At the midway point of the 2021 season and the 3-week summer break, it’s time to reflect on the incredible racing demonstrated in the last 4 months.
The first 10 races of the 23 scheduled this year have seen the top two teams, Mercedes and Red Bull, with at least one car on the podium in every race. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have locked horns this season before the cars and the rules change to provide more competitive and entertaining racing.
But the front of the pack is just one part of the traveling circus that is Formula 1. There’s another battle brewing that spectators can’t get enough of—the battle for third.
The battle for third place
Typically, the battle for third seems like a fight not worth fighting—but that couldn’t be further from the truth in the highest level of motorsport.
This year it’s Ferrari and McLaren, two teams with a feisty history that are fighting head-to-head to have the chance of securing the bronze Constructors’ title. But it’s not just pride of place on the overall podium that the teams are fighting for—they’re also in contention for millions of dollars in additional prize money.
Evenly matched racecars
Despite the vast difference in pace that we see between the top and bottom teams in the sport—Ferrari and McLaren are surprisingly evenly matched.
Ferrari arrived at the start of the 2021 season with an improved power unit and tweaked aerodynamics for maximum performance. McLaren opted to emulate the Mercedes formula for success with engines supplied by the top team and a narrow nose design to maximize aerodynamic performance.
The disparate engineering choices for these top-level cars have created two different—but incredibly competitive—race cars. The pair are continually scrapping over the third-place trophy.
The difference in the drivers
While the Ferrari and McLaren cars are evenly matched, the drivers face the majority of the scrutiny during the typical race weekend.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc joined the team in 2019 and has impressed the paddock, securing a pole position in Monaco and finishing second at Silverstone. New to the Scuderia team for this year is former McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.Sainz is pulling his weight, learning the car quickly and finishing on the podium in Monaco.
Piloting the first of the “papaya” racecars is the young British driver Lando Norris. Lando signed in 2019 at 19 years of age and has driven well throughout the season, securing podia in Italy, Monaco, and Austria. Daniel Riccardo, well-known to Formula 1 followers, is fresh in the second McLaren seat this year. Despite an impressive F1 career, the Aussie suffered a slow start this year—only getting up to pace toward the summer break.
Predictions as it stands
Currently, McLaren has the edge over Ferrari with a mere 3-point lead (166 to 163).
But the season is not over and, with both Daniel and Carlos improving, the battle is only getting started. We could make a convincing argument for either team to come out on top.