Gary Anderson: F1 2021's true pecking order - The Race
Formula 1

Gary Anderson: F1 2021’s true pecking order

Dec 28 2021
By Gary Anderson

We are all still recovering from what was a very competitive and intense Formula 1 season. Some of what happened came from car performance and the great championship fight on track, but most came from the politics and bickering that reached a whole new level for 2021.

The championship standings and who gets the trophies are dependent on who has the most points when the chequered flag falls at the end of the last race of the season. But this only tells one part of the story, meaning sometimes we need to look a little more deeply into what we saw across the 22 races to really understand who was hot, who was not and who was a bit tepid.

Such an analysis will not change the outcome because points are what count, but it does give us a deeper understanding of whether the correct drivers and teams were rewarded.

To achieve this, the most effective way is to look at what we call ‘supertimes’. These are created by taking the fastest individual lap set by each of the 10 teams on every grand prix weekend and converting that into a percentage of the quickest outright lap.

This allows us to factor in each race weekend equally and, given it uses the fastest single laptime set across each pair of cars, it is as accurate a representation of the laptime potential of the car as you are going to get.

By comparing this with the data from 2020, we can see which teams have improved and which have got worse, compared both relative to the outright pace and their immediate rivals. By dividing the season into four-race blocks, we also get an idea of the shifts as the season progresses.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Race Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

For the 2020 performance data, the Styrian and Turkish Grand Prix weekends are excluded because the conditions on those weekends distort the overall performance figures. The same applies to Belgium and Russia in 2021, where wet weather created a misleading picture.

For the driver-to-driver comparison, we do include the statistics from Spa and Russia as they were still events that reflected driver performance and paid out points. But we do not include the sprint races for the head-to-head comparisons, with the qualifying stats based on the positions in the timed session. For the race head-to-heads, races where both drivers from a team failed to finish are disregarded.

So, in constructors’ championship order, let’s see what stories the numbers reveal.

Mercedes

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

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Mercedes 100.002 100.007 100.141 100.109 100.113

Nobody could argue with the consistency of Mercedes across 2020 and 2021. While the team started this year complaining about the regulation changes impacting the low-rake concept it used more than the high-rake cars, when push came to shove it responded to the challenge in exactly the way you would expect a championship-winning team to.

Although the averages don’t show much of a difference, the step in performance came at Silverstone. The introduction of a revised underfloor, with the changes to the front outer corner detail particularly important, made it easier to find the sweet spot in the set-up and be more consistent.

Mercedes still had to dig deep on many occasions, which is something we know Lewis Hamilton is very good at.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Hamilton 16 5 15 18 8 297 17 6
Bottas 6 4 6 4 1 79 11 4
Total 9 21 9 376 28 10

Valtteri Bottas made a reasonable contribution, but in reality, he was no more than a decent number two and the success was all down to the incredible talent of Hamilton.

When you drive for a potentially championship-winning team, you need to raise your game to meet those expectations. Hamilton won some races he shouldn’t have won, which shows just how good he is.

RED BULL

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Red Bull 100.723 100.337 100.244 100.191 100.387

Red Bull has nearly always started the season poorly, but heading into 2021, it appeared to have a more competitive package that looked the strongest during pre-season testing.

Qualifying in Bahrain reflected that, and that is where the debate about the rules suiting the high-rake cars more than the low-rake cars started.

That was the start of a series of arguments that festered all season, with both the Red Bull and Mercedes team principals throwing more than their fair share of stones. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, but if you live in the glass house that is F1, throwing stones is never a good thing.

It should be all about racing, but both of them brought it down to a very low level with accusation and counter-accusation. The spectator or viewer had no idea if any driver was winning races with a legal or illegal car, but thankfully on most occasions the drivers were able to do their talking on the track. There were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but that’s racing.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Verstappen 20 10 14 19 10 652 18 6
Perez 2 0 1 3 1 46 5 2
Total 10 15 11 698 23 8

Sergio Perez did contribute a little more when it came to fighting for his team-mate, as we saw in Abu Dhabi.

But as far as his own results were concerned they were an improvement on Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly before him, but still a long way off always being there to pick up the pieces if Max Verstappen wasn’t there. Only in Baku was Perez able to do that.

In terms of drivers, Red Bull had a similar problem to Mercedes. Hamilton and Verstappen are in that elite league of drivers so finding anyone at a similar level is very difficult.

FERRARI

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Practice Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Ferrari 101.444 101.156 100.872 100.809 101.085

Ferrari’s objective for the season was to recover from opting for a questionable interpretation of the power unit rules that the FIA decided had to be shut off. But it achieved its targets well in 2021, climbing to third in the championship and being the third-best performer.

It’s always difficult when you have to regroup and find a new direction for development with either the chassis or the engine, but Ferrari did achieve that. Most important was the successful introduction of its upgraded hybrid package towards the end of the season.

But I still do not believe Ferrari is getting the most from what it has. Mario Binotto needs to be able to focus on the engineering side of things and Ferrari needs a new team principal to focus on the wider operation. One person is stretched to do both jobs so neither get done satisfactorily despite the various restructures Ferrari has been through recently.

Next year is going to be a big one for Ferrari. The complete change in the technical regulations presents the opportunity to get back fighting at the front for race wins and championships. If that doesn’t happen then heads will roll.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Leclerc 13 2 2 14 0 60 1 0
Sainz 9 0 1 8 0 12 4 0
Total 2 3 0 72 5 0

Taking the statistics at face value, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc is as strong a driver line-up as any team has. The big question is if Ferrari does give them the car that can win, are they both able to perform at the front consistently? That is what it will take to win championships.

Sainz was in his first year with Ferrari and he can hold his head high. Compared to Leclerc, there wasn’t a lot in it – Leclerc still has that extra turn of speed but Sainz seems stronger in the races.

Both suffered from a few indiscretions here and there so that’s the area they need to tidy up.

McLAREN

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Sochi, Russia

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
McLaren 101.352 101.048 100.911 100.816 101.106

With the change of power unit from Renault to Mercedes, 2021 was never going to be easy. As McLaren effectively didn’t have any tokens to spend given – these were given up to allow the various changes required to package the new power unit – its overall development was compromised.

But despite that, McLaren did a very good job and as a team is in a much stronger position for the future.

The car does seem to have some strange driving characteristics and suits some circuits more than others. But I do believe McLaren has understood these problem areas now and will stay away from that direction next year.

The 2022 car is a completely new package, but it will still have characteristics within the aero map and the aero platform, so building on your previous knowledge is critical to starting the season with a strong car that makes sense to the drivers and allows the engineers to define its development direction quickly.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Ricciardo 7 0 1 7 1 48 1 1
Norris 15 1 2 15 0 31 4 1
Total 1 3 1 79 5 2

McLaren expected a lot more from Daniel Ricciardo, but it also took him a season to settle in at Renault. But Ricciardo did take the first McLaren win since 2012 and it was a commanding one at Monza, and without the wayward strategy call late in the Russian GP Lando Norris would have added a second.

But Norris’s time will come, and the performance figures of the two drivers show why he’s going to be a big part of the new brigade of young drivers that is taking over F1.

ALPINE

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Alpine 101.446 101.163 101.444 101.061 101.388

The 2021 season was about more than just a name change from Renault to Alpine as there was also a major management reshuffle. My problem with that is it created more layers above the layers that actually do the work, which is never a good thing.

Normally, it results in a blame culture as opposed to a group of people with one focus. Excuses never fix anything and you need people to take responsibility.

Alpine is a works team. It creates its own power unit package, but because no other team uses it that makes it very difficult to judge the performance level. So the big question is, is the performance deficit down to the chassis or the engine? The simple answer is that it’s a bit of both.

With Fernando Alonso, who doesn’t mind saying it as it is, driving and an upper management team that expects a return on investment, time is limited for turning it all around.

Like the other teams, 2022 is a big year for Alpine to show it has what it takes.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Alonso 11 0 0 11 0 2 1 0
Ocon 11 0 0 10 1 66 1 0
Total 0 0 1 68 2 0

This is another strong, well-balanced driver pairing. Alonso and Esteban Ocon seem to work well together and have occasionally helped each other on track without all the radio complaints we usually hear from other drivers.

Ocon drove well in Hungary to win – with a little help from Alonso – and while the front of the field annihilated each other at the first corner he still kept his cool when under pressure. That shows he has what it takes.

I’m not sure where Alonso stands. He is a bit long in the tooth to be making F1 a career move and I’m not sure the team is capable of giving him a chassis that will allow him to display his considerable talents.

It might all happen too late to take advantage of his considerable talent and experience. That said, don’t count him out when and if it comes to a hard-fought race because he can still battle with the best.

ALPHATAURI

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Practice Day Budapest, Hungary

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
AlphaTauri 101.606 101.055 100.959 101.107 101.078

AlphaTauri has now become more of a partner to Red Bull than its junior team. It had a car that was, on average, as fast as the Ferraris and McLarens, but was too inconsistent as a team and made some strategic errors on race day.

As a result, AlphaTauri finished behind the slower Alpine in the constructors’ championship, which never bodes well given that that’s what pays the bills.

For 2022, AlphaTauri will need to stand on its own two feet a lot more. It’s all-new for everyone so there is no time to play catch up, you need to hit the track fully up to speed. Being a small team just makes that all the more difficult.

As opposed to being a team bringing on young up-and-coming drivers, it’s correct to continue with one experienced driver and a new kid on the block. This allows the progress of the less experienced driver to be evaluated very quickly, even if it doesn’t help the logjam of young drivers in the junior ranks. But that’s not AlphaTauri’s problem to solve, it’s down to F1 and the FIA to find a system to allow these young drivers to show their talent.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Gasly 21 0 1 16 0 0 1 1
Tsunoda 1 0 0 5 0 0 0 0
Total 0 1 0 0 1 1

When you look at the qualifying performance of the two drivers, there is a vast difference. Most of these were down to incidents and accidents. Yuki Tsunoda has the speed, he just needs to control it. Against Pierre Gasly, it was always going to be difficult so he needs to take his time, control his enthusiasm and build up some experience.

He reminds me of Takuma Sato in his days with Jordan. He was quick but he put too much pressure on himself against Giancarlo Fisichella, who we all knew had the talent and also the control.

If it wasn’t for his connections with Honda, Tsunoda would probably have been out on his ear and some new hot shoe like Oscar Piastri slotted in. But he deserves a second shot and also needs someone to control him just that little bit, otherwise, 2022 could be his last chance.

ASTON MARTIN

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Sunday Monte Carlo, Monaco

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Aston Martin 101.240 101.195 101.696 101.418 102.024

Coming off the back of a great season in 2020 with what was dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’, during which it won its first race since 2003 under the Jordan name, this year turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Both Aston Martin and Mercedes were vocal about the regulation changes that seemed to hurt the low-rake cars more than the high-rake cars. That is probably true, but Mercedes knuckled down and found solutions to solve the problems while Aston Martin never really did that. The result was seventh in the constructors’ championship.

Aston Martin is a better team than that, but as well as the rule changes the team is also caught up in the huge recruitment drive and expansion. Lots of new people will always take time to learn how to work together.

For 2022 there is no Mercedes to get inspiration from and while I have no doubt the old way of working at what was Racing Point would find the right solution, I’m not sure the new way at Aston Martin will.

Hopefully, Lawrence Stroll will give the team time to achieve that but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted results sooner than it is ready to achieve them.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Vettel 14 0 0 9 0 4 1 0
Stroll 8 0 0 12 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 0 4 1 0

There are many people out there that think Lance Stroll is only there because his dad owns the team and while, yes, that is probably true, he is actually a fast driver. Give him the car and he can bring home a decent result. There are others better that might never get a chance, but that’s the way of the world.

Sebastian Vettel is the team’s main focus. He knows he is there to help bring the team to a new level and with that help Lance as much as possible.

The pair do meet up on the track quite often and there doesn’t seem to be any quarter given. That can lead to tears far too often, so they need to decide who has priority on those occasions and it shouldn’t simply be the boss’s son.

WILLIAMS

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Williams 102.706 102.521 102.122 101.858 102.402

Williams has underperformed in recent seasons and had a lot of ground to make up. But 2021 was a positive season given how much progress needed to be made.

The car was very critical in windy or crosswind conditions, which is never a good thing when you are trying to build up a season of understanding. I’m pretty sure it is also why the car was better in qualifying than in races, because when you are running in the turbulence of another car that’s a similar effect to windy conditions.

Williams dropped off a bit after mid-season, but George Russell’s second on the grid in the wet in Spa was all down to the right tyre decisions at the right time and Russell having the talent to use them. The second-place finish was more of a gift as we didn’t really have a race, but never mind. That race also gave Williams 10 points, which was key in the battle with Alfa Romeo.

Management changes, with Jost Capito coming in as team principal and Francois-Xavier Demaison as technical director, brought the team a new focus. It now has the funding and has added a few other people in key places.

But Williams has also lost Russell to Mercedes. He has been the team’s saviour for the last few seasons especially in qualifying – give him the car and he will wring its neck. Alex Albon has big shoes to fit (pun intended, Russell’s literally were too big for the Mercedes!).

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Russell 20 0 1 18 0 0 1 0
Latifi 2 0 0 4 0 0 0 0
Total 0 1 0 0 1 0

Driver-wise, Russell had the upper hand although come the end of the season Nicholas Latifi was starting to close in on him. Perhaps it was because Russell had his Mercedes contract in his back pocket and the last thing you need to do is damage yourself in any way as your F1 career at the front is just about to kick off.

Latifi, like Stroll, is the son of a very rich man but he is still very capable of bringing home the results. Will he ever be a championship contender? I doubt it very much, but you need to pay the bills so a driver that brings money and is reasonably fast is a reasonable compromise.

ALFA ROMEO

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying Day Barcelona, Spain

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Alfa Romeo 102.707 102.383 101.971 101.932 102.149

Since BMW took over the team, funded it properly and then left, Sauber has been out on its own struggling for budget relative to the big teams. Based in Hinwil in Switzerland, it’s not easy for it to get a good selection of people who want to up sticks and work there.

The team has the equipment but seems to lack a proper long-term plan despite having ownership with money in recent years. The last few seasons have been tough for Alfa Romeo.

The team is still basically Sauber with an Alfa Romeo label stuck on the box.

Alfa Romeo should have been one place better in the constructors’ championship, but the Williams results in Hungary and Spa scuppered that. Alfa has progressed from 2021 and was occasionally in the midfield battle.

With the new regulations for next year and the arrival of Valtteri Bottas with his experience from Mercedes and Guanyu Zhou with a big budget, it should give the team new encouragement and allow it to wipe the slate clean, plan long term and start again.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Raikkonen 7 0 0 10 0 0 0 0
Giovinazzi 13 0 0 12 0 0 0 0
Kubica 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 22 0 0 0 0

Robert Kubica filled in for Kimi Raikkonen for a couple of races when Raikkonen caught COVID-19. But Kimi was in his swansong year and is the first to admit that when he has no chance of pulling out a strong result motivation is very difficult. That said, give him the car and he will bring the results.

Antonio Giovinazzi fought as best he could to keep his drive, but in the end, it was all in vain. As he said, money talks. Yes, he is correct but the young Chinese driver Zhou does deserve a chance. It’s not his fault he can come with a decent-sized budget.

As for Kubica, he can hold his head high with what he achieved when stepping in for Raikkonen. These cars are beasts and the further down the grid you go, the eviler they become.

HAAS

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

 

2020 2021
Season % Final 4 % Season % Races 1-4 % Races 19-22 %
Haas 102.855 103.325 103.293 103.034 103.089

Haas decided it was a waste of money to invest in the development of its 2020 car. Instead, it made it comply with the regulation changes and devoted the season to the learning curve that the two inexperienced drivers needed while putting maximum effort into the major rule changes for 2022.

Only time will tell if that was a good decision but Guenther Steiner had better have made that clear to the people paying the bills, otherwise they might not see the funny side of it all.

It can be extremely demotivating for the drivers and team members heading off to a race knowing that there is no real chance of scoring a point. Provided everyone is well-informed about the plan, you might just get away with it for one season. But it’s also very easy to lose your best people during that period.

Qualifying Poles Front row Race Wins Laps Led Podiums Fastest laps
Schumacher 20 0 0 16 0 0 0 0
Mazepin 2 0 0 5 0 0 0 0
Total 0 0 0 0 0 0

Mick Schumacher took this learning season and did the best he could with it. He clearly learned a lot and if Haas has a decent car for next year he will take the best from it.

If he can make a step forward, it will put him in a good position with Ferrari. I don’t see him going there anytime soon, but it’s a lot easier with Ferrari’s backing than trying to fight the battle on your own.

As for Nikita Mazepin, he was definitely on the other side of the coin. He was often in trouble of one sort or another and seemed to refuse to learn much from anything that happened to him. But as I said above, sometimes you need someone to pay the bills.

2021-2020
gap
21 supertime rank
Alfa Romeo -0.736 8
AlphaTauri -0.647 5
Williams -0.584 9
Ferrari -0.572 3
Red Bull -0.479 2
McLaren -0.441 4
Alpine -0.002 6
Mercedes 0.139 1
Haas 0.438 10
Aston Martin 0.456 7

Looking back to the top of the championship, while the winner of the championship is decided by who has the most points, there are other ways to look at it. Here is how Hamilton and Verstappen stacked up compared directly to each other.

Qualifying Poles Front row Races Wins Laps Led Podium Fastest Lap
Verstappen 11 10 14 11 10 652 18 6
Hamilton 11 5 15 10 8 297 17 6

So, in my opinion, the championship wasn’t won or lost in the last race no matter what happened.

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