While some have struggled with team moves in 2021, two of the next drivers in our top 20 ranking have shown how it’s done.
8. George Russell
|Beat team mate in qualifying||11/11|
|Beat team mate in race||7/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||463/584|
It must be galling for Russell to have out-driven his team mate as comprehensively as he has, yet see Nicholas Latifi’s name above his in the championship standings. But does he have anyone to blame but himself?
After all, Russell had chances to end Williams’ point-less streak before their bonanza result at the Hungaroring. And not just at Imola, scene of his now-infamous collision with Bottas, but arguably also the Red Bull Ring, where he first broke into Q3, and Silverstone, where he lined up eighth for sprint qualifying.
These opportunities all came about thanks to his consistently excellent qualifying performances. Considering that at the majority of races this year Williams have had the ninth-quickest car, and therefore by rights should be starting no higher than 17th, Russell’s average qualifying position of 12.9 is remarkable. Given those numbers, it is a bit much to expect him to convert his two top-10 starts this year into points finishes, as the limitations of his car’s performance will inevitably be harder to overcome in a 300-kilometre grand prix than a single flying lap.Carlos Sainz Jnr on the first lap of Silverstone’s sprint race, copping a penalty. Just a couple of weeks earlier he came within four laps of taking that first point, before being passed by Fernando Alonso.
Russell has raw speed in abundance, and on the strength of 2021 so far there’s little cause to doubt he can capitalise on the opportunity to become a race winner should Mercedes hand it to him.
7. Pierre Gasly
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/9|
|Beat team mate in race||7/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||433/559|
With a well-sorted AlphaTauri chassis underneath him and Honda’s increasingly competitive power unit at the back, Pierre Gasly is again showing what he can do with a competitive package outside of the pressure-cooker environment of Red Bull’s top team. He’s qualified in the top three rows at eight of the 11 races so far and regularly converted that into strong points-scoring finishes.
After a tyre choice error at Imola left him 18th he regained 10 places in tricky conditions. In Monaco he out-qualified and out-raced Lewis Hamilton. Azerbaijan was arguably his best result, picking off Charles Leclerc and keeping the Ferrari driver behind for third place with a faltering engine.
There have been a few errors, such as a silly grid penalty for being too far forward in his grid box at Circuit de Catalunya, or the collision with Daniel Ricciardo which spoiled his start to the season. That said, he was blameless for the Styrian Grand Prix collision with Leclerc which led to his only non-finish. His eight points scores are enough to single-handedly put AlphaTauri in their current championship position of sixth.
He has obliterated his team mate, though that really says more about Yuki Tsunoda’s inexperience than Gasly’s quality. Nonetheless, it’s no wonder there are finally murmurings coming from Red Bull that Gasly’s mid-season departure in 2019 may not have been a definitive end to his time at the top team.
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6. Fernando Alonso
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/11|
|Beat team mate in race||3/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||223/550|
There are several experienced drivers in different cars this season who took time to gel with their equipment. Daniel Ricciardo still hasn’t. And while another has arguably acclimatised more quickly than Alonso has, the two-times world champion wasted little time in getting up to speed.
Even with his sluggish start, Alonso should have been in the points from the off in Bahrain, but was thwarted by a worsening power delivery problem and – of all things – an errant sandwich bag. He did not look like the Alonso of old when rain arrived on race day Imola and he slithered off on his reconnaissance lap. Nonetheless, despite a scrappy race, he came home on the tail of team mate Esteban Ocon.
Though Alonso clearly wasn’t at feeling one with the Alpine A521 over the opening races, he delivered race day performances every bit as punchy as those from his title-winning days. He raced well in Portugal, passing Gasly and Sainz on his way to eighth place. The two-lap restart in Azerbaijan produced vintage Alonso: He passed three rivals on the first tour and kept them behind to the flag for sixth place.
By this time Alonso was on par with Ocon, who he out-qualified for the first time since Bahrain and continued to for all bar one of the subsequent races. He’s added to his points haul at every race since, and put in another star turn on soft tyres in the qualifying sprint race at Silverstone, the precursor to a solid seventh place.
Fourth place in Hungary while his team mate won looks like a missed opportunity. Realistically, Alonso was only six-hundredths off Ocon in qualifying and from that point on circumstances made a victory unlikely: Once he’d been held up at turn one he was always going to lose time in the pits behind his team mate. His 10-lap defence against the flying Hamilton was a joy to watch, however, and helped secure victory for the team.
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5. Carlos Sainz Jnr
|Beat team mate in qualifying||3/11|
|Beat team mate in race||3/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||174/547|
On paper, this looked like a tough gig for Carlos Sainz Jnr. Charles Leclerc had taken little more than a season to make Ferrari his own in 2019, and utterly outclassed a four-times world champion last year.
Sainz dropped into Sebastian Vettel’s seat with limited pre-season running and it was to little surprise that he qualified over half a second off his team mate first time out in Bahrain. But the progress he has made since then has been clear and measurable. What’s more, with a little fortune on his side, it’s propelled him past Leclerc in the points standings at this stage.
As early as round three Sainz beat Leclerc in qualifying, though his race was ruined by his team’s choice of medium tyres at his pit stop. Sainz deserved to qualify ahead in Monaco, where he kept his car out of the barriers while Leclerc didn’t, though the repercussions of Leclerc’s crash helped the newcomer move up to second on race day.
After Azerbaijan – where his qualifying effort was thwarted by another driver crashing in front of him – Sainz had a good run of races. He coped with Ferrari’s disintegrating tyres better than Leclerc in France, and has finished in the top six every race since. In Hungary he returned to the podium (thanks to Vettel’s disqualification) with a solid recovery drive following a crash in qualifying, playing a vital role in the team’s strategic decisions on the way.
Though it’s debatable whether he deserves to be ahead of Leclerc in the points standings at present, Sainz has fully vindicated Ferrari’s decision to drop Vettel, for which they took a lot of heat 12 months ago.
The final part of RaceFans’ mid-season F1 driver rankings will appear on Monday.
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