2021 has already proved to be a hugely entertaining season in Formula 1, featuring an intense title battle, surprise winners and some standout performances from drivers up and down the grid. As such, it is difficult to select who has stood out the most.
However, there have been some definite stars of the year so far, ranging from drivers at the front of the field to some showing their skill in the middle of the pack. At this midway point of the season, let's take a look at the names who have really made an impression in 2021.
Before the season commenced, there were questions about whether this could be Hamilton's final year in F1, whether he might claim a record eighth world title and then bow out. But it soon became clear that this was no swan song for the British driver; being faced with his most fierce title rival for years in the form of Max Verstappen seems to have only heightened Hamilton's competitive spirit, and ultimately led to his decision to extend his contract into 2022 and 2023.
Admittedly there have been some rare mistakes from the seven-time World Champion – as well as strategic errors made by Mercedes – but overall his ability to bounce back and work events to his advantage has been very impressive. It seems that, no matters what happens, Hamilton can never be ruled out on a Sunday. A good example of this is the Spanish Grand Prix, where Hamilton masterfully combined strong race pace and management with clever tactics to catch Verstappen and take the victory.
Despite having taken the championship lead from Verstappen before the summer break, Hamilton appeared exhausted after the Hungarian Grand Prix. It will be fascinating to see how the 36-year-old has recovered from this when the season recommences.
2021 marks the first time that Verstappen has been able to seriously contend for the title and the Dutchman has proved that he is more than up to the job. Verstappen appears to have been in the best form of his career so far, and has often only lost points due to sheer bad luck; the tyre blowout at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for example, as well as being caught up in the Turn 1 melee in Hungary.
What has been particularly impressive is how the Red Bull driver has managed these disappointments. Verstappen seems to have developed a level of maturity this year which has not always been visible in the past, enabling him to put such events behind him and focus on each weekend.
The combination of this approach and a championship-worthy car from Red Bull has made for an impressive year so far for Verstappen. But can the 23-year-old turn this into a debut title? We'll have to wait and see.
Norris might not be one of the title contenders but the Briton has arguably been the standout driver of the season. There has not been a mistake of note from Norris, who up until Hungary – where he recorded a DNF through no fault of his own – was the only man to have scored points at every race in 2021. The one blot on his copybook was the five-second penalty in Austria, where the stewards deemed that he ran Sergio Perez off the road, but many felt that this punishment was undeserved.
In his third season in Formula 1, Norris seems to have found the form of his life. His achievements include three podium finishes, that incredible qualifying in Austria which saw him land second place on the grid, and a consistent advantage over his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Additionally, Norris remains in third place in the Drivers' Championship, an admirable feat given that the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez behind him arguably have better cars.
When it comes to the question of who could be the next first-time winner in F1, surely nobody would bet against it being Norris.
On paper, Leclerc has not had the best season so far in 2021. The Monegasque is the driver to have completed the second-fewest number of laps behind Bottas, failed to start his home Grand Prix in Monaco after sustaining damage to his car in a qualifying crash – despite claiming pole position – and currently sits just behind new teammate Carlos Sainz in the Drivers' Standings.
However, these statistics are perhaps slightly misleading as they fail to acknowledge Leclerc's on-track form. Given Ferrari's struggles last year, the 23-year-old has done incredibly well to achieve two poles as well as scoring points in almost every race that he has not suffered a DNF, with Ferrari's dreadful weekend in France being the exception.
The car is still not where the team want it to be, but Leclerc has managed to show his raw pace with the equipment he has. The way in which he managed to hold on to the lead of the British Grand Prix for the majority of the race – before eventually being overtaken by Lewis Hamilton – was a particularly skillful display.
In the early races of the season, it would perhaps have seemed unlikely that Alonso would be included in a list of the most impressive performers by the halfway point of the year. The Spaniard appeared to struggle to adapt to the Alpine after making his return to F1 following two years away, though was not the only driver who had switched teams to be enduring difficulties; the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel were having similar issues in their new cars.
It did not take long for Alonso to reverse his fortunes, though, and put in some performances that very much looked like the two-time World Champion we all remember. Since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the 40-year-old has displayed a high level of consistency, with points finishes at every race weekend thereafter.
His standout day came in Hungary, where he incredibly managed to keep the chasing Lewis Hamilton behind for several laps in order to prevent the Mercedes driver from catching up with Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon in the lead. Alonso could probably be credited with making Ocon's surprise win possible thanks to his defensive driving and strong teamwork.
With this type of form, it will be exciting to see what else Alonso – as well as Hamilton, Verstappen, Norris and Leclerc – can achieve in the second half of 2021.