F1 | A look at the three rookies on the 2021 grid
2021 sees three of last year’s top 5 in the Formula 2 championship graduate to Formula 1. Who will fare best between Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin?
The 2021 field will feature three new drivers in it: Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Tsunoda will drive for AlphaTauri, whilst Schumacher and Mazepin form an all-new line-up at Haas.
The ascent to Formula One has been rapid for the Japanese driver.
Only three years ago, he was in the F4 Japanese Championship. The 20-year-old claimed the title.
Tsunoda went on to become part of the Red Bull Junior academy and massively impressed in Formula 3 and Formula 2 across the 2019 and 2020 seasons as he came over to Europe and learned tracks very quickly.
A win at Monza in Formula 3 with a struggling Jenzer outfit was the highlight of his season in that category. Tsunoda was the only one of their drivers to score points in 2019.
He really made people stand up and take notice of his talent and speed last year, though.
After a slow start, particularly in qualifying, Tsunoda got better and better as the season went on at Carlin and displayed tremendous raw speed.
- Only Callum Ilott (5) scored more pole positions than him (4)
- Robert Shwartzman (4) was the only driver to secure more race wins than him (3)
One of the strong points shown by the Japanese driver was his impressive ability to be quite gentle on the tyres in races and it allowed him to gain places in the closing stages.
He finished 3rd, just 15 points behind champion and fellow F1 graduate Mick Schumacher and was arguably the driver of the season as Schumacher and Ilott had already completed a season in F2 in 2019. The 20-year-old also collected the Anthoine Hubert award for his exceptional rookie campaign in Formula 2.
What would be a successful season for him?
Tsunoda goes up against Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri this year. In 2020, the Frenchman won his maiden Grand Prix and 2021 is going to be his fourth full season in the sport.
Gasly’s renaissance since his demotion back to the junior team means the Japanese driver is certainly facing a tough competitor in the same car during the upcoming season.
Nonetheless, Tsunoda would be wise to take things steady and learn a lot in pre-season testing and the first few events. If he can start to really challenge his French stablemate on a regular basis from France onwards and score points consistently, that’ll be a great maiden season for him.
If he did beat Gasly or pushed him very close – and Perez struggles at Red Bull Racing – a 2022 drive for the senior team isn’t out of the question.
With the sizeable car performance advantage he has compared to Schumacher and Mazepin, Tsunoda’s got to be the rookie with the most points at the end of 2021.
Mick Schumacher has earned his spot on the grid for 2021; it would be completely wrong to suggest he only got it because of his surname. The German was the second season specialist during his time in junior categories.
Finishing 12th in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2017, he became champion the following year as the beat the likes of future F2 rivals Dan Ticktum, Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong to the title.
Promotion to Formula 2 followed and Schumacher repeated the pattern from his time in the FIA F3 European Championship: 12th in his first year in F1’s feeder series, followed by championship glory last year.
It was far from an easy season for Schumacher. Some mistakes, qualifying struggles and bad luck at the start of the season left him 45 points adrift of Callum Ilott after ten races.
As a team, Prema struggled in general on a Friday and it left Schumacher with a mountain to climb in feature races. The 21-year-old's best qualifying position was P3 on two occasions. His main title rivals Ilott and Tsunoda (in the end) scored nine poles between them, earning 20 and 16 points respectively for doing that.
Despite that, he overcame all the difficulties to take the championship. From rounds 10 to 23, he finished outside the top 6 just once across the feature and sprint races as he took command of the title battle.
Stunning starts, excellent racecraft and strong tyre management allowed him to overhaul his rivals. Two massive feature race wins at Monza and Sochi played a huge part in him taking the championship.
A 14-point margin to Ilott in P2 was the gap at the end of a thrilling season. Schumacher well and truly earned it.
Even before he makes his debut, the Russian is already the most disliked driver in F1 history. A series of incidents on and off the track, even before that horrific video last December, puts him under scrutiny nobody else will have faced before, and rightly so.
With Haas needing lots of money to survive and the fact he got the required superlicence points, he’s going to be on the grid last year.
After finishing 2nd to the late Anthoine Hubert in GP3 in 2018, Mazepin had a disastrous maiden campaign in Formula 2 with ART, ending up 18th in the standings; he was a remarkable 255 points behind his championship-winning teammate Nyck de Vries.
2020 was a far better season at Hitech, though. On his day last year, he showed exceptional speed. A commanding victory in the feature race at Silverstone 1 was proof of that. Another win at Mugello and four 2nd places meant he finished 5th in the standings, 51 points behind 2021 teammate Mick Schumacher.
Does Mazepin have driving talent on the circuit? Yes, he does. Unfortunately, he’s crossed the line at times on track as well.
He collected 11 penalty points in Formula 2 last year, including controversial incidents at Spa (crossed the line in P1 but lost the victory due to pushing Tsunoda off the track when fighting him for the lead) and Sakhir (dangerous defensive moves on multiple occasions). Fortunately, for him, those points do not carry over into F1.
Schumacher vs Mazepin
Haas are very much looking ahead to the 2022 season and the new regulations, so it’s going to be a learning year at the back of the field for both of them.
That could be absolutely perfect for last year’s Formula 2 as history has shown Schumacher starts to deliver his best from the second season onwards in the category. It could suit Mazepin as well as he had a much better second season in Formula 2, too.
While points seem unlikely for both, the first driver you must always beat is your stablemate. They’re the reference at all times as they’ve got the same package as you.
Who will win the head-to-head? It could be very close and might well be one of the closest teammate fights on the grid this year based on their Formula 2 performances. If Schumacher can dominate the Russian, however, he’ll move a step closer to a potential Ferrari seat down the line.
Understandably, almost every fan will be cheering Schumacher on to get the better of Mazepin.