Mercedes F1 opted to use a darkened room with low light settings to reveal sponsorship decals for their 2021 Formula One campaign. The F1 season kicks off with three days of pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 29th, followed by the race proper at the same venue on March 26th. And before each team rushes over to the Middle East, they have to unveil their cars. Mercedes did just that a day ago. The W12 really is a continuation of the near unbeatable W11. Not a giant leap, not even an evolution. The bigger changes are reserved for 2022. This year really is a “meet the sponsors” start to the 22 race campaign ahead. The full race-spec cars will be revealed not on the first day of testing but at the first practice session of the opening race.
Indeed James Alison, Mercedes F1 Technical Director, confirmed as much by stating that they will not fire-up the fully developed race-spec car until the first race to prevent other teams from copying certain design solutions. So the pre-season launch campaign is much more like a virtual socially distanced hello-goodbye. During a media interview, Team boss Toto Wolff was as ever realistic and pragmatic:
“You can never rest on your laurels,” he said. “The last few years were tremendous and we’re very proud of that, but it all starts from zero, with equal opportunities, and so we need to not look too far ahead.”
“Within the team, all of us together, we never have these expectations. There is always a skepticism as to whether we have done a good enough job over the winter. We know that if we don’t push ourselves every day we might fall back and the sheer thought is scary.”
The real questions circulate around Sir Lewis Hamilton’s one-year contract, which is an odd way to continue a long-standing and ultra-successful, record breaking partnership. But it seems as though Hamilton is sensing his time in F1 is coming to a conclusion as he approaches his 37th year on earth despite being at the peak of his powers.
“I am fully invested in this season. I still love what I do. I got into racing because I loved it and that’s got to always be at the core of what you do.”
“If all you’re going for is accolades, I feel I could potentially lose my way. Of course, it is the ultimate dream but I don’t think it is going to be the deciding factor whether I stay or keep going; it is more whether I still have the smile when I leave the garage.”
“It is going back to: ‘Do you enjoy it?’ Last year was a really tough year for everyone, including me, but there were some really impactful moments. Will that be the case this year? We’ll see. Will I enjoy it as much, we’ll see. I am excited now, so I am sure I will.”
Valtteri Bottas is also entering his final contractual year with Mercedes F1. He has shown the single lap speed to consistently take pole position but is still scratching his head over how to beat Hamilton in the race. Every year is a fresh challenge:
“Starting from fresh, absolutely I believe I can fight for the title. But it is a long way from that and I need to take it step by step.”
“This year I am demanding more from myself than ever. The ultimate goal is that I can look back and say I did 100%; I did every single bit I could to win the title. One year in your lifetime giving everything you have is quite short. That is including me and people around me.”
“If I give everything I have, I can have no regrets.”