The 2021 F1 Season will be the longest in the sport's history featuring 23 races in the calendar year. The FIA and FOM are committed to adhering to this number despite the logistical challenges and the relevant COVID restrictions.
While the overhaul of the technical regulations got delayed to 2022, the governing body proceeded with the enforcement of cost caps.
The governing body also introduced a new race weekend format featuring Qualifying on Friday, a Sprint race on Saturday which would decide the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. The same got showcased at Silverstone and attracted positive reviews from fans.
The F1 world also saw the arrival of iconic names such as Aston Martin and Alpine onto the grid, along with the return of former Double World Champion Fernando Alonso. Mick Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin and Yuki Tsunoda were the new entrants in the elite club of F1 drivers.
Eleven races in, and the F1 world headed into the mid-season break. Contrary to 2020, Austria was the only track to host two back-to-back race weekends in Europe. The European leg of the season nears its end before the advent of the fly-away events.
So, how have the teams fared so far in 2021? Time for the mid-season report card!
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes has been the best team in the new era of F1, but the crown has come under immense threat by Verstappen and Red Bull. The change in technical regulations disadvantaged Mercedes, being a low rake car. Despite the W12 not being the fastest car on the grid, the team leads the Constructor Standings by 12 points.
Lewis Hamilton, the reigning World Champion, and the most successful driver in the sport, miraculously leads the Championship by 8 points at the halfway mark. The Briton currently has four wins ( Bahrain, Portugal, Spain and Silverstone ), besides four podium finishes. A rare mistake on the race restart in Baku saw him finish outside the points, bringing an end to a record run of consecutive point finishes. Hamilton's opening lap accident with Verstappen at Silverstone ended the latter's race, becoming the centre of attraction before the Hungarian GP.
Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, has had a mediocre season and is yet to win a race in 2021. His best result was 2nd in Austria, followed by five podium finishes. The Finn sits 4th in the Championship, five points behind Norris. Bottas has played the team game till now, and Mercedes will expect him to continue with the same for the latter half of the year.
The team is yet to suffer from any mechanical failures, which will prove pivotal in the title battle. Mercedes cannot afford any slip-ups or mediocrity against a resurgent Red Bull. Upgrades and development need to continue for the remainder of the season if Hamilton and Co wish to stand on the top step again.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Since the dawn of the turbo era, Red Bull has been relentless in its quest to return to supremacy. From switching engine suppliers from Renault to Honda to trying out different driver combinations, it seems like Red Bull has finally hit the sweet spot this season. 2021, so far, has been a revelation for the team from Milton Keynes. They have a potent driver lineup in Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who they signed at the end of last year. The RB16B has emerged as the fastest car on the grid, with Verstappen the favourite for the drivers' crown.
Unfortunately, the team trails arch rivals Mercedes by 12 points going into the summer break.
The last two races before the summer break titled the battle in Mercedes' favour. While Hamilton's coming together with Verstappen put the latter out of the race at Silverstone, Bottas was to blame for the opening lap melee at Hungary that prematurely ended Perez's race and damaged Verstappen's car heavily. The two incidents led to damage on multiple components on both cars, and in a financially regulated season, Red Bull faces the threat of potential penalties in the latter half. Christian Horner, the Team Principal, was visibly frustrated with the situation and didn't mince his words in the media.
Verstappen is the lead driver at Red Bull and, despite his stellar drives, trails Hamilton by 8 points at the summer break. The Dutchman has five victories to his name ( Imola, Monaco, France, Styria, Austria ) and would have added a sixth at Baku, but for a tyre failure near the end of the race. The Dutchman also bagged three podium finishes.
As for Perez, his teammate, the Mexican, has struggled in Qualifying but displayed more character on race days. A win in Baku with a podium finish in France place him 5th in the standings, nine points shy of Norris in 3rd. Perez, like Bottas, has to be the team player for Verstappen and Red Bull. Red Bull will need him to produce better results on Saturday and get closer to the Mercedes cars.
The team has a golden opportunity to return to the top step in the turbo era, but reliability and battered components could return to haunt them. Nevertheless, Red Bull has beaten Mercedes under legitimate racing conditions more often than not. All they need are some incident-free weekends!
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari, the most successful team in the sport's history, has gone from strength to strength after the disappointment of 2020. They currently sit P3 in the standings, level on points with McLaren, but placed above them due to better podium finishes. On the driver lineup front, Carlos Sainz Jr joined the team alongside Charles Leclerc.
Ferrari has had its moments of brilliance, and a return to the sharp end of the grid seem near.
Only 3 points separate the two teammates, with Sainz bagging two podiums to Leclerc's one. Leclerc didn't start the race in Monaco after getting pole position and retired on the opening lap in Hungary following the turn one melee. Nevertheless, the Monegasque finished 2nd in Silverstone, besides finishing in the top 10 on seven occasions. Meanwhile, Sainz bagged two podiums, P2 in Monaco and P3 in Hungary, and like Leclerc, finished in the points on seven occasions. Leclerc has been more consistent of the two, with Sainz working hard to settle with life at Maranello.
Ferrari admitted that with Leclerc, the possibility of grid penalties for exceeding the allocated number of engine components for the season seem real, which could prove detrimental to their aspirations for finishing P3 at the end of the year.
McLaren F1 Team :
McLaren, the best of the rest in 2020, finds itself locked in an intense battle with Ferrari, level on points in the Constructor Standings. Ferrari is above McLaren due to better race results.
McLaren brought in Daniel Ricciardo to replace Carlos Sainz Jr for 2021. The Australian, however, is struggling to extract the best out of his McLaren. While Norris has three podium finishes to his name, P5 ( at Silverstone ) is the best that Ricciardo could manage till now. Norris comfortably leads the intra-team battle, having scored more than double the points of Ricciardo's in the first half of the year. Norris has finished on the podium thrice ( P3 in Imola, Monaco and Austria ) and, until Hungary, was the only driver to have scored points in every race.
Norris is in P3 in the Driver Standings, 5 and 9 points clear off Bottas and Perez, respectively. If he manages to fend the duo until the end of the season, then he will establish himself as one of the best drivers on the grid.
As for Ricciardo, he is currently P9 in the standings, level on points with Gasly. The Australian needs to work over the summer break and is capable of turning things around.
Reliability remains the team's forte, and this could pay dividends at the end of the season. However, if they intend to finish P3, then McLaren needs consistency from both drivers. Ferrari, with the upgrades, has become a formidable force, and the battle for supremacy between these two greats of the sport will be an intriguing one.
Alpine Racing F1 Team :
Renault Sport F1 Team got rechristened to Alpine Racing F1, named after the company's performance and racing division. The Black and Yellow livery got done away with for blue and red! While Ricciardo switched over to McLaren, seeking greener pastures, Fernando Alonso joined Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon. Alpine also brought in Davide Brivio, former chief of Suzuki's Championship-winning Moto GP team, to take the mantle of Racing Director.
Ocon leads Alonso in the intra-team battle by one point, thanks to an unlikely victory at the Hungarian GP. The win was a combined team effort, with Alonso putting up a staunch defence against Hamilton. While Alonso has had eight finishes in the top 10, Ocon managed six. Their best finishes were P1 and P4 in Hungary.
Alpine is going through a resurgence of sorts. As the only Renault-powered team on the grid, it has been tough to maintain competitiveness in 2021. The second half of the season will be equally challenging, and the team will need a weekend similar to that experienced in Hungary if they wish to keep Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin at bay.
Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :
Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's B-team, is locked in an intense battle for P5 in the Constructors' Championship. The team currently is 6th, with 68 points to its name, 20 points clear of Aston Martin, but trailing Alpine by 9.
The Italian team brought in the Honda-backed rookie Yuki Tsunoda from F2 to partner Pierre Gasly for the 2021 season. However, the rookie has had a mediocre first half, scoring a mere 18 points versus Gasly's 50. While Tsunoda has had five points-finishes in the first half of the season, Gasly has managed eight!
Dr Helmut Marko, Head of Red Bull's Driver Development Program, was critical of Tsunoda's performances thus far but reiterated that the latter had the talent to turn things around in the second half of the year. As for Gasly, the Frenchman has been the star at Alpha Tauri, producing stellar drives every weekend. The Frenchman even secured a podium for the team at the Azerbaijan GP. Gasly has outperformed Tsunoda in Qualifying and will remain the lead driver for the remainder of the year.
Alpha Tauri will need consistent performances from its drivers for the latter half of the season if they wish to surpass Alpine in the battle for P5 in the Championship.
Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team :
Aston Martin, an iconic name in the automobile world, returned to the sport in 2021. The team, formerly known as Racing Point, hoped to replicate the successes of 2020. The team roped in the services of Sebastian Vettel, a four-time World Champion, to partner the much younger Lance Stroll. However, the regulation changes of 2021 disadvantaged the low rake cars, and Aston Martin is one such team suffering due to this.
The team is 7th in the standings, 20 points shy of Alpha Tauri, having lost a big haul of points following Vettel's disqualification from P2 in Hungary due to a fuel irregularity issue. Vettel leads the intra-team battle with 30 points to his name and a podium finish ( P2 in Baku ). The German finished in the points at Monaco and France as well. As for Stroll, the Canadian has managed to finish in the top 10 on six occasions, with P8 being his best finish at Imola, Monaco, Styria and Silverstone.
In a tightly contested midfield, Aston Martin can afford no slip-ups in the second half of the season. They have the resources to beat Alpha Tauri and Alpine, but it's easier said than done.
Williams Racing :
Williams F1 Racing, owned by Dorilton Capital, persisted with George Russell and Nicolas Latifi for 2021. While Russell had been one of the top performers in Qualifying on several weekends, a finish in the top 10 eluded him on race day. Latifi, too, struggled to extract the best out of his Williams on Sundays, but their hard work finally bore fruit at the Hungarian GP.
Russell finally scored his first points at Williams and playing the team man with his radio exchange in Hungary. In a race riddled with inclement weather at the start, both drivers found themselves in the top 10, comfortably holding onto their season-best finishes ( so far ). Latifi's P7 and Russell's P8 helped Williams bag 10 points going into the summer break. The British outfit now sat seven points clear off Alfa Romeo in the Constructor Standings.
Williams has the upper hand going into the second half of the year and will look to hold onto P8. They should manage to rebuff challenges by Alfa Romeo and reap the financial benefits of not finishing last in the Constructor Standings.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo has struggled to replicate its first-half form of 2019 in the past two seasons. The Swiss-based outfit sits 9th in the standings after relinquishing P8 to Williams at the final race before the mid-season break.
While Giovinazzi has outshone his more experienced teammate, Raikkonen, on Saturdays, the latter has displayed superior racecraft on Sundays. Poor strategic calls combined with the lack of power from the Ferrari power unit are the Achilles heel for Alfa Romeo.
Raikkonen's best finish was P10 in Baku and Hungary, while Giovinazzi made it into the points at Monaco.
Alfa Romeo will get limited opportunities to score points for the remainder of the year and cannot afford to make poor decisions. The deficit of seven points to Williams might be too big an ask, however.
Haas F1 Team :
The baptism by fire continues for Haas F1. The team hired the services of the current F2 Champion Mick Schumacher and F2 graduate Nikita Mazepin but are yet to score a point in 2021. The rookies have battled each other as backmarkers, with Schumacher narrowly edging out his team. The team's best finish was P12 at the recently concluded Hungarian Grand Prix.
The team owner, Gene Haas, is keen on shifting the team's focus to 2022, and the chances of a point finish this season seem bleak. However, the team can take heart from the talent and maturity showed by their dynamic rookie duo up until the halfway mark of the 2021 F1 season.
The season so far has witnessed battles throughout the field. While Mercedes and Red Bull lock horns at the top, Ferrari and McLaren are contending for P3. Alpine, Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin are vying for P5, and Williams hopes to hold onto P8 from Alfa Romeo.
Verstappen and Red Bull have stepped up to the challenge in 2021 and are more than just a match for Hamilton and Mercedes. In an ideal world, Verstappen and Red Bull would have been leading their respective championships. However, due to sheer misfortune, they find themselves trailing the reigning Champions. All that transpired in Silverstone and Hungary has left Red Bull yearning for a befitting response. The gloves will be off, the time for niceties will be over, and the battle will get feistier than ever.
Will Hamilton and Mercedes be able to fend off Verstappen and Red Bull? Do they have enough to tame the Bulls?
Time will reveal all!