With the 2021 F1 season at the midway point, the first half of the year has provided some standout performances from several drivers, including title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and the incredibly impressive Lando Norris. However, for others it has not exactly been one to remember.
Several names on the grid will be hoping to have a strong comeback following the summer break. So who in particular needs to up their game – or simply requires a bit of luck on their side – in the second half of 2021?
2021 has not been a standout year for Bottas so far, and arguably it could not have come at a worse point, given the almost continuous speculation surrounding his future and the possibility that he could be replaced by George Russell at Mercedes in 2022. The first sign of trouble came in the second race of the season at Imola, where a clash with Russell that put them both out of the Grand Prix led to team boss Toto Wolff facing some pretty awkward questions.
On paper, the season has not been entirely bad for Bottas; there have been six podiums, and a pole position in Portugal. But when things have gone wrong, they have gone spectacularly wrong. After qualifying down in 10th for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for example, the Finn failed to progress and finished outside of the points in a distant 12th.
Then there was Hungary, where Bottas only got as far as Turn 1 on the opening lap. The 31-year-old misjudged his braking point in the mixed conditions and drove into the back of Lando Norris, leading to both Red Bulls being hit in the melee too. Bottas received a five-place grid penalty to be taken at the next race in Belgium following the summer break. With this hanging over him – as well as still not knowing his future – the time off may not have been entirely restful for Bottas, but he'll need to bounce back from this somehow to recover his season.
Given that this is his first season at Red Bull, Perez has in many ways done a decent job in his role as Max Verstappen's teammate. The Mexican claimed his first victory for the team in Baku, and has scored points at most races.
But there have been a few mistakes at recent weekends which will need ironing out in the second half of 2021, particularly given the increasing need to support Verstappen in the title battle.
The signs are promising that Red Bull will retain Perez for 2022, so in that respect it appears that he is not under pressure when it comes to his future. Yet the 31-year-old will be keen to reduce the still sizeable deficit to Verstappen in the coming races.
It will come as no surprise to most to see Ricciardo's name on the list of who needs to improve. 2021 has proved to be a challenging and disappointing year so far for the Australian following his switch to McLaren from the then-called Renault outfit. Whilst he is not alone in struggling to adapt to a new car – see Perez – the process seems to have taken much longer for Ricciardo than the other drivers who switched teams.
Admittedly, it has been acknowledged that the McLaren is perhaps a more unusual car to get used to. But the fact that Ricciardo does not seem to have edged that much closer to teammate Lando Norris by the halfway point of the season must be difficult for the 32-year-old to swallow.
Ricciardo has rated his year so far as a five out of 10 in terms of his on-track performance, though feels that he has put in a lot of work behind-the-scenes. Perhaps the worrying thing is that he admits that, realistically, it will probably only be small steps that he is able to make for the rest of the season, given the focus being more on 2022 in terms of car development. Still, Ricciardo will desperately be hoping for better in the remainder of 2021.
At the first race of the season in Bahrain, AlphaTauri's Tsunoda quickly made an impression. The Japanese driver scored points on his debut and seemed to be setting himself apart as the rookie to watch. Yet this all quickly unravelled, with a succession of crashes and non-points finishes following. There was also his outburst after he failed to progress from Q1 in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, where the 21-year-old questioned whether he had the same equipment as teammate Pierre Gasly.
Tsunoda later apologised for these comments, and in more recent races has found a greater level of consistency in his performances. The decision by the team to move the youngster from the UK to Italy for closer supervision by boss Franz Tost seems to have been beneficial. But there is still a lot of work to do, with Tsunoda being far outperformed by Gasly, who is fast establishing himself as a team leader.
As is the case with the main Red Bull team, the signs suggest that the current driver line-up is likely to be retained for 2022, so Tsunoda is probably safe. Yet we have all witnessed in the past the cutthroat nature of Red Bull management when it comes to driver decisions. Tsunoda will have to improve his consistency – and emotional control – to stay in the outfit's good books.
A man definitely under pressure in terms of his future is Giovinazzi. 2021 is the Italian's third season in Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo and, having failed to really stand out against teammate Kimi Raikkonen so far, this year is a crucial one for the 27-year-old.
There have at times been signs of improvement from Giovinazzi, which may have gone quietly under the rader given Alfa Romeo's current position towards the back of the grid. And on paper he has outperformed Raikkonen both in qualifying and in race results, despite Raikkonen narrowly sitting ahead in the Drivers' standings with two points to Giovinazzi's one.
Yet, with questions about Raikkonen's form, it is difficult to know whether Giovinazzi has genuinely made an improvement or if Raikkonen's struggles have flattered him. There have been rumours about Mick Schumacher possibly making a move to Alfa Romeo in 2022, as well as suggestions that the team could target Valtteri Bottas should he not be retained by Mercedes, so the rest of 2021 could be vital for Giovinazzi in trying to secure his future.