How well are the championship contenders’ team mates performing in 2021? Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez appear in part three of RaceFans’ mid-season Formula 1 driver rankings.
12. Sebastian Vettel
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/10|
|Beat team mate in race||3/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||255/584|
When the season began it seemed Sebastian Vettel was in no better shape following his move to Aston Martin than he had been at Ferrari the year before. His last season in red was a bruising encounter in which he was consistently out-paced by Charles Leclerc and made too many unforced errors in races.
At the season-opener this year he started near the back after collecting a penalty in qualifying and ran into Esteban Ocon, receiving another endorsement from the stewards. Although he reached Q3 in Portugal he slipped out of the points places in the race, and in Spain he circulated behind Stroll, who’d just gone 3-1 up on him in qualifying.
However the next race in Monaco proved a clear turning point, since when Vettel has only been out-qualified by his team mate once. Eighth on the grid became an excellent fifth on the race as he ran long and jumped ahead of Hamilton and Gasly after the leaders pitted. Better was to follow in Azerbaijan where he rose nine places to finish second, dodging the usual drama as he went.
Another second place followed in Hungary, though he was disqualified as his car was found not to contain sufficient fuel at the end of the race. This was no reflection on a solid drive, though a slightly messy arrival in his pit box potentially cost him the chance to jump ahead of Ocon and win.
Vettel hasn’t quite banished the memories of last year: He spun out early in the British Grand Prix, ruining his afternoon. But if he gets his Hungary points back he’ll be ahead of his 2020 tally already, a fair reflection on a considerably better campaign so far.
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11. Sergio Perez
|Beat team mate in qualifying||1/11|
|Beat team mate in race||1/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||26/569|
Though it won’t be a popular sentiment in Milton Keynes, Red Bull were oddly fortunate when a failed left-rear tyre pitched Max Verstappen’s car out of the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Had it happened at any other race, it would have handed victory to one of their rivals. Instead, an on-form Sergio Perez was there to salvage a win for the team.
Azerbaijan was an obvious high point for Perez. Although he was pushed back to sixth on the grid by Pierre Gasly (one driver he particularly needs to beat at the moment) and Carlos Sainz Jnr, he latched onto his team mate’s tail at the start and from there on played the perfect rear-gunner role. Almost too perfect, in fact, for as well as jumping past Lewis Hamilton in the pits he nearly took Verstappen too.
But Perez hasn’t come close to this high watermark often enough. His Baku win aside, he’s only visited the podium on one other occasion, while Verstappen has been there eight times.
The season started promisingly. A three-tenths deficit to Verstappen in Bahrain was a fine first effort given Alexander Albon only got closer twice during the whole in 2020. After a pre-race engine problem Perez recovered magnificently to fifth. Then at Imola he astoundingly beat Verstappen in a straight fight in qualifying to claim a place on the front row.
That proved a precursor to an error-strewn performance in a damp race on Sunday which left him out of the points. Like Baku, this was an outlier of a weekend, though he had a poor round at Silverstone too. That ended up with him sacrificing 10th place – or potentially better – just so Red Bull could deny Hamilton the bonus point for fastest lap, at no gain to Perez.
Although Perez has been closer to Verstappen on race day than his predecessors were, the picture is complicated by the fact this year’s Red Bull is a more competitive machine. He’s trailed Verstappen in qualifying but usually makes the necessary gains on race day to ensure Red Bull remain in a competitive position in the championship. But considerable scope for improvement remains, and Red Bull may be looking for signs he can deliver it in the second half of the season before committing to Perez for 2022.
10. Valtteri Bottas
|Beat team mate in qualifying||3/11|
|Beat team mate in race||2/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||96/545|
In the toughest season Mercedes has faced since the beginning of the V6 hybrid turbo era, Valtteri Bottas has been found wanting too often.
In qualifying, Bottas continues to give a reasonable account of himself. Over 11 qualifying sessions, he’s beaten Hamilton three times and been within two-tenths of a second of his team mate a further six times.
It’s in the races where Bottas has come up short too often. Imola and Baku were the most obvious examples – he was on the point of being lapped by his team mate in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix shortly before he went out in a collision. While Bottas may not have been responsible for the clash with George Russell, the point remains he shouldn’t have been fighting a rearguard action against a Williams.
Hamilton nearly his Mercedes took to victory in Azerbaijan, but in Bottas’ hands the car didn’t look good enough for a points finish. But his performance in Monaco two weeks earlier should be taken in mitigation, as he clearly outclassed Hamilton there until he was sidelined by a disastrous pit stop. These sharp swings in performance indicate the extremes Mercedes have pursued trying to wring every last hundredth from the W12.
As the second driver in a top-flight car, Bottas inevitably invites comparisons with Perez, who despite winning one race has only taken two podium finishes to Bottas’ seven. So Bottas gets the nod over him here, but the driver he really needs to be worried about it Russell.
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9. Esteban Ocon
|Beat team mate in qualifying||5/11|
|Beat team mate in race||5/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||327/550|
It’s been a tumultuous half-season for Ocon who began his second year back in F1 strongly, signed a contract extension, slumped to a pair of consecutive Q1 exits, then bounced back to score an opportunistic first grand prix victory.
It’s not easy to pick out the signal amid the noise, but while Ocon can be satisfied with the job he’s done, returning team mate Fernando Alonso has generally eclipsed him, aside from that somewhat fortuitous result at the Hungaroring.
Ocon held the upper hand over the opening races, aside from his luckless outing in Bahrain. His put in a fine showing in Portugal, planting his Alpine on the third row of the grid and taking seventh at the flag, though by that point Alonso had closed to within a second of him.
After collecting his fourth points score on the trot in Monaco, a series of tougher races followed. While Alonso piled on the points, Ocon either finished out of the top 10 or failed to reach the chequered flag, due to an early power unit failure in Baku and a first-lap collision at the Red Bull Ring. The latter was a by-product of starting 17th for the second race in a row, a puzzling slump of form which prompted Alpine to swap his chassis.
That did the trick. Ocon was back in the points at Silverstone, though again overshadowed by Alonso, then came good in style at the Hungaroring. He out-qualified Alonso for the first time in six races, which proved timely, as the first-lap shunt cleared the way for him to take a remarkable first win. That capped a solid first half of the season, if not one which quite deserved a higher points tally than his team mate.
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