to welcome Arthur to our FIA Formula 3 operation. He experienced a high quality season in 2020, ending up with more wins than anybody else in the Regional championship.

“His skills come with a dedicated approach to the hard work behind the scenes, which is clearly what we are looking for at this level.”

Leclerc is set to be joined by Red Bull junior and F3 sophomore Dennis Hauger, who also ran with Prema throughout post-season testing. Prema also rotated David Schumacher, Roman Stanek, Caio Collet and Oliver Rasmussen between its third car.

UNI-Virtuosi sign Drugovich for 2021

UNI-Virtuosi have announced that Felipe Drugovich will join the team for the 2021 Formula 2 season.

Drugovich made his F2 debut this season with MP Motorsport. He finished the year ninth in the standings with 121 points, having claimed three victories, as well as one pole position, fastest lap and third place.

UNI-Virtuosi already had one confirmed vacancy for 2021, after Callum Ilott announced he would not be returning to F2 after this season. It’s not yet known if Guanyu Zhou will remain for what would be a third year with the team.

“[I am] extremely happy that I will be racing next year with UNI-Virtuosi in F2,” Drugovich said. “I would like to thank the team for giving me this opportunity, that will give us big success!”

Team principal Andy Roche said: “UNI-Virtuosi is delighted to have Felipe Drugovich on board for the 2021 FIA Formula 2 season.

“Felipe had a fantastic maiden season in Formula 2 this year, with three victories. He has shown amazing pace and ability in only his first year in the championship.”

Drugovich will join the team for this week’s post-season F2 test in Bahrain. UNI-Virtuosi have also announced that he will be joined on the final day by Formula 3 driver Clement Novalak.

Felipe Drugovich, MP Motorsport (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)