Join me as I analyse how the grid shapes up for the coming year. Drivers are only 2 of the many employees at F1 teams, however, they are the most important. It is vital teams have the right drivers, with the speed, experience and skill to get everything out of the car and lead the team forward with results and development. So who has the worst line-up for this, and who has the best? Comment and let me know what you think at the bottom of the article!
Schumacher has promise to be a superstar, having won F3 and F2 before his promotion to F1. However, this line-up overall must be regarded as the weakest. With the total lack of experience, with both Schumacher and Mazepin being rookies, Haas will struggle to develop their already underperforming car. With this, Schumacher’s history of being relatively slow to get up to speed in new series could mean his potential pace may not be at the disposal of Haas right away. Mick did an amazing job to win both F3 and F2 in his second years in the series, but his debut years saw him finish 12th. In F1, there will be more pressure for him to get on the pace more quickly.
Undoubtedly, the biggest issue for this weak line-up is everyone’s favourite driver- Mazepin. While he brings money vital to Haas continuing in the sport, he cannot in any way contribute to an exciting line-up. He got this seat over other, far better candidates, including Hulkenberg, Illot, Kvyat and Schwartzmann to say the least. Furthermore, his clear, poor attitude will not help Haas with their continual failure to attract a strong title sponsor, meaning they may well be relying on Mazepin’s money for longer than we would like. We can only hope that price caps may mean a reduced need for pay drivers in the near future.
9. Aston Martin
Whilst Aston Martin as a team will be very exciting to watch in 2021, with the re-brand of Racing Point, the expectation of progress up the field, as well as the potential for a beautiful racing green livery, their line-up is questionable. Stroll, like Mazepin, effectively buys his seat, and showed a lack of consistency in 2020. Despite strong performances throughout the first half of the season and 2 podiums at Monza and Sakhir, there is definitely a question as to if he will be able to promote Aston Martin up the field after being well out-performed by Perez.
Furthermore, while we all hope for a grand resurgence of Sebastian Vettel, it must be said he has not proved himself to be a one of the stronger drivers on the grid throughout the last couple of years. Perez’s replacement is a very out of form Vettel. Seb has the potential to be one of the best on the grid, but currently there are too many questions over this line-up to rank it any higher.
8. Alfa Romeo
Alfa have chosen consistency and experience, which is certainly a wiser choice than going for a complete lack of such, as we see Haas were forced to do. One can definitely see the sense in this. Ensuring an experienced line-up heading into new regulations which will completely overhaul the way the cars currently look and feel is not a bad idea. However, one can’t help feeling a little disappointed with the lack of excitement the new line-up brings.
The addition of Illot, alongside one of the veteran Alfa drivers would have retained the required experience within the team, alongside a bright, exciting spark to push the team forward. Despite my love for the ice man, it did seem to be time for him to step aside. He would have left a slowly, yet consistently, improving Giovinazzi who marginally out-performed Raikonnen last year, alongside an exciting young talent who had the potential to be Alfa’s next Leclerc. We can only hope that Giovinazzi improves further and becomes a clear team leader, ready for an exciting rookie such as Illot or Schwartzmann to step in and take Alfa forward in 2022.
We all know the abilities of George Russell well by now, and know that he will be of extreme importance in Williams' attempts to progress into the midfield battle. Russel showed lightning speed in qualifying throughout 2020, and with better race pace being likely for Williams in 2021 with closer ties to Mercedes and stronger investment, he may well have a better chance at holding and even advancing those grid positions Mr Saturday is remarkably able to achieve. He will be pushing harder than ever for that Mercedes seat, now more than ever, knowing he truly deserves one after his performance in Sakhir, and will only be stronger with the experience of having completed two full F1 campaigns.
The weakness in the line-up again lies with the pay driver, Latifi, beaten without fail every single Saturday last year by George. His comparatively underwhelming pace will mean he will be a less of a positive drive for Williams' push up the order, but will still hopefully see improvements to his performance, having completed what is the extreme learning curve of a rookie season in F1.
Credit: Mark Antar (if this is used it could be the best looking car on the grid easily)
The return of Alonso is one of the most exciting stories leading into 2021. Whilst some doubt how quickly he will be up to speed, I firmly believe he will be up and running, and in his prime, in no time at all. Alonso is one of the fastest drivers the sport has ever seen, and retired in 2018 fully in his prime. For me, there is no question that he is the right man to push Alpine towards podiums this year.
My doubts for this line-up lie more with Ocon. This is not a criticism of Esteban, who did not do badly in his return to F1 against Danny Ric. However, it must be said he was not particularly exciting last year, being comfortably out-performed by his team mate by 57 points. Ocon will need to step up this year, against an Alonso who could well match the sheer strength, experience and speed Ricciardo demonstrated last year. He will need to do this to be sure he can retain his seat up against the likes of Gasly and possibly Piastri, who will be eyeing up that second Alpine seat for 2022.
5. Alpha Tauri
Next up is Alpha Tauri. Here is where the line-ups begin to get really impressive. Gasly had an extraordinary 2020, earning points in 71% of the races he finished, including an incredible win at Monza, in perhaps only the 7th fastest car on the grid. He never failed to push his Alpha Tauri to the max, and scored well over double the points of Kvyat, who by no means had a bad season. If it wasn’t for his history at Red Bull, he would have been viewed as the perfect candidate for a promotion. He seems to be the perfect driver to be leading the Red Bull junior team into 2021 and their battle with the midfield.
Additionally, Tsunoda joins the team with a lot of hype and promise around him. This line-up could not be ranked higher, with obvious uncertainty on how Yuki will perform having never raced in F1 before. However, it was Yuki’s showing as best rookie in F2 last year which gives me the idea he will be quick. Finishing 1 point off Illot for 2nd, and 15 off Schumacher for 1st in his debut year shows he is perhaps the strongest graduate from F2 out of the bunch, and finds himself in a team better at supporting young drivers than any other (very much unlike their senior team). Both drivers will bring heaps of speed and aggression in 2021, as well as an abundance of experience from Gasly, who has achieved great success with the team throughout the past 18 months.
The obvious place to start is the signing of Ricciardo- undoubtedly one of the best on the grid, comfortably beating Verstappen in 2017, Hulkeneberg in 2019 and Ocon in 2020. His ‘last of the late breakers’ and ‘lick the stamp and send it’ attitude has brought inspiring performances, including China 2018 (please do check those highlights out if you didn't see it). Danny Ric showed himself to be a great team leader for Renault, consistently out-performing his team mates, and clearly pushing the team forward with their improved performances in 2020 after the disappointment of 2019. He moves from a team who could occasionally fight for podiums, to a team that has a better chance of earning them more regularly: they are on a promising, consistent upward curve, gained recent investment, received a Mercedes Power Unit and spent the second half of 2020’s R&D prioritising 2021. I can't wait to see what he can do!
Then, we have Norris- a solid driver, but also the reason McLaren find themselves behind Ferrari in these rankings, with Sainz currently being a slightly better all-round package. Norris has been constantly improving, and has shown great promise getting closer to matching Sainz over the past two seasons, including beating him in qualifying last year. He will only continue to improve with experience and McLaren’s support, and is a great fit for the team. However, against a Ricciardo who could be even quicker than Sainz when up to speed in the McLaren, Norris will need to be sure to take the next step up in his attempt to match the very best, or prepare to be relegated to a number 2 driver within the team. Beating Ricciardo this year would show Norris is world champion material, and the right man to lead McLaren long-term back to its championship winning ways.
In third we have a brilliant Ferrari line-up, who I was very tempted to put in second. Leclerc has been on the mark for years, winning GP3 and F2 as a rookie, impressing almost immediately in F1, and out-shining 4x time world champion Sebastian Vettel the moment he put his foot through the door at Marinello. He achieved podiums in almost half the races he finished for Ferrari in 2019 (including a heroic, spirited win at Monza against the Mercedes), and drew some incredible performances out of the severely underperforming SF1000 last year. Charles has to be a candidate for being one of the best drivers on the grid right now (I’m not a fanboy, just passionate).
Alongside him, joins Sainz. Carlos found his mojo back at McLaren, with two very successful campaigns at the British team preceding this season. He achieved ‘best of the rest’ in his first year at the team, achieving 6th, benefiting from the difficulties with the second Red Bull seat. He then went on to achieve 6th again in 2020, despite horrible luck at rounds 4,5,7 and 9, causing DNFs and a DNS, which took a likely strong handful of points from him for no fault of his own. Despite this, he showed relentless form in the races he wasn’t faced with brutal bad luck. These performances demonstrate, second perhaps to Perez, that he was one of the strongest midfield drivers on the grid with race-winning potential.
The reason for this line-up needing to be so high on the order is of course the relentlessly, almost entirely flawless, Lewis Hamilton, who has shown himself to be one of the best drivers of all time. He has achieved incredible success with the German, Brackley outfit and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He is currently 7-1 on his record with his past two team-mates, having comfortably had a handle on Bottas throughout this latest era of F1. Of course, the best car argument is used time and time again, but his ability to continuous drive Mercedes forward, beat his team mates, and overcome any and all challenges from Ferrari and Red Bull throughout the turbo-hydrid era shows he is a top talent, and the perfect driver for Mercedes.
However, this line-up does not win first, partly due to (spoiler alert) an incredible Max Verstappen, but also because of the relative weakness that is Bottas. Over the past 4 seasons, Bottas has taken 9 wins against Max’s 10, in a car which sees Hamilton dominantly achieve more wins in one year than Bottas does in 4. This is not to hate on Valtteri, who finds himself with a task nothing short of mission impossible to match Hamilton. However, I must say that I believe Russell, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Leclerc and perhaps even Perez are all drivers who could do more to get closer to- if not match- Lewis. If 2021, and hopefully the new regulations, are to bring a closer field, then Bottas will need to up his game to be an effective supporting driver to Hamilton.
1. Red Bull
Of course, this then leaves Red Bull with the first place spot on my top driver line-ups list. This is something the team has clearly struggled with recently, with Gasly and Albon being two strong drivers that have been unable to realise their potential at the team, begging the question whether that daunting second seat can find success.
Perez is the clear and obvious choice in being the man with the best chance of making that seat work. He has proven himself to be the best midfield driver on the grid since at least 2016, and last year he excelled more than ever. He finished ‘best of the rest’ as he so often does, whilst capitalising on a weak Ferrari, coupled with Albon’s troubles, to achieve a remarkable 4th. 2020 removed any doubt about the fact Perez deserves a top seat in F1. Personally, I cannot wait to see him get another crack in a top team and go for more wins, finally getting redemption on his failed McLaren venture in 2013 (with Perez entirely not to blame). He will be able to use his ability to go longer than anyone on tyres to make alternate strategies work and threaten Mercedes, whilst having the sheer pace to challenge at least Bottas, if he can use his decade-long knowledge of the sport to adapt to the car effectively.
Of course, he will struggle to match Verstappen, but Perez is perhaps the fourth or fifth fastest, experienced and most in form driver right now, and will be the best possible support act to the, in my opinion, fastest man on the grid: Max.
The number 33 Red Bull has been driven by a man on fire since 2018, beating the incredible Ricciardo, before thrashing Gasly and Albon. He has shown relentless pace, taking wins and podiums frequently throughout an era when Mercedes and Ferrari have often been on top. He has proven himself to be the best challenger to Hamilton’s dominance, and is easily the most exciting driver on the grid to watch. If Red Bull can benefit from the consistency of the 2020 to 2021 regulations, avoiding their normal issue of starting seasons slowly and gaining pace as they go, Verstappen could be an immediate challenger to Hamilton’s dreams of an eighth title come lights out in Bahrain.
This line-up brings everything two drivers possibly could to a team: speed, determination, experience, overtaking capabilities, being good on tyres, and a bucket-full of passionate fans. If the red Bull chassis can match the strength of their drivers, bring on the 2021 title fight.
So there is my ranking of the 2021 driver line-ups! Please do comment your thoughts below. Hope you enjoyed the read!