After a truly dreadful 2020 season and, in light of the upcoming regulation changes, it would have been easy for Ferrari to just write 2021 off as a bad lot and accept their ignominy in the lower midfield.
But, having dusted off the embarrassment of last season, Ferrari have been one of the truly great performers of the year. The SF1000 of 2020 was a laboriously clunky machine, with no real quantifiable strong points. Driven by a somewhat disheartened Charles Leclerc and a despondent, if not outright sulky, Vettel, the relatively stable regulations suggested that 2021 wouldn't be much better.
But, it's been a huge turnaround from Ferrari. Re-working their engine's architecture for 2021 after the 'setbacks' of the late-2019 technical directives, the added horsepower for this year has allowed the team more freedom with their downforce choices. With the SF21 being far less draggy, a revitalised Leclerc and a sensational Carlos Sainz have been able to, on occasion, even join in the battle at the very front.
It's going to be nip and tuck with McLaren for third place in the Constructor's Championship, especially if the underwhelming Daniel Ricciardo is able to start matching the performances of Lando Norris, but even a fourth-place finish would underline Ferrari's marked improvement and overall competitiveness ahead of the 2022 reset.
Of course, the team aren't quite there yet. Silverstone underlined that, despite a time penalty, Mercedes are still quite a way ahead and the French Grand Prix also caused some confusion as the SF21 simply refused to work its tyres correctly. There's still engine power to be found to match the Honda and Mercedes efforts, and time is ticking on that one, given that an engine freeze will be in place from the start of 2022 onwards...
Ferrari have proven themselves to be one of the great achievers of the 2020/2021 winter break, and have revitalised themselves completely in the first half of the season. With a content and harmonious driver pairing, there have been hints of Ferrari returning to the front. While it won't be possible in 2021, the team's trajectory is going in the right direction for '22.
High point: Monaco serves as something of a high and a low point for Ferrari. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were both genuinely in contention for pole position prior to Leclerc's late accident in Q3 and, even with this drama, ended up with pole position and fourth place.
Of course, the crash ended up having catastrophic ramifications for Leclerc on Sunday but, even then, Sainz was able to take up the mantle and keep the pressure on Max Verstappen throughout the race. Had Leclerc been able to start the race, Ferrari could likely have won the event.
There's been multiple strong double points finishes, such as at Imola, Catalunya, Azerbaijan, both Austrian races, and Silverstone, but Monaco has been the event so far where both cars were genuinely able to join in the fight at the front.
Low point: France, unsurprisingly. The team were left scratching their heads after Paul Ricard, with the French circuit proving a nightmare for the SF21.
The long straights showed up their still present, although slight, power unit deficit to the likes of the Mercedes and Honda, while an inability to get the tyres into the correct operating window sent them tumbling down out of the points. Unable to get the hard tyres to work, they experienced serious tyre wear that left them powerless and confused.
Charles Leclerc: A worthy leader
Charles Leclerc has been a consistent performer throughout 2021 so far, and has been able to slot into the 'best of the rest' position at several races.
Scoring fourth places at Imola and Catalunya, back-to-back pole positions in Monaco and Azerbaijan only netted him another fourth place finish as the race pace of the Ferrari was exposed on the high-speed streets of Baku.
The golden opportunity of the Monaco pole position went begging, too, given that it was Leclerc's error in the first place that led to the driveshaft issue that Ferrari failed to spot and fix...
But Leclerc has been able to get onto the podium, capitalising on the Hamilton/Verstappen clash at Silverstone to lead for the majority of the race and only narrowly miss out on the win.
There have not been many mis-steps from Leclerc this season, with the biggest being his Monaco qualifying crash, although his first-lap clash with Pierre Gasly in Austria was probably worthy of a time penalty as well.
Charles has found increased confidence with Vettel disposed of, and is revelling in the much-improved SF21 this year. While Sainz is close, Leclerc has the measure of him so far despite being behind in the points standings, and his mature approach to racing in 2021 is netting some strong results.
Carlos Sainz: Cut out the mistakes, and he'll be formidable
Carlos Sainz, out of all the drivers to change teams for 2021, has adjusted best to his new machinery. In fact, it doesn't really look like there was much of an adjustment period at all, given how Sainz was immediately able to pick up and finish eighth first time out in Bahrain before following that up with fifth place behind Leclerc at Imola.
However, the Spaniard does make a lot of mistakes, none particularly serious, just silly errors that cost him points or positions. Think sliding off the road at Imola, think locking up on fresh tyres after his pit-stop at Baku, and crashing during qualifying on the previous day.
But Sainz has been a tremendous teammate for Leclerc so far this season, and there's been great harmony between the pair. Of course, that is likely to all change if and when the car is good enough to win, as possibly indicated by Sainz's fury when Leclerc crashed at the end of Q3 in Monaco.
While Sainz is marginally ahead of Leclerc on points, it's the Monaco weekend that has resulted in that swing. There's little to choose between the pair at most race weekends, but it's usually Leclerc that seems to have that tiny little edge to keep his nose in front.
But Leclerc needs to look over his shoulder, as Sainz will only get more and more comfortable with the SF21. I'm expecting this battle to heat up by season's end...