Hamilton, Verstappen, Alonso: Ranking F1's drivers from ‘Title Contender’ to ‘No-Hoper’

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F1's new season gets underway in just over a week from now as the 2021 campaign kicks off in Bahrain.

The first couple of races are spread out across March and April so that the season only really gets going in May from round three onwards, with the plan for a 23-race calendar - the longest in F1 history.

Indeed, it'll be a challenge for all involved to get results and show consistency throughout but, ahead of lights out on Sunday 28th in Sakhir, we thought it was time to assess each driver's hopes for the new year or, in some cases, their lack of hope.

Lewis Hamilton goes for an eighth title this season and the man perhaps set to prevent him most, after a top testing weekend in the Red Bull, is Max Verstappen.

F1 fans want to see them battle it out for the drivers' crown and maybe this year could be the one.

Valtteri Bottas will want to have a say in the title but previous years mean we currently see him more as a podium getter - though we'd love him to prove us wrong - whilst Sergio Perez could be strong as he settles into his new team.

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Daniel Ricciardo may well be a dark horse for top threes, meanwhile, with McLaren impressing in testing and now possessing Mercedes power.

In terms of points contenders, Lando Norris is set for a good year and will want to break into the regular podium places whilst AlphaTauri looked strong in testing and have an exciting driver line-up in the impressive Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, who showed fine pace at the three-day run in Bahrain.

There'll be hopes both Aston Martin and Ferrari can regularly challenge in the points. Though the Aston had tough testing days they are a fundamentally strong team after a good 2020 as Racing Point and both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll have it in them to drive the team forwards.

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Ferrari seem to have an improved power unit for this year and possesses one of the best driver line-ups on the grid. Both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc will be eager to get the Scuderia back up the right end of the standings this season.

Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, can never be written off and as he returns to F1 in an Alpine car that looks a solid enough machine, top tens will be his very minimum aim this year.

Further back, Esteban Ocon faces a big season after being outshone by Daniel Ricciardo last time out. We know he's a fine driver but he now needs to show it once more against the might of Alonso.

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The Alfa Romeo drivers also look set for another run in the midfield whilst George Russell is bound to be driving the wheels off of his Williams and underlining credentials with both Mercedes drives in 2022 currently up for grabs.

Mick Schumacher makes his eagerly anticipated debut, too, and there'll be a hope he can extract all he can from a Haas car that's expected to be running near the back.

Expectations of the car are low, and that might help him with a spotlight on him that's greater than most rookies have ever had.

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Finally, it's always hard to pick potential stragglers but Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi face tough years.

Mazepin is facing a battle with fans of the sport already for off-track controversies and how he handles that when we go racing will be of interest whilst Latifi, in a Williams that will be improved but still not as quick as they'd like, could be again in the shadow of his team-mate George Russell.

Of course, anything can happen in Formula 1 to paraphrase the late Murray Walker and, in a 23-race calendar, each driver has plenty of opportunities to show what they're about and silence any critics - we're not far away from discovering who's going to do what now.

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