2021 F1 driver rankings #8: George Russell

2021 F1 driver rankings

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In the middle of the 2021 Formula 1 season, George Russell produced a couple of results which were so far beyond what the Williams seemed capable of, it eclipsed much of the rest of his campaign.

George Russell

Beat team mate in qualifying 20/22
Beat team mate in race 14/17
Races finished 18/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate 909/1095
Qualifying margin -0.34s
Points 16

But there were plenty of other high spots in his third and final season as a Williams driver. There were also occasions where he had to take the blame for missed opportunities when he might have bagged a few more points.

The first of those came early in the season. In the second race, at Imola, Russell revelled in the damp conditions and was flying. He leapt at the chance to tackle the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas (who had been his one-off team mate just three races earlier) for ninth place, but his car snapped out of control on a damp patch, triggering a massive shunt for the pair of them.

The season-opener in Bahrain had established what would become a generally familiar pattern that Russell would deliver so well in qualifying that holding onto his lofty starting positions over a race distance was not always realistic. This was especially true in windy conditions, which brought out the worst in the Williams, as in Portugal. Russell came within five-hundredths of a second of reaching Q3 at Autodromo do Algarve but slipped back in the race.

At this stage in the season Williams were still seeking their first points score for almost two years, and they tilted towards early pit stops for Russell in the hope of lifting him up the order and clinging to a place in or near the top 10. This didn’t pay off in Spain or Azerbaijan, and in the latter he was sidelined with a technical problem. There were days when both Russell and the car delivered, but points were not realistic without retirements ahead of them, such as in France where he netted 12th.

Russell drew agonisingly close during the Austrian double-header. He was narrowly denied a Q3 place in the first race but was running eighth when his car’s pneumatic pressure dipped after two dozen laps, putting him out. He made Q3 the next time around but Fernando Alonso gradually wore down his defences, and Russell then earned a warning for defending too sharply against Kimi Raikkonen.

He thrilled the Silverstone crowd with another Q3 appearance at the next round, but tangled with Carlos Sainz Jnr in the sprint qualifying race and was rightly penalised. A poor start in the grand prix ended his points-scoring hopes at home.

He finally scored in Hungary, and if the experience was soured by Nicholas Latifi beating him home to a larger share of the spoils in the other FW43B, Russell had the grace not to let it show. He urged the team mid-race to sacrifice his own chances if needed to ensure his team mate’s points finish, and having been passed by Latifi at the start Russell was breathing down his neck at the finish.

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George Russell, Williams, Spa-Francorchamps, 2021
Mighty Spa qualifying effort yielded second ahead of Hamilton
Better things followed at Spa, where Russell delivered one of the qualifying laps of the year on a soaked track to put his Williams on the front row. Confirmation of his appointment alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2022 was just days away, and Russell put his seven-times champion future team mate on notice by out-qualifying him. The Sunday washout ensured he collected (half) points for second place.

That wasn’t his last bravura performance in a wet qualifying session. Russell bagged third on the grid at Sochi, a deserved reward for being the first driver to gamble on slick tyres as the track dried out. He took 10th in the race after several quicker cars came by, and he lost time with an off at turn 12.

By now Williams had enough points for eighth place in the championship and their priority was to ensure Alfa Romeo didn’t slip ahead of them again. Russell had fewer opportunities to hit the high notes in the final third of the season. Istanbul might have been one such chance but he ran wide on his final qualifying lap, missing a chance to reach Q3. Not that his team mate was able to capitalise: Russell thumped Latifi 20-2 in ordinary qualifying over the season.

A series of misfortunes made for an anti-climactic end to Russell’s otherwise fine year. He picked up a puncture in Qatar while trying to drag his car into contention by one-stopping, was taken out of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix by Nikita Mazepin as they tried to avoid a pile-up at a restart and retired from the finale with a gearbox problem.

Russell had already impressed Mercedes in several ways before the 2021 season began. His best performances last season only served to underline he is ready for a shot at a top team.

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What’s your verdict on George Russell’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments. Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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42 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #8: George Russell”

  1. I have Vettel and Ricciardo the same, And then Perez and Bottas the other way around. Ocon is the same, but then I have Alonso in 8th and Russell in 7th. It was a close call on both pairs that I have either way around, but personally don’t think Alonso did much more than Ocon to be anything other than just above him. Still it’s close again, unless of course Alonso isn’t 7th, in which case I’d be very surprised. That said, I think most people I’ve seen and talked to have agreed who the top 6 are for the most part, so I’ll be interested to see if it’s the same here (and the order too).

    1. very similar reasoning, but I have Russell behind the pair.
      Overall his Sundays were not that spectacular and certainly below the level of Alonso (and Ocon) IMO.

  2. Ranking thus far is very reasonable but it is here where it might start to polarize opinion.
    Sainz jr should be around these places. He made more mistakes than Russell. Leclerc should not be that much above. Alonso had some Alonso races and some average on his comeback, he should be close.

    1. bRiTiShBiAsIsFaKe
      19th January 2022, 14:09

      Having Russell over Sainz Jr. because he made less mistakes in a car he has already driven, is not reasonable at all.

    2. You mean the Sainz who beat his team mate, and indeed everyone bar the top two teams, in his first season at his new team? Sainz is rated 4th for me this year.

      1. @chrischrill 70% of the time behind his team mate, beaten in qualifying .2 on avg. Made many mistakes that luckily ended up not costing much points wise.

      2. Sainz only jumped ahead overall because of his last race result. Havent seen him outperform Leclerc at all bar the last race. I guess the thing to learn from it is that Charles might be a slightly overrated driver or at least did not manage to get rid of his mistakes, which he should have overcome by now. Consistency is key if you want to go for a championship. In that department both Ferrari drivers failed this year. One could fear they already stopped progressing/learning which would be a big disappointment.

    3. Russel was mostly invisible this season, unlike Sainz. I think Russel did better last season, this one was nothing special; even if the car is less than exciting. He wasn’t that much better than Latifi even, except in qualifying, but even there the margin lowered. Perhaps this is bias speaking, as it usually happens with drivers from the UK.

      1. I don’t think it’s british bias, I think hamilton and norris will be ranked number 2 and 3 and there’s nothing wrong with that (but some will tell you otherwise about norris), russell is usually highly rated on this website, with reason given what he showed so far at williams and at his one mercedes race, but I suppose he could’ve been 10th or so without offending anyone.

    4. Well, this year Russell has not performed as well as he did in 2020. This year he wasn’t that far from Latiffi so it is difficult to sustain a higher rating than this. It is true that Alonso had a grey season too, I believe we all expected more from him. But, if we were in a blind A/B test, I would say that the Alpine driver did more memorable races than the Williams driver. #7 will be Alonso and #6 Gasly. For #3 to #5 we have Sainz, Charles, and Norris very close in performance and results. Leclerc has been losing an average of 0.1 positions in race and got only 1 podium compared to the 1.4 positions gained by Sainz in his first year and the 4 podiums NOR and SAI got in 2021. Charles also admitted that this year Carlos has forced him to improve, so we can’t say Leclerc was underperforming in his third year in that car. For this reason I would place Sainz in front of Charles. Regarding Norris, He wasn’t able to beat Sainz, and in addition to that, Sainz was in a new team, new car. So, even though probably both should share the #3 position, if I had to choose, I would say Sainz should be ahead by a very narrow margin. In this case, #8 RUS / #7 ALO / #6 GAS / #5 LEC / #4 NOR / #3 SAI / #2 HAM / #1 MAX.

  3. He did some amaizing laps in that Williams but this year Williams has a strange pair of drivers. One is on loan from an another team and the other brings some money. What’s the future will be for them? I think this is one of their worst line ups in recent history. 2018 they had a Sirotkin and Stroll who had done only 1 season before. Don’t get me wrong Albon is a good driver but I don’t think he will stay there for long and Latifi is just there because of his backings.

    7/10 teams have their “junior” driving for them (I know Alonso..) but at least Alfa Romeo have Bottas (who has experience from Merc and Aston Martin has 4x WC. Where does that put Williams?

    Mercedes – Russell
    Red Bull – Verstappen
    Ferrari – Leclerc
    Mclaren – Norris
    Alpine – Alonso
    Alpha Tauri Gasly/Tsunoda
    Haas – Schumacher

    1. Mmm, honestly I don’t think with some experience albon couldn’t reach bottas’ level.

    2. But indeed, if he proves himself he will likely not stay.

  4. Still not entirely convinced, but we shall see this year what he’s really got. The fact he was much quicker than Latifi in qualifying but the two were often quite close in race pace indicates to me that Latifi is a particularly poor qualifier, more so than Russell being an exceptional one. Also he made quite a few costly errors this year, and went off the boil in the later races. 8th-10th is probably the right placing for him though.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      19th January 2022, 13:42

      I myself get mixed up as to where people base russell. More to me should factor in his team mate. I believe at least 3 other teams have a bigger difference with the average qualifying gap than Latifi and Russell do. Some people (that i don’t belive) think Russell is a top qualifier and up there with Hamilton and Verstappen. Latifi is closer to Russell than Perez is to verstappen in this area. If Russell is this good, then those who think this should rate Latifi pretty close to being a top 10 qualifier.

      I think myself that Latifi is a poor qualifier, and Russell is still obviously good, but not sure he’s any better than Bottas. His race pace looks worse than qualifying, which is a similar pattern to bottass, but i expect he will be better in a fight on track.

      However, given he is even closer to Latifi on race day, i’m not sure how good he is overall. I rank Latifi as one of the worst on the grid, despite me thinking he improved last year. Russell hasn’t pulled away from him, and rather the other way round. If people think Russell is a top driver on the whole, latifi should be in their top 10. I myself think Russell is only just in the top 10 and is probably only a small improvement on bottas – to begin with.

      1. I had the same feelings. I often wondered if he had his car setup for qualifying and sacrificed his race pace. With a good qualifying session people, especially the British pundits, would talk about his qualifying effort long after the session and if he fell back in the pack during the race, it would go largely unnoticed because the focus is on the front of the grid.

      2. I think it’s highly likely latifi has improved, especially in qualifying and especially relative to a team mate with whom he works closely (by all accounts). In the same way Stroll has become vaguely competent in the last couple of years, latifi has graduated from “seriously out of his depth” to “perhaps Russell isn’t all he’s cracked up to be”. It’s worth remembering that two seasons now is more than 40 GPs – that was a whole career back in the 1960s! If these guys aren’t improving in that time, they really don’t belong in the sport.

  5. It’s hard to rate Alonso higher than Russell this season, especially considering that Alonso did start the season of incredibly rusty and off pace. Russell was pretty mega this year.. and if it wasn’t for his tangle with Bottas in Imola and Sainz in Britain, I would have rated him in the top 5 this season. I’d rank the 10 to 6 –
    #10 Bottas
    #9 Ocon
    #8 Alonso
    # 7 Russell
    #6 Sainz

    1. #8 Russell
      #7 Sainz
      #6 Alonso
      #5 Leclerc

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      19th January 2022, 16:32

      @todfod Alonso-Ocon was a tie-breaker situation so they should follow each other in the rankings.

      @peartree I’m not sure Alonso can be ranked over Sainz this season and Sainz and Leclerc is a tough one as Leclerc had ousted Vettel and had full support of the team so Sainz’s results are pretty impressive.

      Also Sainz’s ability to do well across multiple teams and cars and do so in a very collaborative manner (Toro Rosso, Renault, McLaren, Ferrari) is also something to be factored in the rankings because it makes him more valuable to another team.

      1. @freelittlebirds excluding points, all stats are around 70% on Leclerc side, leclerc made about as many mistakes as sainz jr but he paid for these mistakes. Sainz jr only beat Kvyat, this years result reflects poorly on charles.

        1. @peartree I’m sure Sainz beat Norris in 19 and 20 too?

          1. @wsrgo yes, I stand corrected. Kind of beat Norris, not decisively but yes.

  6. A peculiar photo. It almost looks like a screenshot from a computer game cinematic. Might have something to do with the lighting under some kind of canopy and the very narrow focus.

    1. @sihrtogg Yeah, looks very… Stiff, almost doll like. You’re probably right about the narrow focus. That’s* also how they make those cityscape photos were everything looks like toys.

      * along with a tilt-shift lens (if the focus isn’t narrowed using something like Photoshop), to make more things visible despite the narrow focus by changing the plane of the focus.

  7. petebaldwin (@)
    19th January 2022, 14:31

    Russell is such a hard one to rate. It’s possible that we saw Russell get everything out of the car (and occasionally push it too far) but without going up against a known quantity, it’s all a bit of a guess.

    I can’t wait to see him in a team with Hamilton. The pressure will suddenly crank up and we’ll see what Russell is really made of. His one race in the Mercedes suggests he’ll be competitive so it could be a really exciting season between the two.

  8. Cant wait to see how he will fare against Lewis, and what role Mercedes will allow him to take

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      19th January 2022, 16:01

      @azmo there’s really only one role he can take within the team – he’s joining a team that has shared so much success with Lewis that he has to find a way to fit into the team and grow. Politics is going to be as important as performance.

      He shouldn’t think that he’s going there to beat Lewis – that would be the wrong approach and ultimately self-destructive. He should think of going there to do his best and if he ends up outscoring Lewis and can do it cleanly, then he’s certainly exceeded all expectations.

      Even if he matches Lewis at Mercedes, it would be an amazing accomplishment. He’s definitely a huge talent – that much is clear and at the age of 23 he has all the time in the world to win races and compete for a championship. His F1 career is technically barely starting if you sit and think about it and he’s driving for Mercedes.

      1. Don’t you think he is a hype?

        And his aggression towards bottas after they crashed was appalling to watch.
        Hitting him out of pure frustration over his own mistake?
        Probably because of his father I guess?
        /end freelittle mode

      2. @freelittlebirds Hmm, sounds a bit like Lewis back in 2007?

  9. I think he proved his potential and worth for a Mercedes seat in 2020 with his performance and when he filled in for Lewis. This year was a bit of a gap year for him to wait and gain experience. So his performance wasn’t much better than 2020, difference is the car was a bit more competitive. I wonder what would have happened in both teams and drivers championship if he joined Mercedes at the end of 2020. Most probably wouldn’t have outscored both Max and Lewis but would have certainly taken more points out of each driver than Bottas did, since Bottas checked out mentally mid-season.

  10. A little too low. He wasn’t just 2 places better than the driver he is replacing. He was better than Fernando and at least one of Charles, Carlos and Pierre. So, should have been 6th.

    1. Nah, I think this is already generous to him, he was up against latifi, think instead about schumacher, who destroyed mazepin; now that is a low rating.

  11. Looking at the material he had to work with a decent position.
    But he really should work on his starts.
    The nice quali positions he acquired were often lost inmediatly after the start.
    And still somewhat error prone.

  12. I think the lede is that he seems quick but can be clumsy in the races. As for how quick, no one really knows how slow latifi is and how slow the car really was this year. He only raced Kubica otherwise.

    Also, Russell is not a rookie. The point of his internship at Williams was to work out rough edges. If he turns out to be sloppy in races in a quick car his career may take a big hit with proven new guys like Leclerc and Gasly on hand.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      20th January 2022, 8:19

      I’d say Gasly probably proved to be the worst driver in a top team in the hybrid era. His performance elsewhere has been great after though.

  13. In theory Lewis should not have any issues with dominating George since he is ranked 8th place this year. In theory!

  14. Qualified 2nd in a frickin Williams!!!!

    Lucked out into the half points 2nd finish due to 2 lap formation race but still….

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      20th January 2022, 11:35

      So many get carried away by just how bad the williams was the year before last, and 2019. It wasn’t the same this year. It was far better than Haas and often better than alfa romeo. And in damp conditions in qualifying, I would say it is clearly in the midfield. If you look at Spa, Latifi only had one chance in Q2. He’d already managed to very easily get through, and he wasn’t far off getting into Q1. Latifi being this high (who is far worse than russell in qualifying) sort of shows that the car was pretty solid in these conditions. Q3 should have been expected for both. 2nd was very impressive, but not to the point that many seem to imply. it wasn’t the williams most seem to think on this occation. It was a bit like Bottas’s 3rd in qualifying for Canada 2013. The conditions suited the car when most of the time it was one of the worst in the grid, and the driver put in a very good performance.

  15. Russell was clear when he signed for williams that it was a three year plan then into the merc seat. Lo and behold thts happened. Maybe not so much because of this season as the article states.

  16. My guess for the remainder:
    7th: Alonso – Cunning and brilliant at times but unimpressive at other times
    6th:Sainz – Amazing first season but lacked the sharpness of Leclerc at times
    5th: Leclerc – Brilliant at times and often either unlucky or pushing too hard
    4th:Norris – Performing at the highest level for first 2/3 of the season then tapered off
    3rd: Gasly – Outperformed the car consistently, just not sure he reached the ridiculous level of Ham and Ver this season
    2nd: Hamilton – Next level performance showed all his experience and racing prowess
    1st: Verstappen – Almost too close to call but it appeared that Max was pushing harder and was more consistent

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      20th January 2022, 11:41

      gasly is a bit too high here. He was against one of the worst performers of the season. I believe that a lot of the time, that car was significantly better than Gasly was able to show. So I clearly think the opposite to you here. I really do not think that car was weak, and rather the drivers were holding it’s ability back somewhat overall. Sky and other places thought that they had the 3rd best car in Bahrain, and not only there either. He certainly was very good, but 2 big mistakes should not be ignored. He twice ran into the back of another car, which resulted in a broken front wing then retirement. In bahrain and Monza. His judgement of positioning the car is still evidently poor, Similar to when he ran into the back of someone at red bull one race (can’t remember which one)

      Norris has made a few mistakes, but not as big, and i believe his highs have both been more regular and on a higher level than Gasly.

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