Four races into the new F1 season and it’s time to make a first pit stop and see what’s happened so far. Any unexpected positive surprises, any upsets, or for that matter any disappointments? So far the four races have taken place in Bahrain, Italy, Portugal and today in Barcelona, Spain, and we now have a two-week break before race number five, the most traditional of them all in Monaco on 23 May. The executive summary so far would go something like same same (as last season) and so far not very different, but if you read on I’ve done my best to add a bit more colour to that.
What is very similar to last season is the two top teams. No changes neither here, nor in the respective top drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. After Lewis’s win today in Barcelona, Mercedes have an 29-point lead in the constructors’ championship, with Lewis leading the drivers’ by 14 points ahead of Max. The difference is smaller than last year however, with Max pretty much breathing down Lewis’s neck, as shown by the podiums so far where he’s been on all, and winning in Italy. Behind the two, Bottas isn’t surprising on the upside any more than last year, continuing to play the role of the good soldier, but also to show that he’s slower than both Lewis and Max. Red Bull newcomer Sergio Perez on the other hand is off to a promising start (already far better than his predecessor Albon was at any point during his time), and it will be interesting to see if with a few more races under his belt, he can challenge the top duo, or become the natural number three on the podium.
So to use some hockey terminology (but with no respect for the fact that a hockey line always has three players…), if the first line is made up of Mercedes and Red Bull, the second is also relativeliy clear, at least so far in points, consisting of McLaren and Ferrari. For McLaren this is a continuation of the positive trend from last year, with Lando Norris so far ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, even clinching third place in Italy. Then again, Ricciardo was ahead of Norris today in Barcelona, so things may be turning more even. Over at Ferrari it’s a bit disappointing as the car doesn’t seem to have become more competitive than last year. So far newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr. is also well behind Charles Leclerc. Before the season I wrote that I saw Leclerc-Sainz as perhaps the best driver-duo of any team this year. I guess it’s too early to say, but Carlos Jr. needs to step up his game for that to come through. As for Ricciardo, it still remains to be seen whether his move away from an uncontested first seat at Renault to McLaren was the right one, but there is no doubt that McLaren is faster than Alpine (ex Renault).
The third line is quite crowded this season, regrouping Alpine, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin (ex Racing Point) and Alfa Romeo (and no, it’s not because they all start with an A…). Except for Aston Martin, the remaining three can be said to be roughly where they were last year, and again, with the established drivers so far ahead of the newcomers. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) shows that he hasn’t forgotten how to drive a car although he’s still behind Esteban Ocon who this year is faster than at any point previously. Yuki Tsunoda still needs to prove himself at AlphaTauri, and especially vs Pierre Gasly. The big disappointment so far is Aston Martin and within the team, unfortunately again Sebastian Vettel. The car seems far less competitive than last year (I’ll leave it open as to whether that’s because it’s no longer a copy of the Mercedes…), and Vettel is so far far well behind Lance Stroll and yet to score a point. Finally Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi are quite even at Alfa Romeo, which is pretty much where it was last year, meaning at the end of that third line.
That leaves Williams and Haas in the fourth line, which is a bit unfair to Williams who are so far clearly better and well on their way up if they keep progressing. Pretty much all of this is thanks to George Russell who continues to deliver as much as the car allows for, so far scoring 8 points. Haas on the other hand is even more disappointing than last year, something not even the talent Mick Schumacher clearly displays can change. The Haas is simply not competitive, but arguably the even bigger issue is the team’s second driver Nikita Mazepin who came as a condition for the Russian sponsor money from his billionaire father, and who is outright dangerous on track. The list of incidents so far has resulted in an equally long list of Instagram jokes on him and the new nickname Maze-spin, and his private behaviour isn’t making him any new friends either. Haas is in dire straits and in desperate need of sponsorship money, but this is of course the worst side of F1, when a team is forced to, and accepts taking on an unfit driver as part of the package. I really do hope things improve before something really bad happens, as Mazepin is a danger both to himself and others.
There we go – we still have 19 races left this season so things can, and hopefully will still change around a bit. Will Verstappen be able to challenge Lewis for real this year? Will Perez become as fast as Max, and will Ricciardo prove that his move was the right one? Time will tell as we get further into the season, stay tuned!