It’s safe to say that the past four months in Formula One have been full of unexpected twists and turns, as Mercedes’ rule at the top has been truly put to the test. Amrit Virdi explores the 2021 Grand Prix so far up to Hungary, and how the crashes, penalties and driver drama has impacted the standings.
Million-dollar crashes and wheel-to-wheel racing between the world’s best racing drivers have defined F1’s 2021 season. As we head into the sport’s ‘summer shutdown’, now seems like a time to reflect on the past 11 races, where we have seen reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton be truly challenged by a real competitor, and where the battle in the midfield has ramped up a notch.
As of now, the gap between the two is extremely close, with Mercedes only 12 points ahead of Red Bull and Verstappen merely 8 points behind Hamilton.
If it wasn’t emphasised enough in Netflix’s motorsport docuseries Formula One: Drive To Survive, the intensity between Red Bull Racing and Mercedes’ battle for the number one spot in the constructer’s championship is ever-growing, and right now may be where it is at its peak. For the past 7 years, Mercedes have been at the top of both the Constructors and Drivers championships, but 2021 marked the year where Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing (briefly) overtook the world champions in both rankings, maintaining this position until the most recent race, the Hungarian Grand Prix. As of now, the gap between the two is extremely close, with Mercedes only 12 points ahead of Red Bull and Verstappen merely 8 points behind Hamilton.
What led to such a close championship? It all began with Verstappen and Red Bull’s extreme pace being evident since the first race in Bahrain – it seems that Mercedes have been struggling to keep up. With Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas also retiring from three races so far this season, points are slipping through the net; McLaren’s Lando Norris is now third place in the rankings, breaking the pattern of Mercedes and Red Bull dominating the podium with three of his own so far.
Such intensity has led to drama on track, with the British Grand Prix having to be red flagged in the opening lap as Verstappen and Hamilton collided, making Verstappen DNF and needing medical assistance after suffering a 51G impact, which led to $1.8 million damage to the Dutch driver’s car. Hamilton went on to win the race after a mistake from Bottas made Verstappen and four other top team drivers DNF, making Mercedes’ regain their lead and hold it after a thrilling race in Hungary saw Hamilton finish second. Yet while their fleeting top spot may be compromised, Red Bull do seem to have a great ‘formula’ together this season, as their employment of Sergio Perez seems to have been a great fit for the team – he has worked impeccably well with Max to keep the team at the top.
Tension found at the top is not amiss in the midfield either; Williams in their desperate battle for points have found success, with Nicholas Latifi and George Russell scoring 10 points for the independent team in the last race before the break, with rumoured 2022 Mercedes driver Russell breaking down in tears. This isn’t a surprise as Russell was so close to points at Imola in April, but a high-speed crash with Bottas led to the points being swapped for million-dollar damage to the car. If anything, the season so far has evidenced that Russell would be a great fit for Mercedes next year.
Haas and Alfa Romeo are two other midfield teams which seem to have been playing quietly in the background this year. With Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin yet to score a point for Haas this season, but seemingly working better together each race, and Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen ploughing for a point each week, it will be interesting to see whether these teams will move up the rankings in the second half of the season.
Daniel Ricciardo is still getting used to the McLaren – time will tell if the second half of the season will bring more luck for the Australian driver.
Elsewhere in the midfield, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, after a disappointing and heart-breaking loss of pole position in Monaco due to an unprecedented car issue, has shown a solid performance this season, even gaining a podium place at Silverstone. Teammate Carlos Sainz has been a great addition to the team also, as both drivers occupy 6th and 7th in the championship, with Ferrari being third overall, level with McLaren. However, star driver Lando Norris over at McLaren – their main competitor – has put in an impeccable performance, scoring points at every race this season until his unfortunate DNF at Hungary. Yet he still is third in the championship and is arguably the reason that McLaren is fourth in constructors and level with Ferrari, as his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo is still getting used to the McLaren – time will tell if the second half of the season will bring more luck for the Australian driver.
A little less drama free but more consistent, Alpine have been blissfully working hard to maintain their standing, which paid off as Esteban Ocon secured his first Grand Prix win in Hungary, with Fernando Alonso scoring multiple points for the team upon his comeback to F1. Similarly, former world champion Sebastian Vettel has been working well with Lance Stroll at Aston Martin, yet the team will of no doubt be disheartened at the disqualification given to Vettel in Hungary, forcing him to sacrifice his second place due to fuel issues.
Pierre Gasly over at Alpha Tauri, following his Red Bull demotion, has also been putting in a great performance, matching Ricciardo in the rankings as he has exerted the most out of the Alpha Tauri in an effort to make his way back to Red Bull. And Yuki Tsunoda, aside from the excessive swearing, has gone up and up in the rankings each week; the rookie seems to be easing into the world of F1, as the team are now behind Ferrari in the Constructors championship.
After a dramatic start to the season has made midfield teams come out of the woodwork with some impressive racing and has given us a true battle at the top of the rankings, the second half of this year’s racing couldn’t come sooner. It really is one of the most exciting and unpredictable times in motorsport, and only time will tell whether Max Verstappen will win Red Bull’s first championship in the hybrid era.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.