2021 The season so far: Driver Rankings

Written post 2021 Azerbaijan GP

Using my mathematical model, a driver ranking can be achieved by removing the effects of different cars. As a basic introduction to how it works, drivers are compared to their teammates across their careers to give an expected level of performance, and then adjustments are made for discrepancies between the expected level and the actual points scored in 2021 so far.

Due to the fact that both Haas drivers are rookies, there is no way to properly rank them. In a previous post I suggested a system whereby Schumacher’s level was equal to Tsunoda’s. Under this system Mazepin would be dead last, whereas Schumacher would obviously be equal to Tsunoda. Note that as drivers are only compared to their teammate, if one teammate is below expectations, the other must be above expectations. Finally, the emoji score dictates whether a driver is doing better than the model’s expectations, about right, or worse than the model’s predictions.

18) Yuki Tsunoda (N/A)

After a strong debut, Tsunoda has struggled for consistency. This is understandable given his rookie status, but as the year goes on Red Bull will be looking for more regular points finishes. He’s currently the worst ranked driver on the grid, but there’s clearly potential there.

17) Daniel Ricciardo 👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽

Whilst Ricciardo has been a consistent points scorer, there’s no doubt he will be disappointed by the deficit to his teammate Norris. His switch to McLaren has yet to really pay off, but he can perhaps find comfort in the fact that he still has more championship points than both Alpine drivers combined.

16) Kimi Räikkönen 👌🏽

Despite his low ranking, the model thinks Räikkönen is doing what is expected for someone of his ability and age. Kimi is a safe pair of hands that can be relied upon to bring the car home, and he scored in his point of the year in a chaotic Baku race.

15) Valterri Bottas 👎🏽👎🏽

No driver has scored more DNFs than Bottas so far, which have artificially lowered his ranking somewhat. Although a championship challenge appears to have escaped him again, his 3 podiums (only 1 fewer than Hamilton has managed) suggest that his form is not as bad as it seems if/when he can get the car to work properly.

14) Antonio Giovanazzi 👌🏽

Like his teammate, Alfa Romeo are probably satisfied with Giovanazzi’s performances. Given how close the battle between Alfa Romeo and Williams appears, the single point secured at Monaco may prove to be significant.

13) Lance Stroll 👌🏽

Many people assume that Stroll’s place on the grid is a guaranteed, given his father’s ties to the team. However, there’s no doubt that he’s earnt his place so far this year, and has kept his illustrious teammate honest for the first few races at least.

12) Pierre Gasly (N/A)

Given he’s facing a rookie, Gasly’s score is effectively an assumption based on his previous results. Given this includes his disappointing Red Bull spell, he (and Tsunoda too) is probably somewhat underrated. Nevertheless, he will be more than happy with his performances relative to teammate Tsunoda.

11) Sergio Pérez 👌🏽

Pérez showed flashes of pace in the first 5 races, but wasn’t able to string a good result together. His victory in Baku caused him to shoot up the rankings from 17th place, and was deserved after a strong race. However, if Verstappen’s tyre had held together, Pérez would have been 68 (or possibly 69) points behind his teammate in just 6 races. His victory has shown he can do more than Gasly or Albon could, but he still needs to show he can do it consistently.

10) Nicholas Latifi 👎🏽

As stated in my 2020 review, Latifi is almost certainly overrated by the model due to stronger race results than Russell last year. This situation is steadily being corrected for in 2021, but Latifi can still be satisfied with his performances so far.

9) Esteban Ocon 👍🏽

Given that Ocon has never outscored a teammate over a season, his performances against Alonso have been impressive. It’s also to his credit that he’s still performing strongly with a car that has gone backwards from last year, and he can be considered unfortunate to be behind Alonso in the standings.

8) Fernando Alonso 👎🏽

There’s no doubt that Alonso had a tough start to the year. The car was disappointing, and by and large he’s been lagging behind his teammate too. It’s clear that several drivers in new teams have struggled to adapt, and he will be hoping that his form in Baku can translate to future races.

7) Sebastian Vettel 👌🏽

It took Vettel a few races to feel comfortable in his new environment, but things seem to be moving in the right direction. His second place in Baku was somewhat fortunate, but he executed the strategy well and is looking more and more like the Sebastian of old.

6) George Russell 👍🏽

Russell has begun 2021 as he was in 2020: faster than his teammate but lacking in actual race results. The loss of a potential points finish in Imola will have been gutting, but he’s shown he’s mentally strong enough to bounce back, and it is reasonably likely that another opportunity will come knocking before the season’s end.

5) Carlos Sainz 👍🏽

Before Monaco, Sainz’s performances relative to Leclerc were almost exactly in line with what the model predicted before the start of the year. Given that every other driver who changed team was underperforming, it’s actually quite the achievement. His podium at Monaco has boosted him further, and the evidence from this year so far is that both Sainz and Norris were underrated when they were McLaren teammates.

4) Lando Norris 👍🏽👍🏽

Lando signed a new McLaren contract fairly recently, and the arrangement confirms that the team and driver have increasing confidence in each other. He’s already outscored his total from 2019, and is scoring point at about twice the rate he averaged last year too. A top class start to the year from the young Brit.

3) Charles Leclerc 👎🏽

Before his Monaco crash, Leclerc was the highest rated driver of the year. His career so far has been a mixture of fantastic speed and the occasional costly mistake, and it’s clear that he’s still ironing out the inconsistencies. However, he’s still ahead of his teammate in the standings and already has several outstanding performances in 2021.

2) Max Verstappen 👌🏽

Whilst there’s only been two wins for far, Verstappen has been incredibly consistent. He was ranked #1 going into the Azerbaijan GP, and has relished the chance to fight for the title on equal terms. Both Verstappen and Red Bull are currently at the top of their game, and there’s no reason that Verstappen cannot reclaim the top spot if he keeps hit his form up.

1) Lewis Hamilton 👍🏽

Hamilton has a reputation for starting the season slowly, so his early domination of Bottas in the points standings is actually a bit atypical. He’s probably slightly overrated, given that 2 disappointing results in Monaco and Azerbaijan barely changed his ranking, but he’s clearly able to get significantly more out of the car than his teammate.

Conclusions

Firstly, it’s great to see the 2 title contenders ranked right at the top. There’s nothing inherently in the model that requires this, as it removed the effects of the different cars (I’ll be posting a 2021 constructors ranking soon).

Secondly, there’s a general perception that drivers in new teams have struggled to adapt. The model mostly agreed with this in the first few races, but now the only obvious underperformance is from Ricciardo.

Lastly, the model takes time to sort out bumps in the road, and freak results in the first few races can shift things around significantly. I’ll be updating this mid season to see if drivers have moved up or down.

6 thoughts on “2021 The season so far: Driver Rankings

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