7 Things We've Learned From The First Half Of 2021 F1 Season
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
The 2021 Formula 1 season is officially on summer break. It's been an impressive year after the confusion that was 2020 surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. There is a record 23 races on this season's calendar and we are getting excitement from each and every one. Rivalries have intensified, new stars are shining and veterans are continuing to make their mark. If there's any lesson F1 teaches its fans, it's to expect the unexpected. Here's seven things we've learned from the first half of the 2021 F1 season.
Red Bull is FAST
After coming oh-so-close to Mercedes in the constructor's championship for the past several years, there's only one word to describe Red Bull's season so far: fast. After a fierce competition with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to open the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Max Verstappen took the bull by the horns at Imola, winning after racing ahead from P3. The Dutchman won four other races, including three straight with the French Grand Prix and back-to-back races at Red Bull's home track in Austria.
The Honda-powered team was especially dominant on the street circuits, including Monaco, where Verstappen breezed into a first place finish. And it's not just young Max who's charging ahead. Sergio Pérez has been a splendid teammate, expertly helping pace races and even getting a win for himself in Azerbaijan when a tire blew out and ruined Verstappen's lead. Checo's had quite a journey through the sport and what a great opportunity it is for him to have the coveted Red Bull seat. He's definitely making the most of it.
For the two races that closed out the first half of the season, Verstappen didn't finish on the podium. It wasn't for lack of skill. He was hit on lap one both at Silverstone and Hungaroring. The first was a 51G impact that took him out of the race and the second was a tap from Lando Norris that nearly swiped him out of points position, but he rallied to finish ninth.
Mercedes-Red Bull Rivalry is More Heated than Ever
Mercedes has won the past seven constructor's championships with its superstar driver Lewis Hamilton. But Red Bull has been grinding and grinding away to close the gap to the Silver Arrow and return to its championship days. This year, it's paying off. After some close battles at the beginning of the season, Red Bull started to pull away when Max Verstappen won Monaco and Hamilton could only slug his way to a seventh place finish. It was Verstappen's first time leading the driver's championship, a lead he held onto all the way until Hungary as Red Bull dominated the street circuits and Mercedes scrambled to find power.
The two teams really separated themselves from the pack at the Portugal Grand Prix, where their drivers swept the first four positions and then did the same thing at the Styrian Grand Prix a few weeks later. But Monaco served as the deciding factor between not only the drivers, but also the teams. Sergio Pérez captured fourth place behind his teammate's win, giving Red Bull a total of 149 points to squeak past Mercedes and take control of the constructor's championship.
The drama climaxed at Silverstone where Hamilton, racing in front of his hometown fans, went wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen at the Copse corner, one of the fastest turns in the sport. Neither one backed down and their wheels tapped, causing the Dutchman to slam into the wall at 51Gs. To put it into perspective, the roller coaster with the highest G-force in the world is South Africa's Tower of Terror with only 6.3 Gs. Hamilton was given a 10-second penalty and went on to win the British Grand Prix. He celebrated joyfully, driving around with the Union Jack and thanking his adoring fans. Red Bull's Christian Horner was irate at the harm to his driver and called for a severe penalty while Mercedes' Toto Wolff brushed it off as a racing incident. Verstappen later posted on Instagram that his foe's antics were unsportsmanlike.
The feud continued as Red Bull petitioned the FIA to review the incident and demanded a harsher penalty. Mercedes criticized its rival for using provocative language that encouraged racist comments directed toward Hamilton, the sport's only Black driver.
Things settled down as Hamilton called up Verstappen to clear the air and it seems there's no longer bad blood, just fierce competition. Verstappen is done answering questions about it, for the record.
The next week at the Hungarian Grand Prix, Verstappen was wiped out again in the first lap, this time in a multi-car accident as Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas misjudged his brakes and tapped Lando Norris. This caused him to slam into Verstappen and then Bottas crashed into Checo. Pérez was knocked out of the race while Verstappen impressively finished ninth with half of his floor missing.
"Again taken out by a Mercedes," Verstappen remarked after the race, visibly frustrated at his bad luck.
After two podium-less races for Red Bull, Mercedes is now in control of the constructor's championship. Because he caused the massive crash, Bottas was given a 5-place grid penalty for the next race, so Mercedes will continue to give its all to retain the lead.
With Verstappen racing in his Jordan Year at the fresh age of 23 and Hamilton extending his contract through 2023, there's plenty more of this intense rivalry to come.
Social Justice is Still Important
Last year, the world was shaken with cries against social injustices, especially in light of the murder of George Floyd. Lewis Hamilton led the charge with a call for more diversity in the sport and for justice to be served for Floyd and Breonna Taylor, another victim of police violence. Formula 1 started the "We Race as One" campaign and several drivers chose to kneel with Hamilton during opening ceremonies.
This season, the police officer who strangled Floyd has been convicted with murder, but the fight for equal rights continues. Hamilton released the results of The Hamilton Commission, showcasing the lack of diversity and opportunity for minorities in auto racing. At the Hungarian Grand Prix, as the country has enacted discriminatory laws, several drivers showed signs of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
Seb's A Real One
After a rocky season with Ferrari last year, Sebastian Vettel seems to be enjoying himself again now that he's on Aston Martin. He scored the team's first-ever podium with an impressive performance at Azerbaijan. But he remains a star because he helps fans remember that these incredible competitors are human. During the break between the Styrian and Austrian Grand Prix races, he helped local children build a home for bees. After being forced to retire early at the British Grand Prix, he stayed behind and helped pick up trash. He also delighted a couple who got engaged at Hungaroring and gave them a handwritten note. His strongest statement was when he wore a rainbow "Same Love" t-shirt and rainbow mask at the Hungarian Grand Prix and said that he didn't care if there were consequences for making a political statement outside of the allotted times.
Sprints are Fun!
This year introduced the F1 sprints, the first of which was held prior to the British Grand Prix. Instead of going through so many rounds of qualifying, drivers compete in a mini race to determine the starting grid and get a few extra points. Max Verstappen won the first sprint and was awarded a laurel wreath, hearkening back to the early days of the sport. Instead of a podium, racers are taken on a victory lap around the circuit. Hamilton was second at the Silverstone sprint and got to bask in the glory of his hometown a bit more than usual.
There will be two more sprints in the 2021 F1 season, including one at Monza with the location of the last one not being announced yet. All of the sprints are sponsored by Crypto.com, showing the continued popularity of cryptocurrency and F1's penchant for staying ahead of the financial curve.
Lando Norris is F1's Newest Star
Lewis Hamilton has become F1's global superstar because of his winning ways, but also his fashion, positivity and work to bring diversity to the sport. A new generation of fans are being introduced to the characters of the fierce Max Verstappen, the suave Charles LeClerc and the quirky Daniel Ricciardo. But this season, McLaren's Lando Norris has really stolen the show. The rosy-cheeked 21-year-old has wowed fans and analysts alike by becoming the only driver to score points in the first 10 races. He's been on the podium three times and even though he was knocked out of the Hungarian Grand Prix as part of the first-lap bowling incident, he remains third in the driver's championship because so many of his competitors were taken out with him.
As Ricciardo has bounced from team to team in hopes of his own championship, the Aussie has been humbled by having to be a role player for the 2019 rookie of the year. At Imola, the Honey Badger was asked to let Norris pass him early on so that the team could test the car. The young star jetted ahead all the way to a third place finish.
For the British Grand Prix, Norris wore a helmet that had messages of thanks to essential workers. In just a few years in the paddock, he's established himself as a friendly figure who is always smiling and appreciative.
His star power could not be denied when his watch was stolen from him outside of Wembley Stadium after the Eurocup final. Norris was shaken by the incident, but McLaren issued a statement that he was ok and that the police were handling the matter. He's not a nobody anymore.
The Sport is Growing Immensely
Formula 1 is one of the most rapid-growing sports in the United States. Q1 income more than quadrupled from last year as the sport reported $180 million in revenue compared to $39 million in the same time frame in 2020, according to Front Office Sports. The French Grand Prix, where Red Bull's two-pit strategy gave Max Verstappen a thrilling victory, saw 1 million viewers on ESPN, making it the second-highest cable audience for a race in F1 history. USA Today reports that in 2020, across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, F1 had an incredible 99 percent engagement increase.
Netflix's "Drive to Survive" has had a direct influence on increased interest in Formula 1. After two seasons, the show has helped garner a new fanbase that's fallen in love with the drama and action of the sport.
“It’s got to be the single most important impact in North America,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said at a press briefing in June at the French Grand Prix. “Almost every comment you get out of someone out of the U.S., they reference 'Drive to Survive'.”
This United States audience will be fed more and more. In April, Formula 1 executives announced the much-anticipated Miami Grand Prix, which will be held starting next year through 2032. There is chatter that a second race in the United States could come this season since the Singapore Grand Prix was canceled, along with a slew of others as the coronavirus pandemic continues. The United States Grand Prix is still on schedule to race October 22-24 at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
With hype around F1 continuing to build, the action has lived up to the expectation. The 2021 season continues August 27-29 at Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix.