Why Ferrari Has Exceeded Expectations in 2021 So Far

Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Maya Narang

After Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification from the Hungarian Grand Prix promoted Carlos Sainz to the podium, Scuderia Ferrari’s point total for the 2021 season went up to 163. They currently sit in third in the constructor’s standings, ahead of McLaren only on countback, as the two teams are tied point-wise. 

Looking at Ferrari’s form in 2019 along with the history of the iconic Italian team, it is hard to see their current pace as something to be proud of. However, after their dismal 2020 season, where Ferrari finished sixth (their worst finish in the constructor’s championship since 1980), it is actually impressive to see them take not one, but two pole positions, as well as three podiums.

Ahead of the 2021 season, Team Principal Mattia Binotto cited the team’s goal of finishing third in the constructor’s championship, saying it was their “minimum target”. Given their disappointing performance in 2020, finishing as “best of the rest” in 2021 seemed a foolish hope. 

Fast forward to this season, and Ferrari shocked the world by largely equalling McLaren on pace, with both teams a ways behind Red Bull and Mercedes but comfortably ahead of the rest of the grid. The battle for third in the constructor’s championship is clearly between these two long-time rivals, bringing back a long-awaited fight.

In the first three rounds of the 2021 championship, McLaren outscored Ferrari, with the Spanish Grand Prix being the first time Ferrari scored more points than their rivals. However, heading into the summer break after 11 rounds of the championship, the two teams have been astonishingly on par with each other. Ferrari has outscored McLaren in races six to five, and both teams only have one race where they failed to score any points: Ferrari in France and McLaren in Hungary. Now, they sit tied for third on points, a dramatic improvement from Ferrari’s struggle to finish even sixth last year. 

The Ferrari power unit has, admittedly, made remarkable strides since last year. However, it is fair to say that a large part of Ferrari’s performance gain points-wise has come from their decision to sign Carlos Sainz. While some did not initially understand why Ferrari chose Sainz, it is now clear that this decision has been huge for Ferrari’s championship hopes, especially in light of Daniel Ricciardo’s performance alongside Lando Norris in the McLaren.

Norris has arguably been the driver of the season so far at McLaren, holding the longest current point streak in F1 until the Hungarian Grand Prix, as well as the longest point streak of any McLaren driver in history. On the opposite side of the garage, his new teammate Ricciardo has been struggling to get a grasp on the car, which is admittedly hard to handle. 

While Norris has been comfortably outscoring Ricciardo, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has had a tougher time with his new teammate Sainz. This is due not to poor performances by Leclerc, but to good performances by Sainz, who very quickly looked at ease in the Ferrari. Leclerc has beaten Sainz in qualifying 8-3, and in races 6-5, but Sainz currently sits ahead of Leclerc in the standings, albeit only by three points.

As the second half of the 2021 season unfolds, and the tense title fight between Red Bull and Mercedes rages on, the fight for third in the championship will continue as well, with perhaps less animosity but just as much uncertainty. Either McLaren or Ferrari could easily come out on top, a true testament to the comeback Ferrari has made since last year. 

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