2021 Season Driver Analysis (Summer Break)

What an incredible first half of the season it’s been! Half the grid have made it to the podium, Williams finally scored some points and we have an absolute classic championship battle. But who stood out once the effect of different cars has been discounted? Here each driver is ranked by the mathematical model. The arrows before each time indicate their position change since the last ranking, whilst the hand symbols compare their ranking to what would be expected of a driver of their calibre. As previously, Schumacher and Mazepin are not ranked due to being rookies that are only ranked against each other.

18) ↔️ Yuki Tsunoda (N/A)

Although he’s still ranked bottom of the pile, Tsunoda is very slowly finding his feet in F1. The hype produced after his first race probably did not help matters, but he has been given time away from the spotlight to just focus on racing. Points have subsequently begun to drip in, and a strong result in Hungary may act a springboard. There’s no reason why he won’t improve further with time.

17) ⬇️⬇️⬇️ Antonio Giovanazzi 👌🏽

Giovanazzi has outpaced Räikkönen in qualifying so far, but hasn’t always translated this into race results. Given that Kimi is now well in his 40s and Antonio no longer has the the excuse of inexperience, his current performances are not thought of as particularly impressive. A strong second half may be needed to keep his spot on the grid next year.

16) ↔️ Kimi Räikkönen 👌🏽

Räikkönen’s experience is always an asset, but the model considers his best years behind him. A couple of 10th places is his only reward so far, and you suspect that this year may his last in the sport.

15) ⬆️⬆️ Daniel Ricciardo (👎🏽👎🏽👎🏽)

There is some evidence that Ricciardo is slowly getting to grips with his McLaren car, but he is still consistently a step behind Norris. Whilst his ranking has improved since Azerbaijan, this is mostly due to Norris being seen as a stronger driver (making Ricciardo’s performances less bad by comparison). Questions have been asked about his McLaren move, but even with Ocon’s recent victory he still sits above both Alpines in the championship.

14) ⬆️ Valterri Bottas (👌🏽)

Bottas has been quiet this year, but he has at least amassed a reasonable haul of podiums. On occasions he’s been able to play the #2 role well at Mercedes, but the fact that these moments are the highlight of his outputs (excluding a strong Monaco GP) speak volumes about how unspectacular his season has been. His (predicted) rise up the ranks from the previous rankings is due to finishing more races rather than an improved form, but he’s still the only driver with more than 2 DNFs after misjudging the first corner at Hungary.

13) ↔️ Lance Stroll (👌🏽)

Stroll has done relatively well so far against teammate Vettel. He’s still lacking a big result (his highest finish is 8th), but he’s generally been a consistent operator, particularly in races. His ranking is not far off that of Pérez either, suggesting that Aston Martin’s controversial decision to pick Stroll over the Mexican was probably not too costly.

12) ⬇️ Sergio Pérez (👎🏽)

Just 2 podiums from 11 races is a disappointing return considering the machinery at his disposal. The breakthrough victory at Azerbaijan is fading from memory and he still sits below both Bottas and Norris in the championship standings. It is questionable whether Albon (or Gasly) would have performed better vs Max Verstappen, but the fact is that Pérez is still not consistently fast enough to perform the role he was hired for.

11) ⬆️ Pierre Gasly (N/A)

As noted before, Gasly is facing a rookie teammate, so there’s not much the model can do to assess his performances other than compare to that of previous years. His ranking in the middle of the pack is thus pretty much assured. Qualifying pace suggests he should have delivered more with such a capable car, although he is largely blameless for several of the lost opportunities this year.

10) ⬇️⬇️ Fernando Alonso (👎🏽)

We have begun to see the Alonso of old emerging in the last few races. His feisty defensive driving has been demonstrated several times recently, and he’s had the measure of Ocon more times than not. It may have been 8 long years since his last F1 podium, but he clearly still knows how to race. He also appears to have remained positive through his early season struggles, which is something that could not always be said of his McLaren tenure.

9) ⬇️ Esteban Ocon (👍🏽)

Ocon’s season so far is a prime example of how small shifts in competitiveness can have big effects on results in the tight midfield. A strong start, followed by a quiet period before taking a well deserved victory at Budapest. His future in F1 is finally assured, but the teammate battle with Alonso for supremacy is an interesting subplot in this season that seems to ebb and flow.

8) ⬇️⬇️ George Russell (👍🏽)

Seemingly cursed by bad luck, Russell’s race results were a step ahead of Latifi’s until the last race at Hungary. He can least take heart that he finally got some points for Williams. Unless we have another freak result, his ranking will surely bounce back up again soon. A Mercedes drive for next year would be well deserved.

7) ↔️ Sebastian Vettel (👌🏽)

After a slow start, Vettel is now established as the more competitive Aston Martin driver. Despite this, he has fewer points finishes, suggesting his performances may be more peaky than Stroll’s. Vettel can never be discounted, and he has reaffirmed this year that he can perform at a very high level, even if he still can’t unlock it consistently.

6) ⬆️⬆️⬆️⬆️ Nicolas Latifi (👎🏽)

As the model only considers race results between teammates, Latifi is being propped up his 8th place at Hungary, along with stronger results last year compared to Russell. Nevertheless, his rank is expected to fall over time, as he seems fundamentally unable to extract the same raw speed out of the car as Russell. It would be a surprise to see him in the top 10 at the end of the year.

5) ↔️ Carlos Sainz (👌🏽)

Sainz hasn’t always had the raw pace of teammate LeClerc, but he’s been a consistent points gatherer just as he was at McLaren. The Monaco podium was an obvious highlight, even if he thought a win was possible with better luck in qualifying. His stock has probably never been higher, and Ferrari will feel fully vindicated in their 2021 driver line up choices.

4) ⬇️ Charles LeClerc (👎🏽)

The season so far has been a continuation of what we already knew about LeClerc. He’s extremely fast, but liable to the occasional mistake. His pole in Moanco came to no avail, but he was fantastic at the British Grand Prix, securing 2nd place (and almost victory) despite engine troubles. His “below expectations 👎🏽” is more of a reflection on his exceptional 2020 campaign that the current one.

3) ⬆️ Lando Norris (👍🏽👍🏽👍🏽)

A near perfect season for Norris so far, his “lowly” 3rd place is mostly a reflection of the model trying to balance his performances this year with his quieter (but still impressive) first two campaigns. A transformation from promising rookie to fully formed racer seems almost complete, with a win being the last major unticked box. With his current form, you wouldn’t rule it out before the end of the year.

2) ↔️ Lewis Hamilton (👌🏽)

With a disappointing Monaco, mistakes in Azerbaijan and Imola and a penalty for the Verstappen crash at Silverstone, it’s fair to say that Hamilton’s season has not been perfect. But who has ever had a perfect season? He’s consistently extracted more from the car than Bottas, and in a season where margins to Red Bull are tight, Lewis has pulled results out of the bag. Critics have regularly pointed to his car advantage as a driving force for his success. Such discussions look rather silly in 2021.

1) ↔️ Max Verstappen (👌🏽)

Despite several unfortunate crashes that have cost him a heap of points, Verstappen is still the highest ranked driver. He may have lost the championship lead, but he has totally eclipsed teammate Pérez and has made very few mistakes. Whether he’ll emerge as champion depends largely on how the development race ends up as teams wind down for 2022. If he misses out, those agonising missed opportunities will not be forgotten easily.

2021 Predictions vs Reality

Before the 2021 season began, I used my model to make predictions for how the 2021 teammates would fare vs each other. At this point the model did not account for different ages and experience (which it now does). Let’s look back and compare with the predictions made.

Red Bull and Aston Martin, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo all being pretty close to the mark too. The remaining 4 have significant differences, with Norris, Ocon, Sainz and Latifi all performing better than expectations. In the case of the first 3, this is partly due to the model not taking age or experience into account at the beginning of the year. In all 3 cases I adjusted the model’s predictions for my own predictions, which moved things in the right direction, but not by enough.

In Latifi’s case it’s mainly due to his result at Hungary boosting his score. The % of points scored can change quickly when so few points are scored, but the model corrects for this in the long-term but viewing results in less competitive machinery as less reliable.

Only at McLaren is there a big discrepancy. To be fair I don’t think many predicted this before the season’s start, but scale of the incorrectness is still shocking. It is caused by a combination of factors, including Lando’s improved form this year, Ricciardo struggling to adapt to the McLaren, and Sainz being underrated slightly due to a previous poor spell at Renault. (This one matters because Norris’ ability was only assessed vs Sainz before this year.) In truth it takes a few years for the model to assess the level of a driver. Some drivers (Hamilton or Jacque Villeneuve) make an immediate impact, whereas others (Nico Rosberg or Sebastian Vettel) take a few years to find their feet.

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