We’re nine rounds into the F1 season 2021 and it’s time to check the temperature and see where things stand before we move into the mid-season with the British GP in two weeks, the Hungarian at the end of the month and then the Belgian at the end of August. I dare say that even those who find F1 predictable and boring have something to cheer about this year, because so far, predictable is certainly something this season is not. Before moving into the action, let me just note that at the start of the season I wrote that if we were lucky, we may see spectatcors return to some of the races this year. Gladly that is now the case, and it’s great to see!
Going back to where we left off, in my last update I put up the question whether Max (Verstappen, Red Bull) was going to catch up with Lewis (Hamilton, Mercedes) and I believe we have the answer. Not only has he caught up with Lewis but he has in fact clearly passed him, just as Red Bull has passed Mercedes to become the team to beat in the line-up. The most recent five races have all been won by Red Bull with Max winning four and Sergio (Perez) one. But it gets even worse from Mercedes’s perspective, since Lewis has only been on two podiums in those same five races, clinching second place in France and in the first of two Austrian GP’s. Perez has meanwhile also found his footing and is ahead of Bottas, so currently there is little doubt that Red Bull and Max are favourites for this year’s constructor and driver’s title. The die-hard Mercedes optimists will note that Silverstone in two weeks is a typical Mercedes track and they’re right about that, making it a pretty decisive one: if Red Bull beats Mercedes in Silverstone, that’s probably it. If they don’t, my bet is that that’s it anyway.
Behind the two top teams, McLaren and Lando Norris’s progress is no less suprising. Lando drives like there’s no tomorrow and he does so in a fast car that is now very close to the two top teams. Daniel (Ricciardo) was apparently right in his call to join McLaren rather than stay at Renault, but he needs to up his game considerably to keep up with Lando who’s clearly emerging as the team’s first driver. He’s finished P3 three times this year and it’s probably only a question of time before he wins his first race. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are doing what they can in their Ferraris which are faster than last year but still inferior not only to Red Bull and Mercedes, but currently also to McLaren. With only two points between them, the two Ferraristi are no doubt the most balanced driver pair on the grid!
The mid-field sees roughly the same teams as earlier, except for McLaren. Aston Martin where Seb Vettel has found his footing which is very nice to see, but the car, although improving, isn’t really there yet. AlphaTauri, where Pierre Gasly continues to deliver strongly but Yuki Tsunoda, although having the speed, seems to have great difficulty in avoiding crossing white lines and getting penalties. Alpine is there as well with notably Fernando Alonso showing his routine, but the car is less performing than last year. Pretty much the same in other words but with Gasly’s continued strong performance and Seb finding the speed again standing out as positives.
Finally there’s not much to report on from the back of the field. Kimi (Räikkönen) and Antonio (Giovinazzi) can hope to take a point here and there in their Alfa Romeos if some of the top cars have problems, and George Russell will certainly do so in the coming races as it’s truly amazing how he manages to get every last hp out of the Williams car. By the way, speculation as to whether he will replace Bottas at Mercedes before the end of the season doesn’t go away. Finally, whilst Haas remain very much last in the line-up, at least Mazepin seems to have found some stability and stopped endangering other drivers in every race. Mick Schumacher beats him in most races, but he can’t work wonders either in a car that is nowhere close to where it was a couple of years ago.
If you’re thinking that Mercedes will never let Red Bull win the title this season without a fight, that would certainly be true in a normal year, but in view of the very big changes that will hit the F1 circus next season and that we’ll come back to in a separate post in the coming months, Mercedes as well as other teams have officially stated that they will not develop their 2021 cars any further. It’s therefore difficult to imagine that something could happen that fundamentally changes the outcome this year, and that would mean that we’ll see a new world champion, one who for the first time ever is from the Netherlands and whose name is Max Verstappen!