until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

The other F1 2021 battles still to be resolved

by Matt Beer
8 min read

All eyes will be on Max Verstappen/Red Bull vs Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes for the 2021 Formula 1 world championship in the deciding pair of grands prix over the next two weekends.

But in the wake of that epic tussle are plenty of other lower-key battles that must be settled in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi – and they’re not all obvious from the points tables.

Ferrari vs McLaren

Third in constructors’
Ferrari: 297.5 / McLaren: 258

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Qualifying Day Istanbul, Turkey

With 39.5 points between them in Ferrari’s favour, this fight is pretty much settled, even if mathematically still open.

That said, McLaren scored 44 points at Monza with a 1-2 and fastest lap. It would seem unlikely McLaren could repeat such form again this season, but the layout of the Jeddah track does shout ‘McLaren’ more than ‘Ferrari’.

The MCL35M is at its best where the corners are fast and the straights long – which is the diametric opposite of the Ferrari, even though the latter has been a heavy and consistent points scorer since getting its upgraded power unit at Sochi and Istanbul.

The Ferrari drivers have delivered performances varying between solid and – in the case of Charles Leclerc sometimes – brilliant. At McLaren Daniel Ricciardo’s on/off form has definitely cost the team a few points even as Lando Norris’ reputation has taken a further step and occasionally transcended the level of the car.

Which Ricciardo we get going into a weekend still can’t be called with certainty, though he has enjoyed a much stronger second half than first and did take that perfectly accomplished Monza victory.

The Abu Dhabi track has elements which would seen to suit McLaren (sector one) and Ferrari (sector three) and one might expect them to be fairly evenly matched there. The numbers and the constructors money are in Ferrari’s favour but a super-strong McLaren weekend in Jeddah would come at a great morale-boosting time. – Mark Hughes

Perez vs Bottas

Third in drivers’
Bottas: 203 / Perez: 190

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Race Day Istanbul, Turkey

This one matters for a few reasons. Each has had a bit of a rollercoaster season so the chance of ending it on a high is important. Chances are they will be playing second fiddle to their team-mates in the final two races so this is the last remaining bit of personal glory up for grabs.

And as the top four cars are so far ahead of anyone else, neither Sergio Perez nor Valtteri Bottas wants to end up with the wooden spoon here…

Their fight might also decide the outcome of the constructors’ championship. Verstappen and Hamilton have been so close all season and it looks like their battle will be determined by a few points.

So whomever of Perez or Bottas sneaks into third could score the points that tip the balance in favour of their team as well.

Ah, and of course there’s the massive accolade of joining Verstappen and Hamilton at the end-of-season FIA prizegiving gala.

What more motivation could Bottas and Perez desire? – Scott Mitchell

Best of the rest driver

5th in drivers’
Norris: 153 / Leclerc: 152 / Sainz: 145.5

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix Sprint Day Sao Paulo, Brazil

It’s a fight that the drivers involved will either tell you is important or doesn’t matter at all depending on what mood they are in, or how likely they are to win it!

Being the unofficial Class B champion is a worthy target that every driver outside of Mercedes and Red Bull would have set at the start of the year. Those four cars are in a league of their own more often than not, so ambitions have to be adjusted to suit.

Norris looked set to sweep this fight quite easily but Ferrari’s form has wiped out the decent lead he had. Now he only has a one-point advantage in this battle over Leclerc with Sainz 6.5 points further adrift.

Though the momentum is with the Ferrari drivers, McLaren should be particularly competitive in Saudi Arabia. That means this battle is very much in the balance. – SM

Alpine vs AlphaTauri

5th in constructors’
Alpine: 137 / AlphaTauri: 112

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix Race Day Sao Paulo, Brazil

AlphaTauri has been comfortably the quicker of the two teams fighting for fifth in the constructors’ championship. In fact, on average its qualifying pace puts it right up there with Ferrari and McLaren in the battle for third.

But Alpine has produced the better set of results, albeit disproportionately boosted by two remarkable weekends in Hungary and Qatar where it racked up an astonishing 45% of its points.

It will be a surprise if Pierre Gasly isn’t the best-placed of the four Alpine/AlphaTauri drivers in qualifying in the final two races, but the problem is he is fighting this battle almost single-handedly. While Yuki Tsunoda’s form has improved recently, he’s only contributed two points in the last nine races.

By contrast, Alpine has two strong performers in Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

Given Alpine has a 25-point lead heading into the final two races, it almost has the battle won, but its erratic form combined with the potential for AlphaTauri to pick up double-digit points scores – strong ones if Tsunoda joins the party – means all is not yet lost for the Italian team. – Edd Straw

F1’s first overtaking award

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

A trophy that didn’t exist before 2021 and that, chances are, you forget exists now until the graphics come up at some point during the grand prix or the surrounding coverage.

This one is little more than a money-making exercise thanks to new commercial partner Crypto.com but F1 has at least set the highest possible bar for what counts as an eligible pass, which means it is at least a semi-serious competition not one skewed by things like pitstops.

Fernando Alonso tops the standings with, apparently, 116 overtakes. That’s one more than Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. So these are the three main contenders for the new award.

How will the winner be determined? Well, the rules are clear: Overtakes must happen with both cars on-track. If either driver is in the pitlane, including the entry or pitlane exit, it will not be counted. The two safety car lines will determine the extent of the pitlane area.

F1 will only register passes made by drivers on the same lap as each other, so passing lapped cars will not count.

If a position change occurs because a car retires or goes off while not in battle, or suffers an issue like a puncture or mechanical problem, it will not count as an overtake either.

Position changes under the safety car or in red flag conditions will not be counted.

Game on! – SM

Williams vs Alfa Romeo

8th in constructors’
Williams: 23 / Alfa Romeo: 11

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Qatar Grand Prix Race Day Doha, Qatar

Williams has probably already done enough to be sure of beating Alfa Romeo to eighth place in the constructors’ championship given it has a 12-point advantage. After all, Alfa Romeo has only scored 11 points all season.

But with Williams enduring a difficult run of races recently after what George Russell called its “golden spell”, the door is still very slightly ajar for Alfa Romeo.

Realistically, it will require something unexpected to happen for Alfa to get back in contention. Given it has thrown away a multitude of points shots this season to a variety of different errors, strange circumstances are probably more likely to favour the sharper Williams team.

But with Kimi Raikkonen producing a solid run of form recently, which includes picking up a couple of eighth places in the last six races and Antonio Giovinazzi determined to end his F1 stint on a high, Alfa can’t be entirely counted out and Williams still needs to close out this fight. – ES 

Key intra-team fights

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Brazilian Grand Prix Preparation Day Sao Paulo, Brazil

In terms of championship points in the team-mate battles, there’s probably more attention paid by the outside world than within those teams. If they are not fighting for a title, performances rather than points is the focus. Sure, they’re connected but often only tangentially.

At Alpine Esteban Ocon trails Fernando Alonso by 17 points but has that grand prix victory in Budapest as a great prestige marker.

In terms of performance, generally, Ocon was quicker in the season’s first half but Alonso has been the man in the second as he’s re-found his special groove. Ocon will need to do something spectacular in one of the remaining races to put his stamp on the season within the team.

Carlos Sainz could yet overhaul Leclerc’s points haul (they are currently separated by just 6.5 points) at Ferrari. Leclerc has continued to produce scintillating qualifying laps almost on demand but Sainz has been edging ever-closer and has sometimes found a better way of making the car work. This is a rare highly productive internal competition.

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll are a respective 12th and 13th in the championship, separated by nine points and as such their on-paper competition could go either way.

In reality, Vettel has assumed the team leader status in the way he has given the engineering team its lead, even to the extent of factory processes being changed. Stroll gets in and drives and occasionally does a really nice job. Vettel’s peaks – Monaco and Baku notably – have been absolutely in keeping with his status as a multiple champion. – MH

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