With a fierce championship battle at the front and thrilling racing through the field from established drivers, new signings and young rookies – it has been a compelling start to the 2021 Formula 1 season.
But who are leading the key intra-team battles so far?
After five races, we take a look at all 20 drivers and all 10 teams – seven of which have a new driver pairing for 2021.
There have been contrasting starts to the season in terms of points for the Mercedes drivers, with Lewis Hamilton – before a disappointing Monaco at least – enjoying his best-ever charge out of the blocks, while team-mate Valtteri Bottas has yet to finish in the top two positions, let alone win a race.
Bottas, who has two unfortunate DNFs this season, certainly looks more competitive compared to Hamilton on Saturdays, and can take solace from the fact he has beaten Lewis in the two qualifying sessions where he has not been on pole.
Hamilton has not been defeated in a qualy team-mate head-to-head since being edged by Nico Rosberg in 2014, after all.
Pierre Gasly, gone. Alex Albon, gone. The second Red Bull seat next to Max Verstappen has become somewhat of a poisoned chalice in recent years – and there has been plenty of intrigue surrounding the team and new signing Sergio Perez over the first five races. The results? Mixed, it is fair to say.
Perez has been closer to Verstappen in terms of one-lap and race pace than his predecessors – and even out-qualified the Dutchman at Imola – but has still struggled to nail a completely clean weekend, leaving Verstappen often fighting a one-car battle against Mercedes.
Expect to see better results from the Mexican once he fully gets to grips with the RB16B, and once he starts to nail down a higher grid position.
After two evenly-matched years alongside Carlos Sainz, many expected Lando Norris to face a sterner challenge in the form of race-winner and established star Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren. But Lando has more than stepped up.
Ricciardo holds the qualifying edge – aided somewhat by a lap deletion for Norris at Imola – but it is the young Brit who has been the more consistent on the Saturday and indeed the Sunday, with two superb podiums in the first five races.
After a desperate Monaco where he was lapped by his team-mate, Ricciardo will hope to find some form in Baku this weekend.
It’s advantage Lance Stroll in the battle against new four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin so far, which is somewhat of a surprise. Not just because of the German’s pedigree, but also because Stroll has never beaten a team-mate in qualifying head-to-heads over a season.
Vettel, like many new signings for 2021, has struggled to get to grips with an Aston Martin car which is not as competitive as the Racing Point of last year, although he will hope a very impressive Monaco – where he qualified eighth and finished fifth – kick starts his campaign.
An even bigger surprise is how the head-to-heads have played out at Alpine so far, with Esteban Ocon, who struggled next to Ricciardo last year, dominating returning multi world champion Fernando Alonso.
After a tricky season-opener, Ocon has not been beaten in qualifying by Alonso, nor has he finished outside the top-10 in the race, since. A fifth-place in Barcelona qualifying sticks out as the highlight performance for a driver who came into the season under a fair bit of pressure.
Can Alonso, who is rarely outshone by a team-mate, bounce back?
Ferrari are a rejuvenated force in 2021, not just because of their much-improved car – but also because of their dynamic young driver line-up.
Charles Leclerc continues to look like an F1 star, with a Monaco crash that spoiled his pole position the only real low moment, while Carlos Sainz has slotted into the Scuderia very nicely indeed, pushing Leclerc while also delivering a Ferrari podium in Monte Carlo. Things are looking up.
AlphaTauri expected big things from the 2021 campaign, and it is fair to say Pierre Gasly is holding up his end of the bargain in the AT02 car, delivering three top-six finishes in qualifying and starring in the Imola and Monaco races. But Red Bull’s sister team need a little more from Yuki Tsunoda.
The young Japanese driver was described as “the best rookie in years” by F1 chief Ross Brawn after the season-opener in Bahrain, but since that ninth place has really struggled. Out in Q1 via a crash in Imola and an alarming lack of pace in Spain in Monaco, Tsunoda could do with a return to the points sharpish.
Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi have been evenly-matched in their two seasons together at Alfa Romeo, and it looks like we have got another close intra-team Alfa Romeo battle on our hands this year. The pair seem to fluctuate in performance from Saturday and Sunday, with Giovinazzi the much more impressive qualifier at the moment.
The Italian certainly deserves big credit for his 10th in Monaco qualifying and the race.
Driving an under-developed Haas car at the back of the grid would be a tough ask for any F1 driver, let alone two rookies. But Mick Schumacher has done well to stand out, out-qualifying Mazepin by more than half a second in most qualifying sessions, his only blip coming in Monaco when a final practice crash booted him out of the shootout.
Williams are still waiting for that first points finish since the 2019 German GP, but George Russell continues to shine. Quite incredibly, Russell has progressed to Q2 in every shootout so far, while he has also never been out-qualified by a team-mate in 43 attempts at Williams. He will, however, still be kicking himself for blowing a big top-10 chance by crashing into Bottas at Imola.
* both drivers retired from the Emilia Romagna GP, so no score is given.
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