Our Writers Pick their top 3 drivers of the season so far
Written By: Danny Jones, Logan Borland, Morgan Holiday, Evan Veer, Michael Edwards, Janvi Unni, Megan Teahan
Edited by: Harshi Vashee
As F1 truly gets into the 2nd half of the season, some of our writers were asked for their top 3 drivers of the 2021 season and these are what they came up with. (Written prior to the Dutch GP)
Who is your 3rd best driver of the season so far, and why?
DJ: 3rd Place was a toss-up between Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, but I’m giving Sainz the place. Out of the 4 drivers who switched teams, Sainz has been the most successful in my mind, particularly compared to the struggles of Perez and Ricciardo. His drive in Monaco was calm and collected, giving Ferrari a well-earned podium after Leclerc’s heartbreak, followed by another podium in Hungary, after Vettel’s disqualification. Sainz drove well in the Austrian rounds, after 2 sub-par qualifying performances, and on the whole, has been able to match and beat Leclerc on a consistent basis, despite Leclerc being seen as one of the stars of the sport, and the fact it is his first season with the Maranello outfit.
LB: Lewis Hamilton. Lewis is the current championship leader and is looking for his record breaking 8th title and he has had an okay start to the year with 4 wins and podiums in 8 races. However his season hasn’t been without controversy and issues like taking Verstappen out at Silverstone and his ‘magic button’ moment in Baku as well as him crashing in Imola and having to come back through the field. But he has had some races where he has driven perfectly and some where he was battling all the way through. Lewis’s best race was Spain where he and his team made an amazing strategy call that helped him get the win.
MH: Fernando Alonso – While many people were skeptical that Alonso’s return to F1 would be fruitful in any way, it’s hard to deny that he’s still got it. His season did not get off to the best start, with only five points in the first five rounds. As the season progressed however, his performances improved. It’s clear the Alpine isn’t one of the better cars on the grid, and both Alonso and his teammate Esteban Ocon have had a difficult time wrestling results out of it. The first moment of real Alonso brilliance in 2021 wasn’t until the British Grand Prix, when, after qualifying 11th, he made his way up to 7th in F1’s first ever Sprint Qualifying session. The next round was in Hungary, and the Alonso of old returned in full force, holding Hamilton off for multiple laps in a much slower car to allow his teammate to eventually take the win. His defensive efforts were more impressive than anything we’ve seen from anyone in recent years, and given Alonso’s poor performance in his later years at Mclaren and subsequent two year break from the sport, warrant him a spot in the most impressive drivers of the season thus far.
EV: Especially after the past few races, George Russell really can’t miss out on my top 3. From his first Q3 appearance in his Williams at Austria and a fantastic battle with F1 legend Fernando Alonso to a crazy race at Hungary where he scored his first points for Williams while simultaneously proving his worth as a team player by telling the team to prioritize Latifi is necessary, followed by a jaw-dropping second place in the pouring rain at Spa, with the washed out race resulting in him getting his first podium in a car that should arguably be fighting for 14th place in most races.
After everything that has happened to George, from his disastrous series of pit stops and tyre problems at Sakhir last year to his car failing whenever George seemed to be in reach of points like it did at Styria, these results have, in my opinion, given him the redemption he needed to close off his chapter at Williams and make the step up to Mercedes for next season.
ME: The 3rd placed driver I believe to have stood out for me this year is one of the rookies. Carrying the Schumacher name isn’t something that comes with great ease especially when you’re the son of 7-time world champion, Michael Schumacher! To add to this, being put into a car that is not going to upgrade at all during the year as they focus on 2022 also adds pressure to pull a result against teams that are adding a few upgrades. Mick has had a history of struggling to find his feet in a new series as a rookie looking back at his F2 and F3 careers. Although, his debut season is showing that, that pattern may discontinue as he has performed very well in races and even put the Haas car in Q2, albeit putting the car in the wall shortly after but he managed to drag a HAAS into the top 15 when the cars are at their quickest.
JU: Fernando Alonso. At the start of the season, no one thought Fernando Alosno would have much success in his return to Formula One. But he’s proved that he’s still got what it takes to drive at the pinnacle of motorsport. After struggling a little in the first few races of the season, he’s put up very consistent performances since Baku, finishing in the points in every single race and putting up a good fight in Hungary to finish P4, proving to us all that age is merely a number.
MT: Pierre Gasly. I personally think Pierre Gasly is still one of the most underrated drivers in Formula 1. His days racing for Red Bull really made fans of the sport think he did not deserve a seat in Formula 1 at all. Despite only driving an Alpha Tauri, Gasly has managed three podiums including his maiden win at Monza which I think shocked everyone in the motorsport world. Gasly drove a stunning and faultless race at Monza and left everyone thinking how underrated he truly was and still is. Gasly’s qualifying pace this year has been phenomenal on average qualifying 6th for the majority of the 12 rounds that have taken place. Gasly really is the best of the rest on the grid. If given a chance to race in a top team (again), I think he will succeed massively and even be a world champion.
Who is your 2nd best driver of the season so far, and why?
DJ: The top 2 positions were an easy choice for me, Lando Norris was an obvious candidate. Norris was expected to be matched by the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren, but his stellar form in 2021 has somewhat humiliated Ricciardo, and boosted Norris’ reputation as a driver at the same time. Norris has been incredibly consistent, with his only finishes outside the top 5 being in Spain, and his retirement in Hungary. This consistency has allowed him to pick up points when his rivals have struggled, which hugely contributed to his Imola and Monaco podiums. Undoubtedly, Norris’ star moment of the season was at the Austrian GP, coming remarkably close to a 1st pole lap, before a stellar drive meant he finished 3rd, after battling the Mercedes all race long, and is proving himself to be one of the best around.
LB: Lando Norris. Lando has been driving excellently so far getting three podiums, top five finishes in all but two races and points in all but one race due to being taken out on the first lap in Hungary. Lando has also out performed his much more experienced teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, by a mile and is currently P3 in the drivers standings ahead of a Red bull and a Mercedes and also helping McLaren in their battle for P3 in the constructors with these performances. This is definitely his best season so far in his F1 career and it seems like he can be a future world champion. His best race was definitely Austria as he had an amazing qualifying and was battling the Mercedes.
MH: Pierre Gasly – P9 in the driver’s standings isn’t reflective of an impressive season so far for Gasly, in fact with the AlphaTauri being arguably the fifth fastest car on the grid, he’s exactly where you would expect him to be. But a run of bad luck has hampered Gasly’s 2021 thus far, and barring several collisions and mechanical problems outside his control, he’s been one of the standout performers of the first half of the season. Realistically, the AlphaTauri doesn’t have the pace to be qualifying in the top six consistently, and yet Gasly makes recurring appearances there anyways. In fact, P6 is his most frequent qualifying place so far, with 4 occurrences. He also scored a podium in Baku after qualifying P4, which can’t be ignored. But really his qualifying statistics are what make Pierre Gasly one of the most impressive drivers of the first half of 2021.
EV: Max Verstappen. Great pace and consistency all season round combined with little to no serious mistakes lands Max a spot on my list. He might not be leading the championship now, but that certainly isn’t because his performances have been lacking but rather a series of unfortunate crashes, from tyre failure to being hit in the first lap crash at Hungary, all of which cost him a big load of points while arguably the only mistake he made was at Silverstone, although Lewis is often given a significantly larger part of the blame there. But bad luck aside, Max has been fighting for the win in every race excluding those where luck wasn’t on his side, with him qualifying within the top 3 every single race, and I’m sure this streak isn’t going to end anytime soon.
ME: Secondly, is a familiar face in the world of Formula 1 that has been in and around the paddock since 2001. Correct, it’s Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard racing for the newly rebranded Alpine F1 Team, formerly known as Renault. Many fans thought that his highly anticipated return would be quickly demoralised by him struggling to cope with the new wave of drivers and this year’s car but he has backed up the saying, “form is temporary, class is permanent.” Although his teammate, Esteban Ocon, claimed a well fought victory in Hungary, Fernando was seen to be assisting his french companion by holding off a quick Sir Lewis Hamilton, that without the Alonso defending masterclass, would’ve caught up to the Alpine youngster and overtaken him. It was more than Hungary though that Alonso has impressed this year as he has finished in the points in 7 other races as well as Budapest.
JU: Pierre Gasly. After a fairly good 2020 season, Pierre Gasly has come back stronger in 2021, with consistent performances in racing as well as in qualifying. The AlphaTauri may not be the best midfield car, but Gasly has taken it to Q3 consistently and has scored points in 8 out of the first 10 races of this season, as well as a P3 finish in Baku. So far, he hasn’t been out-qualified by his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda and has 32 more points than him.
MT: Sebastian Vettel. Personally, when Vettel was announced to not be resigning with Ferrari, I thought he would retire. When he was rumoured to replace Perez at Racing Point (Aston Martin), I thought it was another silly season rumour and he would not even entertain the move let alone actually be putting in outstanding drives for the team since the season started. Vettel seems to have had a complete turnaround in comparison to his last season with Ferrari. The four-time world champion is a reborn driver at Aston Martin. So far this season, Vettel has managed to put the midfield team on the podium twice at Hungary (later disqualified due to insufficient fuel) and Baku. While apart from the two podiums Vettel’s performances have been up and down, I can almost guarantee we will see the German driver on the podium more than once again this year.
Who is your best driver of the season so far, and why?
DJ: Max Verstappen has shown his undeniable talent for years in F1, but the year his machinery has supported his talent, he has provoked a title battle to remember. Although minor mistakes have cost him points, like his off-track pass in Bahrain, or his track limits violations in Portugal, Verstappen’s overall performances have been incredible. His stunning start in Imola, before a calm drive, when others faltered was proof of his ability. He was unfortunate to lose the win in Spain, to Mercedes’ strategy, but bounced back with 4 wins in 5 races, including a prestigious Monaco victory and 2 dominant victories in Austria. His tyre failure in Baku, the collision at Silverstone (where the stewards deemed Hamilton at fault), and his innocent role in the collision at Hungary have cost him over 50 points in the championship. If it weren’t for these, Verstappen would have likely finished 1st or 2nd in every race, and even though he’s behind in the championship, his incredible consistency and high level of performance means that he is worthy of the No.1 spot.
LB: Max Verstappen. Max has performed extremely well in the first half of the season with 5 wins and podiums in 8 races so far. He could be leading the championship right now but has had some bad luck, his tyre blowout in Baku and the incidents at Silverstone and in Hungary, none of which were his fault and he has been faultless in the first part of the season and very well could be the champion if he keeps up this form in the second part of the year. These reasons all help prove he is very deserving of being the best driver so far and he will be exciting to watch for the rest of this season and many more to come. His best race was Styria where Max dominated all weekend long.
MH: Lando Norris – The best, all encompassing word to describe Lando Norris’ 2021 season so far is flawless. The young Brit has long been subject to critique over whether or not he’s really worth an F1 seat, despite performing well as a general rule. However, it’s no longer deniable that Norris is the real deal, given his excellent run of form in the first half of this F1 season. As Daniel Ricciardo came into Mclaren in 2021, it was easy to bet that Norris would be given a run for his money by the Aussie, and yet Ricciardo’s troubles at the team have only enhanced Norris’ performance. Up until Hungary, he held the record of the longest current points streak in F1 with 15 races. With that record ruined by Turn 1 chaos at the Hungarian Grand Prix, he still managed to obtain the record of the longest points streak of any Mclaren driver in history. Only finishing outside the top five once in the first half of the 2021 season earns Norris the most impressive driver so far, easily.
EV: Lando is by far the easiest choice here for me- from his insane consistency throughout the season with him bringing the fight to both Mercedes drivers at Austria and constantly setting the benchmark for the ‘best of the rest.’ Together with this stunning pace he has proven to be very consistent as well, making no significant mistake until his crash in this weekend’s qualifying at Spa, and he now finds himself in 3rd in the driver’s standings, beating both Mercedes’ and Red Bull’s second drivers in a car that is significantly slower most of the time.
All this comes off the back of a good 2020 season where he took his career first podium and being up there with his more experienced teammate over the whole season. Now, with F1 star Daniel Ricciardo joining the team it seems Lando has taken up his role as team leader, with Daniel struggling to get up to speed in his new team.
ME: The first driver is a young Brit that is in his 3rd year at McLaren, as well as Formula 1, who has got a multiple race winner as a teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. I am of course talking about Lando Norris. Going into this season many fans, myself included, thought that the lead McLaren would be the Honey Badger himself based off of the 10 year experience he had at the pinnacle of motorsport. However, Norris had other ideas and firmly planted himself as the main driver at the papaya orange outfit, scoring 3 podiums at Imola, Monaco and Austria whilst his teammate Danny Ric was still getting to grips with the car.
JU: Coming into this season, most of us expected Lando Norris to be beaten by his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo. But the 21 year old surprised us all with strong performances all through the first half of the season, finishing above P5 in every race barring the Hungarian grand prix, where he was taken out by Valtteri Bottas. Norris currently sits at P3 in the drivers’ standings with 113 points, right below championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
MT: Max Verstappen. Verstappen has so far dominated this season, while he has only won six of the twelve rounds so far, he has provided some amazing on track battles and some tight qualifying sessions. Verstappen has always been subjected to as the “aggressive” driver but by getting his elbows out we have seen some amazing moves on track. Such as the first few corners of the Emilia Grand Prix and Bahrain with two laps to go Verstappen and Hamilton were wheel to wheel for most of the two laps. Verstappen has finally been given a Red Bull package that could very well win the championship this year and Verstappen has shown he is ready to win a world championship with a much calmer demeanour on and off track. While luck has not always been on the side of Red Bull, Verstappen has not let Hamilton out of his sight for very long all season.