Red Bull lead the way in the standings, but will they be the happiest team after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

With six rounds of the 2021 Formula One season done, Red Bull and Max Verstappen lead the way, fighting back with two victories at the Monaco and Azerbaijan grands prix as Mercedes endured a miserable two weekends. 

The podium in Baku was made up of an unlikely trio of Sergio Pérez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly but plenty of teams and drivers have had reasons for cheer throughout the year. So, with a quarter of the season chalked up, we have assessed each team.

We looked at every team’s performances in the opening two rounds and then compared that with their showing in the next four races in two ways: one, their qualifying pace (represented as a percentage forwards or backwards) and two, their improvement in race results (represented by a percentage points-per-race improvement). 

But these rankings take into account more than that. As well as being a chart of improvement (rather than the "correct" order, should such a thing exist) they are in essence a snapshot of which team will be happiest with their direction of travel heading into the French Grand Prix.

10. Haas – No surprises, but they are off rock bottom at least

It was hardly one of the stories of the day with so much else going on in Baku, but Mick Schumacher’s 13th place means Haas move off the bottom spot for the first time this season. Small mercies in a season as bad as this, especially with Schumacher questioning his team-mate’s driving in the race.

In qualifying Haas are one of several teams who have made little significant progress since Imola, with their raw pace rating dropping back by 0.020 per cent. In fairness, they are so far adrift of Williams and Alfa Romeo – their nearest challengers – on one-lap pace that it is almost irrelevant. Race performances have improved a little, but they are still pointless.

Given their pre-season statements about abandoning any development and their decision to field two rookies there is not much really to say about the team overall. Much as expected. 

Qualifying progress: -0.020% (8th)
Results progress: N/A% – no points scored

9. Williams – Decent progress in qualifying but points are always a stretch

Williams are finding it difficult to put themselves in points contention

Credit: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Williams’ year-on-year progress has been significant, so much that it is no longer a surprise when George Russell makes it into the second part of qualifying. In fact, it is expected. Last year’s raw pace rating for the team was 102.703 per cent and this year it is 101.903 after six rounds. That itself represents a 0.184 per cent improvement from their form after Imola; only Alfa Romeo have improved more. So far and so good on Saturdays.

Still, the car is not anywhere near there on race day. "Mr Saturday" Russell’s average qualifying position is 13.8 but his average finishing position is 15th. This trend is likely to continue throughout the season, which is frustrating especially as Alfa Romeo, their nearest rivals, have made a step forward. 

Points are more likely this year than last, but you still feel it will take something strange for that to happen. And where on earth would they be without Russell, who may be at Mercedes next season?

Qualifying progress: -0.020% (8th)
Results progress: N/A% – no points scored

8. Mercedes – Street circuits a worry, but will their slump continue?

There are mitigating factors in Mercedes’ form over the past two races in Monaco and Baku. Firstly, the nature of those circuits is unlikely to be repeated throughout the rest of the year (Singapore’s race being pulled might be a relief). Secondly, all things being equal and fair, they could have scored two podiums but for a pit stop disaster in Monte Carlo and Hamilton’s restart mistake in Azerbaijan.

The big concern will be that at both weekends one car was there or thereabouts whilst the other was languishing towards the bottom of the top 10. Given that it was not the same driver, it suggests there are still characteristics of the W12 that they are struggling with.

Numbers-wise Mercedes have gone backwards a little, getting 30 points per race in the first two rounds and 24.7 in the next four. In qualifying they are pretty much where they were, one of six teams who have progressed or regressed by less than 0.1 per cent. Plenty of room for improvement, but plenty of cause for concern, too. Looks like a fight until the end at present. 

Qualifying progress: +0.045% (5th)
Results progress: -17.8% – 30 points per race after two rounds, 24.7 ppr after six

7. Alfa Romeo – Better, but still stuck in the no man’s land between the backmarkers and the midfield

There is a clear gulf between the back of the midfield – which has alternated between AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin so far this season – and Alfa Romeo. In qualifying, the performance gap between third-placed Ferrari and seventh-placed Aston Martin is 0.8 per cent. From Aston Martin to eighth-placed Alfa Romeo the difference is nearly half a per cent; the Swiss-Italian team have had the eighth quickest car at four of six races, being seventh quickest once and ninth quickest another time.

From that position it is very hard to make a significant impression in the points, though they have made the largest qualifying improvement of any team from the first two races. This uptick was rewarded with a point for Antonio Giovinazzi in Monaco and one for Kimi Raikkonen in Baku – though both times two leading cars retired ahead of them.

Still, like Williams and Haas, they look certain to finish the season roughly where they are now, with anything much more than what they have currently delivered likely to be an anomaly.

Qualifying progress: +0.247% (1st)
Results progress: N/A% – 0ppr after two rounds, 0.3ppr after six

6. McLaren – Hanging in there in the battle with Ferrari

Lando Norris took the third podium of his F1 career in Monaco

Credit: Sebastien Nogier/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

McLaren’s start to the season was so strong that there was only really one direction for them to travel in. If there has been a slight dip it has had a negligible outcome on their results. They are sixth in this list but each team from McLaren up should have a decent level of optimism after a quarter of the season.

In qualifying they have fallen behind Ferrari, who have taken the last two pole positions, though in races they remain fairly evenly matched, dropping from 20.5 points per race in rounds one and two to 15.3 overall. For all Ferrari’s improvement on Saturdays, they have failed to convert. 

Aston Martin, Alpine and AlphaTauri could become more of a concern in coming races but – as we leave the street circuits behind for a bit – it should be back to McLaren vs Ferrari at the front of the midfield again.

Qualifying progress: +0.033 % (7th)
Results progress: -25.2% – 20.5ppr after two rounds, 15.3ppr after six 

5. Alpine – Back in the midfield fight after a rough start

There are still plenty of questions at Alpine, but things have looked a lot better since they left Imola with just three points to their name. Since then, they have managed another 22 in the next four, making them the most improved team in race trim. The consistency appears to be coming but without any real headline results, unlike their rivals around them; their best finish Fernando Alonso’s sixth in Baku.

After Esteban Ocon’s fifth and sixth place starts in Portugal and Spain, their qualifying regressed at the street circuits. There is a fair amount of encouragement that they can be more of a fixture in the top 10 in the coming races.  

In fairness, they were a little behind with their updates compared to those around them, so we have perhaps seen a truer reflection of Alpine in recent weeks, which bodes well for the rest of the year, though they are in a battle for fifth with Aston Martin and AlphaTauri.

Qualifying progress: +0.040 % (6th)
Results progress: +278% – 1.5ppr after two rounds, 4.2ppr after six (1st) 
 

4. AlphaTauri – Under the radar but impressive 

AlphaTauri are having another strong year after their race-winning 2020 season. That was always going to be hard to match but they are doing a fine job again this year, even if McLaren and Ferrari are taking the midfield honours and plaudits.

Last year they scored 6.3 points per race but this year they are on 6.5 after six rounds. That is even more impressive when you consider it has been Pierre Gasly, again, doing the bulk of the scoring, with five consecutive top-10s. With Yuki Tsunoda in better form they could be hard to beat in the race for fifth. 

Their in-season progress has been decent in race trim (third overall) though only Red Bull have dropped back as far in qualifying since round two. Still, it is so tight that it is not such a massive deal and Sunday is when it counts. 

Qualifying progress: -0.216% (9th)
Race result progress: +162.5% – 4ppr after two rounds, 6.5ppr after six (3rd)

3. Aston Martin – Finding their feet after a worrying start

In Baku, Sebastian Vettel drove to his first podium for Aston Martin

Credit: Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Just as Mercedes have struggled at two peculiar and unusual street circuits, Aston Martin have thrived. It may be the case that they regress to the mean in the next few rounds but the mood at the team must be buoyant after picking up a whopping 32 points in Baku and Monaco.

The revival of Vettel’s form after a troubling opening few rounds must be a relief, too. His fifth and second places are arguably his best race results since 2019 after an horrific 2020. 

Qualifying has seen a slight improvement, but Sundays have been the real pay-off. Along with Alpine, they have dragged themselves into midfield contention again and have hopefully forgotten all that nonsense about low-rake and high-rake regulations.

Qualifying progress: +0.051% (4th)
Results progress: +246.8% – 2.5ppr after two rounds, 6.2ppr after six

2. Red Bull – Could have been better but their performances will have Mercedes concerned

There is such a long way to go in this season that any bold proclamations with 17 rounds left to go may end up looking quite silly. We are far from this being Red Bull’s championship to lose but, Max Verstappen’s disastrous retirement from the lead in Baku aside, they have come out of the last few rounds very well, despite falling back in qualifying trim.

It is still likely to be nip-and-tuck between Mercedes and Red Bull – and the gap may close or swing again in France and Austria – but Mercedes currently have more a few more questions than answers. Getting both cars into the top four will be crucial for the constructors’ and drivers’ standings and, for whatever reason, Mercedes have failed to do that and Red Bull have not, with Sergio Pérez now looking the part.

The scale of the turnaround since a discouraging Spanish Grand Prix is the biggest positive – from trailing by 29 points in the standings to leading by 26 in a fortnight. They are far from comfortable but should be much happier than Mercedes currently. They may feel Verstappen’s lead should be greater than four points, however.

Qualifying progress: -0.249% (10th)
Race progress: +9.43% – 26.5ppr after two rounds, 29.0ppr after six

1. Ferrari – Supercharged in qualifying, now slight favourites for third

Charles Leclerc has taken the last two pole positions

Credit: Formula 1 via Getty Images

Before the season started I wrote that leading the midfield should be the minimum of Ferrari’s ambitions after a disastrous 2020. After six rounds they are now ahead of McLaren in the standings for the first time and are showing strong form and a genuine resurgence as one of F1’s premier teams. 

In truth, through Charles Leclerc’s excellence they have been close to third spot all season but it is only in the last couple of rounds that they look like they have the better of McLaren, as Carlos Sainz has come to the fore. But, as with Mercedes and Red Bull, it is incredibly close and form can turn around quickly. There will be concerns as to how well they can look after their tyres on Sunday afternoons, going by how far Leclerc slipped back from pole position in Baku. 

Clearly, it is in qualifying that the team have made the biggest step forward, with two pole positions in a row. This was a vast improvement from Portugal and Spain where they had dropped back to fifth and third quickest in qualifying trim. It may be a short-lived thing, but as long as they stay ahead of McLaren they will not mind too much. Expecting any more than that is perhaps unrealistic but the Scuderia have finally turned a corner. 

Qualifying progress: +0.065% (3rd) 
Race progress: -7.8% – 17ppr after two rounds, 15.7ppr after six