With three rookies and the return of a two-time world champion, the grid is filled with talent and different characteristics
By Jonas Souza
With the pre-season testing in Bahrain already done, fans could get a better understanding of one of the main elements that make up an F1 team: the drivers.
The grid of the record 23-race 2021 season has three rookies in Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, not to mention the long-awaited return of two-time champion Fernando Alonso on a two-year contract with Alpine.
With all these changes and the perspective of a more balanced pecking order between the teams, F1total.ca brings a ranking of all driving duos in the 2021 season, comparing the essential element that lies between the seat and the steering wheel.
10th | Haas – Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin
Haas swapped experience for youth to become the only team that changed both their drivers for 2021. The American team made a risky bet by letting go of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, even though the former duo wasn’t delivering results anymore.
Schumacher is not only the team’s hope for better results, but also Ferrari’s, since he came up in their drivers’ academy, and perhaps F1 itself. The son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher had good results in other categories, including clinching the Formula 2 title last year. Still, his lack of experience with both the car and certain tracks should take its toll in 2021.
Mazepin, on the other hand, carries the biggest question mark among the drivers. The Russian doesn’t have as many good results in the lower series. A runner-up finish in GP3 in 2018 and two F2 wins, coming fifth in the standings last year, are his biggest achievements. He has also been involved in a fair share of scandals on and off the track, causing the driver not to attract many fans and to develop a bit of an accident-prone reputation.
9th | Alfa Romeo – Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi
How can a duo with a world champion be in such a low position? Easy: lack of motivation. Unfortunately, after his departure from Ferrari, Kimi Räikkönen hasn’t added much to F1 other than some good races here and there. At 41 years old, perhaps the moment to retire has arrived for the Finn.
Antonio Giovinazzi, another Ferrari protégé, has never done anything too expressive to deserve a spot on the current grid. He’s also erratic and, despite some good starts, can’t consistently score points or be competitive. Maybe Alfa Romeo could be higher up in the list had they bet on a duo with a rookie (maybe Mick Schumacher?) and an experienced driver hungrier than Räikkönen (maybe Nico Hulkenberg?).
8th | Williams – George Russell and Nicholas Latifi
Williams has to be the team with the greatest disparity between its drivers, and that’s why it’s so low in the ranking. While George Russell has already shown why he’s a future F1 star, especially in last year’s Sakhir GP, Nicholas Latifi still has a lot to prove.
In a way, Russell’s great performances in qualifying make it harder for the Canadian to show his worth. Is Latifi better than he looked last year and was overshadowed by an amazing teammate? Or is he in F1 only for funding reasons and is no more than a back-of-the-grid driver? Perhaps with a more competitive Williams in 2021 some of these questions can be answered.
7th | AlphaTauri – Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
Red Bull’s B team brings a pair of drivers wanting to show themselves. While Pierre Gasly was reborn last year with great performances and a spectacular victory at Monza, Honda-backed Yuki Tsunoda comes from Formula 2 bringing good results and an aggressive driving style that abuses the brakes.
The two AlphaTauri drivers want to put in the work to eventually make it to the A team, and let’s not forget a bitter Alex Albon might still be in the fight. The clash has everything to be levelled, even with Gasly’s having more experience, and both can have great careers in F1.
6th | Alpine – Fernando Alonso and Estaban Ocon
The return of two-time champion Alonso is one of the big F1 news in 2021. Aged 39, the experienced driver has more than what it takes to help Alpine grow. Still named Renault, they achieved three podium finishes last year.
Meanwhile, Esteban Ocon has already shown more than once that he is one of the good drivers of his generation. Despite a podium last year, the lack of great results and a certain lack of patience in some fights for positions still count against the Frenchman.
The sixth position in our ranking takes into account these characteristics of the Frenchman and Alonso’s physical conditions after a bike accident earlier in the year. He will race with titanium plates in his jaw for the whole season and might still require further surgery at the end of the year.
5th | Aston Martin – Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll
An emerging team that has signed a four-time world champion and has a driver who has been on the podium several times – and even has one pole position to his name. Maybe Aston Martin should be higher up the ranking, but its duo raises more questions than it provides answers.
Sebastian Vettel went through a very negative period with Ferrari and we still need to know if the greatness displayed in his four championship seasons is still there. Lance Stroll, despite the good results, needs to show more constancy.
The duo drives for the team that better takes advantage of their resources by doing more with less money, a feature that dates back to when they were still named Jordan. If the drivers show up, it can bring great results to the Canadian-owned team.
Further reading: New year, new team, new teammate: Lance Stroll ready for bigger 2021
4th | Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas
Having a seven-time world champion on its ranks should be a good enough reason as to why Mercedes should be higher on this list. But while Sir Lewis Hamilton constantly shows why he’s one of the best drivers in history, his teammate Valtteri Bottas struggles to be the runner-up in a championship that’s basically a two-horse race, since his team usually has the huge advantage of being faster than anyone else.
If the Finn manages to carry out the “this is my time” kind of promises he makes every year, the Mercedes duo should certainly be higher. After years of falling short and not practicing what he preaches, the fourth place in this rankings seems like enough.
3rd | McLaren – Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris
The funniest duo on the current grid wants to show it’s no joke. Both drivers already have a fair share of experience – especially Daniel Ricciardo – and great results in their resumes.
The big question on the team is still Lando Norris. The English driver is expected to become another one of the greats of his generation but needs to show more consistency. If he can do that as fast as Ricciardo is able to adapt to his new team, which shouldn’t take too many races, McLaren has a huge chance of doing an excellent job in 2021 and even repeat the third-place finish in the constructors’ championship.
2nd | Ferrari – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.
The driving duo who has the same first name has a big challenge: rebuilding Ferrari after a disastrous 2020 season, in which they finished 6th in the standings.
Despite being the youngest pair in the history of the traditional Italian team, both are already experienced and, more importantly, very fast. Charles Leclerc already has victories on his resume and his podiums last year with Ferrari’s horrible car showed his talent once again. Carlos Sainz Jr. was one of 2020’s best drivers, being extremely regular and doing great races. He even had a real chance to win in Italy.
If Ferrari does not show up again this year, the misfortune won’t be their drivers’ fault.
1st | Red Bull – Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez
There are not many redemption stories in the history of F1. But in 2020 and 2021, we are witnessing one with Mexican Sergio Pérez as the protagonist.
He showed great performances early in his career with Sauber, getting the chance to drive for McLaren in 2013. Unfortunately for him, he failed to deliver good results and was ‘relegated’ to Force India. He stayed with them for seven seasons, helping the team during turbulent times with consistent driving and behind-the-scenes sponsorship-related actions to eventually get awarded his first win last year.
But when Lawrence Stroll purchased the team and rebranded it to Racing Point and then Aston Martin, it led to the arrival of his son, Lance, and the signing of big-name Vettel, meaning Perez was sacked. But something better was reserved for him. The Mexican driver is now with Red Bull, as they needed a more consistent driver to replace Alex Albon. At the best stage of his career, Pérez is one of the grid’s top names.
The other Red Bull driver needs no introduction. Impetuous, experienced and aggressive, Max Verstappen is a world champion in the making. Maybe with a competitive car able to battle Mercedes head-to-head for the first time since the silver arrows started to collect trophies, his title will finally come in 2021.
With all of this in mind, it’s difficult not to say Red Bull has the best driver duo of the 71st Formula 1 season.