• Castor Chan

My 2021 Driver Lineup Rankings

With two months until the start of the 2021 season in Bahrain, most content creators have already shared their thoughts on the 2021 grid. This past silly season led to quite the shake up across most teams, with drivers leaving, swapping teams and even new ones coming onto the grid. But as an opinionated human, here is my take on it and it is a spicy one.


10. Haas - Mick Schumacher

  • Most are hugely excited to see the Schumacher name back in F1, but personally, I wouldn’t expect too much from him in his first year. He spent his first years of F3 and F2 in 12th before winning in his second year, and in a Haas this is probably going to be a year of him gaining a bit of experience. We can’t wait to see him shine in a better team though, with Mattia Binotto (current Scuderia Ferrari team principal) stating “there are the premises to see Mick in red in 2023.” Until then, Schumacher will be able to have a season to test the waters without being thrust into the spotlight and pressures of a team like Alex Albon, whose less than stellar past season was a result of what many think was him being put into Red Bull too soon. Note: the Haas lineup could probably score a bit higher if Schumacher was the only driver, but given his track record of shining in the second season this is still reasonable.


9. Williams - George Russell and Nicholas Latifi

  • With a better car, Williams could have been a reasonably solid team. But because of the limited performance of the car in recent years it has been tough to measure Latifi’s skillset. He was last in the drivers’ championship with no points to his name, and partnered with Russell, who gave a superstar effort in the Mercedes during the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, this potentially makes his driving seem more lacklustre. Many think he is there to fund Williams and be a second driver to Russell, but as 2020 was merely his first season in F1, there is still time for Latifi to show what he can do. If Williams can deliver a better car and Latifi shows his skills, perhaps this pairing will rank higher in the 2022 season.


8. Alfa Romeo - Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi

  • Alfa Romeo must have been confident in this pair as they have chosen to retain both for the 2021 season, despite Räikkönen being the oldest on the grid. But the two drivers have put out some solid performances this year, with some fantastic starts and first laps from both to shoot up the standings. (before falling back with the Alfa’s lack of pace against the midfield) They aren’t a terrible pair, but they aren’t the most outstanding duo either. Who knows if this team could have scored higher if they had taken Callum Ilott, who was a strong contender for the Haas seat alongside Schumacher and is currently the test driver for the Scuderia Ferrari team.


7. Alpha Tauri - Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda

  • Alpha Tauri have an exciting new prospect in Tsunoda, who shot through the feeder series with only one year each in F3 and F2 to reach F1 aged 20. Though he is far from Max Verstappen’s 17 years of age in his first race, he will be the youngest on the 2021 grid. Gasly has also come back in leaps and bounds during the past season, and we will be excited to see if he can continue that upwards trajectory this year as well. However, his incredible win in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix was heavily reliant on the Mercedes drivers not being on form, with Valterri Bottas having issues and Lewis Hamilton a 10 second penalty, so all eyes will be on Gasly to put out another solid performance as who many view to be Alpha Tauri’s current first driver. This seems like a solid lineup, but again, I personally don’t expect Tsunoda to deliver a championship winning performance right off the bat.


6. Alpine - Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon

  • Let’s face it, there is a lot of young talent coming through the feeder series, and Alonso is most certainly getting a little old for the sport. With all the “young driver” memes out of the way, there is no denying that he is a talented driver, but the question here is can he acclimatise into the paddock again this quickly? He might have been away from F1 for two years, but with his experience and determination the expectations are high. Ocon also spent time away from F1 during the 2019 season, and had a relatively dull season next to Daniel Ricciardo, finishing 12th against the Aussie’s 5th. But Ricciardo is a race winner, and seemed to have found his groove in Renault in his second season with them. If Ocon can get on the same path as his former teammate did, there is potential in him to grow. One more issue with this lineup is each drivers’ volatility, with both having records of disagreements within the paddock, but only time will reveal the dynamics between the pair. My prediction is Alonso would have a harder time in 2021, and without Riccardo to haul in the points Alpine will drop slightly.


5. Mercedes - Valterri Bottas

  • With half a lineup Mercedes can’t possibly rank too high. With a car like the Mercedes engineers have crafted and how Lewis Hamilton has performed in it, the expectations are sky high for anyone who steps in the car. This has been a tough season for Bottas, almost being caught up by Verstappen despite having the fastest car, being completely overshadowed by Hamilton and nearly being beaten by Russell in the Sakhir Grand Prix. The success Hamilton has achieved makes Bottas’ performance hard to judge, and his consistency from last year seems to have been lacking. Hamilton has not yet secured his contract (though most are quite certain that he will continue on with the team) so as of now the spot remains open. With Russell being contracted by Williams still there is not much chance of moving him up, so the replacement role would potentially fall to Stoffel Vandoorne, the current Mercedes reserve and Formula E racer. But until a contract gets signed for a second driver, Mercedes’ 2021 results are still up in the air. (However likely it is to be Hamilton’s seat)

4. McLaren - Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo

  • While they ended up clinching 3rd in the constructors’ championship in Abu Dhabi, McLaren have a new driver in Ricciardo. McLaren have had their sights set on Ricciardo for a while now, hoping to sign him in 2018 before the driver went to Renault instead. The race winner seems to be a good prospect for the team as McLaren have slowly fought their way to the front of the midfield. Norris has also seen great improvement since his rookie year, yet there are doubts over whether he is championship material or simply a very good driver. Nevertheless he is one to look out for, so if he keeps growing as he did and with both drivers’ humorous personality off track, this could be a stellar pair that the media will again rave over. Yet with Norris looking to lead the team more in 2021 with his 2 years of McLaren experience against Ricciardo’s dominance in Renault and overall years of experience in F1, this could give way to a potential clash. The uncertainty over the extent of Norris’ performance and a potential need for a year to let Ricciardo settle in puts McLaren solidly near the upper middle of the rankings.


3. Aston Martin - Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll

  • This might seem a little hopeful, but this lineup has much potential in my opinion. Though inconsistent next to Sergio Perez and seen to be a driver on the grid because of money, Stroll has achieved some impressive feats last season. From his podiums in Monza and Bahrain to a shock pole in Turkey where many simply could not find the traction, he also had a good first half to the season before it went downhill after Monza. If Stroll can step up and iron out those inconsistencies, he could show that he is more than just a pay driver in the sport. Vettel is a 4-time world champion, and clearly has a huge amount of experience to bring to Aston Martin. He offers both driving talent and intelligence to the team, so this could prove invaluable if Aston Martin want to take 3rd place from McLaren. Aston Martin have shown good pace, and this could allow Vettel to rise up the standings again after his disastrous last season with the SF1000. Both drivers have a lot to prove, and if the Aston Martins have better reliability than last year this could be a stunning lineup in my point of view.

2. Ferrari - Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.

  • Ferrari noticeably struggled in 2020, and only achieved 3 podiums with 0 wins. But they are looking to be back on top, with Binotto hoping that “third is not fully impossible.” Leclerc has been widely considered as Ferrari’s new shining star, and seems to have outperformed the frankly disastrous SF1000. His talent was made clear against the team’s struggles, in particular with qualifying, where he pushed the Ferrari into Q3 11 times. (an average position of 8th compared to former teammate Sebastian Vettel’s 12th) New teammate Sainz Jr also had an average qualifying position of 8th, albeit in the better McLaren which went on to claim 3rd in the constructors’ championship. But Sainz Jr has blossomed during his McLaren career, narrowly edging out Lando Norris by 8 points in terms of drivers’ standings. The team’s success hinges on how much the car improves from last year, but this lineup could bode some incredible results with Sainz’ levelheaded driving and years of experience and Leclerc’s pace and championship potential.


1. Red Bull - Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen

  • Some think Verstappen will be tied to Red Bull until the end of his career, and I’m inclined to agree. Unless Mercedes offer Verstappen the clear number one spot, there is no way he is moving from his seat as Red Bull’s young hope and the driver that they are building the car around. Of course, he is there because he is ruthlessly talented on track, and even with the RB16 being notoriously difficult to handle, he was only a mere 9 points behind Mercedes driver Bottas. If Verstappen had suffered less DNFs (with the driver somehow having the worst run in Italy) he would have easily caught up to Bottas. Red Bull has had a notorious history of going through second drivers, with Verstappen having 3 different partners (and getting his 4th) in his 5 seasons at Red Bull. Perez put in some incredible performances in 2020 to emerge 4th 6 points clear of Ricciardo, despite missing 2 races from contracting COVID and suffering some car reliability issues. He also has 9 years of F1 experience to balance out Verstappen’s youth, which could be what led to Albon’s downfall. Perez will have a short timeframe to show that he can handle the Red Bull car and stand up to the Dutchman, but if he does this is a lineup that could allow Red Bull to run away with the championship.


Of course, only time will tell if these team lineups will work well, but it will certainly be an exciting season to watch.

 

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