Which is F1’s most improved team of 2021?

So which Formula 1 team has made the biggest step this year relative to last season?

The summer break provides a useful opportunity to take stock and make a comparison with how things stood after 11 races in 2020.

That means looking at the standings after last year’s Eifel GP, held on October 11 during what was a very different looking schedule to this year’s.

Of course, the current championship table is just a snapshot in time, one that comes immediately after two very bad weekends for Red Bull skewed the overall picture, and the Hungarian GP gave Alpine in particular a huge boost.

However, as we head into what is supposed to be the second half of the season – in the face of calendar uncertainties that mean we don’t know how many races will actually happen – the current standings give us a good idea of who’s gained and who has lost.

Mercedes

2020: 1st, 391 points – 9 wins

2021: 1st, 303 points (-88) – 4 wins

After 11 races Mercedes leads both world championships, just as it did in 2020 – but the detailed picture is very different. The team has won only four races, compared with nine last year. It has scored 88 fewer points, a fall of 22.5%, and its current advantage over Red Bull is just 12, instead of the huge 180-point gap in 2020. And that’s after Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes benefited from two dreadful races in Britain and Hungary for RBR that saw the Milton Keynes team accumulate just five points, three of those coming from Max Verstappen’s sprint victory at Silverstone. Last year, Hamilton had 230 points after 11 races, and Verstappen was third on 147 – this time the world champion’s advantage is just 195 to 187, with everything to play for. Valtteri Bottas meanwhile has scored only 108 points compared with 161 last year, a drop of 53 points. As a team, the average score per race has fallen from 33.7 over the whole of 2020 to 27.5 so far in 2021.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, takes his grid position for the start

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, takes his grid position for the start

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Red Bull

2020: 2nd, 211 points – 1 win

2021: 2nd 291 points (+80) – 6 wins

Red Bull has scored 80 more points than at the same stage in 2020, despite the nightmare outings that saw it score just five points over the Silverstone and Hungary weekends. Indeed, in the previous nine races its lowest race scores were the 25 points achieved for wins at Imola and Baku, and after round nine in Austria RBR was in front of Mercedes by 286 points to 242, which is a truer reflection of actual performance than the current situation. Despite the recent glitch, the points average per race has risen from 18.7 over the whole of 2020 to 26.4 so far this year. The real sign of progress is that RBR won just one of the first 11 races last year, compared with six in 2021. Despite having some bad luck Sergio Perez has been a higher scoring number two than Alex Albon, adding 104 points to the total, 40 more than Albon had achieved last by this stage in 2020.

Ferrari

2020: 6th, 80 points – best result, 2nd

2021: 3rd, 163 points (+ 83) – best result, 2nd

Ferrari has clearly made huge steps this season, moving from sixth place in 2020 to third this year. In doing so the team has more than doubled its points total from 80 to 163 – the increase of 83 is the biggest achieved by any team, including Red Bull. It has been averaging 14.8 points per race, compared with 7.7 over the whole of 2020. A key factors is that both drivers have been scoring well, with Carlos Sainz logging 83 points and Charles Leclerc – who has been faster but enjoyed less good fortune – 80. At this stage last year the Monegasque driver had scored a respectable 63, but his then teammate Sebastian Vettel had only managed 17. However, it’s not just consistent scoring. Pace is much improved, as evidenced by Leclerc’s poles in Monaco and Baku, and the fact that he held onto the lead at Silverstone for so long.

McLaren

2020: 4th, 116 points – best result 2nd

2021: 4th, 163 points (+47) – best result 3rd

McLaren has made a useful gain of 47 points or over 40% compared to this time last year, and is currently equal on points with Ferrari. However, the Woking team is behind on a tie-break of second places, leaving it in fourth. At this stage in 2020 the team was in the same position, four points behind Racing Point, but over the balance of the season was able to claim third place. Intriguingly, the 2021 points gain is entirely down to Lando Norris, who has logged three third places and raised his personal points total from 65 to 113. His troubled teammate Daniel Ricciardo has contributed 50, only one point fewer than Carlos Sainz had managed after 11 races last year. The pace of the car has been demonstrated by Norris often being the quickest non-Mercedes/RBR driver, and occasionally pushing both teams hard. Hungary was the team’s first zero score of 2021, dropping its average points per race to 14.8, still an increase on the 11.8 achieved over the whole of last season.

Alpine

2020: 5th, 114 points – best result 3rd

2021: 5th, 77 points (-37) – best result 1st

You might be surprised by how much the former Renault team has dropped off compared to last year. Despite the Hungarian GP adding 37 points to the total, Alpine is by co-incidence 37 points off where it was after 11 races in 2020, because it hasn’t been logging top 10 finishes as consistently as it did last year. Indeed, Daniel Ricciardo had scored 78 points on his own at this stage, more than Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon have contributed between them in 2021. The team is still in fifth place, but is currently only nine points clear of AlphaTauri, whereas last year it had a 34-point cushion over Ferrari. Alpine’s overall average score per race has fallen from 10.6 over the whole of 2020 to 7.0 this year.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, George Russell, Williams FW43B

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, George Russell, Williams FW43B

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

AlphaTauri

2020: 7th, 67 points – best result 1st

2021: 6th, 68 points (+1) – best result 3rd

In terms of overall points AlphaTauri has been remarkably consistent, logging 67 at this stage last year and 68 in 2021. Meanwhile, the average score per race is 6.1 compared with 6.2 over the full 2020 season. However, the team has moved up a place from seventh to sixth, and is currently clearly ahead of Aston Martin by 20 points. Last year the team had just been given a 25-point boost by Pierre Gasly’s Monza win. The current total reflects much more consistent scoring across the season, while Gasly has regularly started in the top six, showing the car’s much improved pace over one lap. Thanks to that Monza score his personal contribution has been much the same at 50 points against 53 last year – and you might be surprised to learn that his teammate Yuki Tsunoda has outscored Daniil Kvyat, the man he replaced, by 18 points to 14.

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21, as they put a lap on Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Esteban Ocon, Alpine A521, Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR21, as they put a lap on Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Aston Martin

2020: 3rd, 120 points – best result 3rd

2021: 7th, 48 points (-72) – best result 2nd

The former Racing Point outfit has made the biggest step back of any team in 2021, seeing its point total tumble by 60% from 120 to 48 while slipping from third to seventh place. Of course, the 18 points lost with the Hungarian disqualification would have made a big difference, and put the team sixth ahead of AlphaTauri. However, don’t forget that 15 points were also lost to the “copygate” penalty imposed last year, so the team’s real total was actually 135, and thus the overall drop in performance is arguably even more dramatic. Sergio Perez scored with superb consistency last year, logging 68 at this stage, and Lance Stroll backed him up well with 57. This year Sebastian Vettel has bagged 30 points and Stroll just 18, and the team’s overall scoring rate per race has tumbled from 11.8 points to just 4.3.

Williams

2020: 10th, 0 points – best result 11th

2021: 8th, 10 points (+10) – best result 7th

Zero to 10 points represents a huge gain for Williams relative to last year, and the two-place jump from 10th to eighth reflects the ever-improving form for the Grove outfit. George Russell has been the star, of course, regularly qualifying in the top 10 and demonstrating the pace of the car over one lap – although the Englishman is the first to admit that it’s much harder to maintain that form on Sundays. All 10 points were scored in Hungary where Nicholas Latifi and Russell both made full use of the opportunity afforded them by the high attrition rate.

Alfa Romeo

2020: 8th place, 5 points – best result 9th

2021: 9th place, 3 points (-2) – best result 10th

The Alfa Romeo team has scored fewer points and lost a position to Williams compared to 2020, but on balance it has the potential to be ahead – what the team hasn’t done is make full use of the opportunities available in the chaotic Baku and Hungary races, earning just a 10th place in each. Four 11th place finishes indicate that the total could easily have looked more respectable, especially as the car has often shown improved speed relative to last year.

Haas

2020: 9th place, 3 points – best result 9th

2021: 10th place, 0 points – best result 12th

Haas knew that it was in effect throwing away the 2021 season by hiring two rookies and focussing resources on next year’s car, and that has been reflected in the on-track performance, with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin regularly qualifying and running at the back. However, it’s easy to forget that veterans Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen managed only three points between them last year.

Conclusion

So which team has been the most improved in 2021? Clearly Red Bull has made a step from generally chasing Mercedes to usually being in front, at least with one car, and six wins represent a superb haul, despite the recent frustrations in Britain and Hungary.

However, our vote has to go to Ferrari. The team has made the biggest overall points gain, more than doubling its score, and significantly it has moved up three places in the table – a huge step for any team to make in one year. It has also logged two poles having often struggled to make it not Q3 in 2020.

It’s a conclusion that Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has also come to, as he pointed out in Hungary.

"It is more than double for the same number of races,” he said of the score. “If we look at the entire grid, we are the ones that gained the most.

“If we look at the lap time and pure car performance, let’s take qualifying because that's where we are all at the maximum performance, if we take the average of the entire season, [in 2020] we were 1.4 seconds off the pole.

“Today we are 0.7s away. A 0.7s gap is still a distance and is not negligible, so we are fully aware of it. But still I think we halved the gap to the best, and that’s encouraging because it shows the direction is the right one.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, battles with Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, battles with Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Points Difference After 11 Races 2020 to 2021

1. Ferrari + 83

2. Red Bull Racing + 80

3. McLaren + 47

4. Williams + 10

5. AlphaTauri + 1

6. Alfa Romeo -2

7. Haas – 3

8. Renault/Alpine -37

9. Racing Point/Aston Martin -72

10. Mercedes – 88

Points Difference After 11 Races 2020 to 2021 by Percentage

1. Ferrari +103.75%

2. McLaren +40.51%

3. Red Bull +37.91%

4. AlphaTauri  +1.49%

5. Mercedes -22.5%

6. Renault/Alpine -32.4%

7. Alfa Romeo -40.00%

8. Racing Point/Aston Martin -60.00%

- Williams

- Haas  

Championship Position Difference after 11 Races 2020 to 2021

Ferrari (6th to 3rd) +3

Williams (10th to 8th) +2

AlphaTauri (7th to 6th) +1

Mercedes (1st to 1st) 0

Red Bull (2nd to 2nd) 0

McLaren (4th to 4th) 0

Renault/Alpine (5th to 5th) 0

Alfa Romeo (8th to 9th) -1

Haas (9th to 10th) -1

Racing Point/Aston Martin (3rd to 7th) -4

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

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