Formula 1 is set for a record 23-race season in 2021 – pandemic permitting – as grands prix stretch from the Bahrain season opener on March 28 to the Abu Dhabi finale on December 12.
That means wall-to-wall racing through most of the spring, summer and autumn (with a short breather in August) which is great for TV viewers, but makes for a punishing schedule for the hard-working teams. Ex-F1 driver and top Sky F1 TV pundit Karun Chandhok will be at most of them and offers Autocar his expert view on each of the tracks, covering individual circuit characteristics, set-up tips, the best overtaking spots, the key corners to bank quick lap times and what we’ve called ‘The Talent Zone’ (in other words the hardest bits).
Sakhir | Imola | Portimao | Catalunya | Monte-Carlo | Baku | Montreal | Paul Ricard | Red Bull Ring | Silverstone | Hungaroring | Spa-Francorchamps | Zandvoort | Monza | Sochi | Singapore | Suzuka | Austin | Mexico | Interlagos | Melbourne | Jeddah | Yas Marina
1 Sakhir, Bahrain GP (Mar 28)
Character: Good for racing, lots of overtaking opportunities, big emphasis on braking stability and traction. A track where engine power can be very helpful.
Set-up strategy: You need something that gives you good confidence on the brakes and good traction, especially in the race when the tyre wear kicks in.
Best overtaking spot: Turn 1, but we’ve also seen some great moves at Turn 4 in recent times when you can get a switch-back on the way out.
Key corner for a quick lap: Turns 1 and 2.
The Talent Zone: Turn 10 is really important because you can lose a lot of time there.
Most wins: Sebastian Vettel, 4 (2012, 2013, 2017, 2018); Lewis Hamilton, 4 (2014, 2015,2019, 2020)
2 Imola, Emilia Romagna GP (Apr 18)
Character: A great history, much narrower than the modern tracks. The undulations and blind corners make it a real challenge.
Set-up strategy: Something that gives you a good change of direction on the front end is very helpful.
Best overtaking spot: There isn’t one! The only one is into the first chicane – possibly…
Key corner for a quick lap: The two Rivazza left-handers at the end of the lap. It’s easy to overshoot the first one on the brakes and it’s also important to get a good exit from the second for the straight.
The Talent Zone: The Variante Alta chicane at the top of the circuit.
Most wins: Michael Schumacher, 7 (1994, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006)
3 Portimao, Portuguese GP (May 2)
Character: Very undulating, lots of blind corners, lots of corners where you are braking and turning at the same time. So you need a car that allows you to carry good speed while you are heading for the apex.
Set-up strategy: You need a car that will give you confidence for braking and turning. Also anything that can give you good compliance over the crests and bumps. It’s high downforce.
Best overtaking spot: Down into Turn 1, but you also have an opportunity at Turn 5.
Set-up strategy: It’s going to be different this season because of the different time of the year and for a change we’re going when drivers and teams will know their cars much better.
Best overtaking spot: Not easy here, but Turn 1 is the place if you get a good run out of the last corner. Possibly Turn 3 too.
Key corner for a quick lap: The last sector in qualifying, because the tyres are struggling by that stage.
The Talent Zone: The last three corners.
Most wins: Michael Schumacher, 4 (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004)
22 Jeddah, Saudia Arabian GP (Dec 5)
We don’t know much about this new street circuit yet. We’ll find out in December…
23 Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi GP (Dec 12)
Character: Fantastic facilities, it looks great on TV, amazing spectacle, but not a great track for racing and overtaking.
Set-up strategy: You need good braking stability, good traction and anything you can do to keep the rear tyre temperatures under control for the final sector.
Best overtaking spot: Very difficult. We see them done at Turns 8 and 9, and also at the chicane at Turns 11 and 12.
Key corner for a quick lap: The final section around the hotel.
The Talent Zone: Also that bit around the hotel.
Most wins: Lewis Hamilton, 5 (2011, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019)