until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Our stars of the 2021 F1 season so far

by Matt Beer
6 min read

When we canvassed our writers’ opinions on the stars of the 2021 Formula 1 season so far – with the emphasis on which drivers and teams had impressed beyond expectations – we quickly hit a snag.

Everyone said Lando Norris.

Edd Straw got in there first, so he addresses the McLaren star’s breakthrough campaign below. And it didn’t take our writers long at all to come up with other suggestions for people who’ve been overdelivering in the first half of an epic season that resumes next weekend.

It’s not an exhaustive list of every team and driver who’s impressed. But these are the five that shot to the top of our minds when we had the debate on who’s caught our eye most. Or rather, Norris and then the next four.

Lando Norris

Lando Norris

Lando Norris came into 2021 with all sorts of question marks hanging over him.

His first two seasons in F1 had been good, with his peaks outstanding, but it was clear he needed to add greater consistency to his game. He also had the pressure of a superstar team-mate arriving in Daniel Ricciardo.

But in the first 11 races of this season, Norris has answered every single question positively and ticked every box and been not only the standout driver in F1’s midfield pack, but arguably in the whole field.

But for Valtteri Bottas’s bulldozer act at the Hungaroring start, Norris would have been the only driver with a 100% scoring record. He’s been the lead non-Red Bull/Mercedes driver at the finish in seven races and picked up a trio of podium finishes.

The only minor criticism was that early in the season qualifying wasn’t always as strong as it could have been, but even then he’s still generally put the car well up the grid and recovered well in races when needed.

Norris came into 2021 having proved he was a good grand prix driver. But during the first 11 races of the season, he’s shown he can be something even better than that, with some understandably touting him as a potential world champion. And he’s secured a long-term future at upwardly-mobile McLaren too.

Given he still had plenty to prove, not just to the outside world but also himself, that makes Norris an easy call as the star of the 2021 season so far. – Edd Straw


Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri French Grand Prix 2021

Of course the star of the season is Norris, it’s not even a close-run thing.

But if I were to broaden out the question and include also teams, I could make a good case for AlphaTauri.

It’s easy to forget that this is still a tiny little team and yes its form has been aided by Honda’s demon 2021 power unit, but to have produced a car which has qualified on average just 0.63s slower than the identically-powered Red Bull of the senior team, the fastest car in the field, is remarkable.

On several occasions the little Tauri has been able to mix it with McLaren and Ferrari, and it has usually been faster than Alpine, all teams of much greater resource.

Pierre Gasly has integrated himself perfectly with the team and his great personal performances keep the whole operation nicely on the boil.

Had he not been forced to go straight on at Turn 1 in Hungary to avoid the chaos, there’s every chance he’d have added to his Monza victory of last year. – Mark Hughes

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen

It would be difficult to begrudge Lewis Hamilton the title if he tops the standings at the end of the year but at this stage of the season I think the points table is telling a bit of a fib.

Hamilton is the championship leader but he hasn’t had as good a season as Max Verstappen has.

In assessing where Verstappen has dropped points this season the big losses are from a blown tyre in Azerbaijan, the controversial clash with Hamilton in Britain, and the first-corner crash caused by Bottas in Hungary. Two of those were emphatically not Verstappen’s fault. One was deemed predominantly not his fault.

Essentially, award Hamilton and Verstappen the points they would have without external factors getting in the way and Verstappen would lead the championship. By a pretty nice margin, too.

He has adjusted to being in a title fight extremely well and driven at a very high level. This has not been a perfect season, but no driver – even Norris! – can lay claim to that. – Scott Mitchell

Fernando Alonso

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

Norris may have rightly stolen the headlines for his performances this season, but Fernando Alonso has also stood out from the crowd.

Many drivers have previously failed to execute a competitive second stint in F1 and so it was inevitable the same questions would be asked of Alonso upon his return.

Admittedly, Alonso’s outright speed was slightly lacking at the start of the season, but as the year has progressed so too has his single lap pace.

It’s also abundantly clear that Alonso hasn’t lost a single ounce of his racecraft, which was eloquently demonstrated in the Hungarian Grand Prix by holding Hamilton at bay for 10 laps.

There are not many other drivers in a midfield car, if any, that would have held Hamilton off for so long and the fact that Alonso has finished each of the last six races in the points, a feat which no other driver on the grid has achieved, shows his racing mentality is just as sharp as ever.

He might still need to find that final tenth over a single lap, but Alonso is demonstrating that he still has the magic of old and, given a competitive car, is just as much a force as he once was. – Rob Hansford

Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc has qualified the not exactly elite level 2020 and ’21 Ferraris in some seemingly impossible places. He even nearly won the British Grand Prix a month ago. He toppled four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel pretty much as soon as he arrived at Ferrari with just one year of F1 experience behind him. Leclerc is as crucial to Ferrari’s F1 hopes in the coming seasons as Verstappen is to Red Bull and Hamilton is to Mercedes.

And yet Sainz is the leading Ferrari driver in the world championship right now.

OK, that’s a misleading statistic and it would be wrong to say that Sainz has outperformed Leclerc overall. Whose misfortune occurred where has had quite a big effect on this intra-team points battle.

But given Leclerc’s sheer talent level and how well established he is at Ferrari, plus the difficulties everyone moving teams in the odd 2020-into-2021 circumstances has encountered, for Sainz to be remotely near Leclerc in the standings is spectacular. At least as impressive as what Norris is doing, I reckon.

When Leclerc has over-reached or not nailed the set-up, Sainz has been right there to carry Ferrari honour. Where F1’s current title rivals have doubts over their second drivers, Ferrari can continue its resurgence confident that it’s not lacking anything in either cockpit. – Matt Beer

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks