Five top talking points as F1 testing gets underway
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SAKHIR, Bahrain - Formula One teams take the wraps off their 2021 cars over three days of pre-season testing starting Friday at Bahrain's Sakhir International Circuit.
Here AFP Sport takes a look at five talking points ahead of the first race of the year, also in Bahrain, on March 28:
Hamilton and Mercedes unstoppable?
In what could be the end of the Formula One road for Lewis Hamilton the all-conquering Briton will be striving to complete the season as he has done seven times before, as world champion.
The 36-year-old swept to his latest title in imperious fashion in 2020, to draw level with Michael Schumacher's record haul.
He will be hot favourite to become the most decorated driver in the sport's history with an eighth crown, but says it is not the determining factor on whether he continues driving in 2022.
"I got into racing because I loved racing and I think that's got to always be at the core of what I do," he said.
For team boss Toto Wolff, despite seven consecutive constructors championships, Mercedes still has the "same fire, hunger and passion" as when he arrived in 2013. Not good news for Red Bull and company.
Can Ferrari fire?
After a humiliating 2020, and their worst season in 40 years, Ferrari believe their SF21 car is ready to restore a spring in the step of the Prancing Horse's Maranello stable.
With Sebastian Vettel's unhappy spell terminated and Charles Leclerc now joined by Carlos Sainz, Ferrari say they have learned the lessons from a misfiring season "that will make us stronger".
But realism is the watch word, with team chief Mattia Binotto dampening expectations of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes, saying the focus was on developing a new car for 2022.
"The gap with the leaders was substantial," he said. "It is not something that can be corrected in one winter".
Schumacher - Act II
Nine years after dad Michael's last race the Schumacher name is back on the grid with the F1 legend's son Mick graduating as Formula Two champion to drive for Haas.
For some, the pressure of having a famous parent can prove overbearing, not for Mick.
"I am very proud of it. It is a boost for me and it gives me motivation every single day to work as much as I can and work as hard as I can," he said at the team launch.
Alonso, return of a champion
Fernando Alonso insists that at 39 and after a two-year exile, as well as jaw surgery following a cycling accident last month, he is in the best shape of his career as the double world champion returns behind the wheel of an Alpine, formerly Renault.
The Spaniard won the world title for the French team in 2004 and 2005.
He returns alongside Esteban Ocon after Daniel Ricciardo's move to McLaren to replace Sainz.
"Without a doubt, I'm a more competent driver now than two years ago," Alonso says after competing in the Indy500 and winning Le Mans twice.
Ahead of a record 23-race calendar, pre-season testing has been cut from its normal six to eight days in Barcelona to just three in the Gulf, as a result of cost-cutting measures linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Which gives Mick Schumacher and the other two F1 rookies -- Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin -- and those in new teams precious little time to get to grips with their new surroundings before firing up their engines in the March 28 curtain-raiser.
"The definite priority is to get even more comfortable in the car and just trying to sort out everything that needs to be sorted out from driver kit, the seat, driver position, through to how the car feels on track and working with the team," said Schumacher.
Vettel, moving from the red of Ferrari to the green of Aston Martin, who are back in the sport for the first time since 1960, said: "There is plenty of stuff that I need to get on top of. It's a different power unit, different controls. So, yeah, not the easiest transition, not a lot of time, not a lot of testing, but it is what it is, and I think I've been around for a long time, I'm aware of what is going on".