RaceFans’ mid-season Formula 1 driver rankings begin with the four drivers at the bottom of the list. Join us tomorrow for part two.

20. Nikita Mazepin

Nikita Mazepin

Beat team mate in qualifying 0/9
Beat team mate in race 2/9
Races finished 9/11
Laps spent ahead of team mate 141/558
Qualifying margin +0.46s
Points 0

It’s only getting tougher to be a rookie in Formula 1. This year’s championship featured just three days of pre-season testing – so one-and-a-half per driver. The difficulties all three have faced therefore comes as no surprise.

In the case of Nikita Mazepin they have been especially acute. However from a rough start the Haas driver has shown progress. In particular, he’s keeping the VF-21 out of the gravel traps and barriers with more success than he managed previously. This will be to the relief of team principal Guenther Steiner, who remarked in Hungary his two rookies were smashing up their equipment too often.

Mazepin’s five offs in three days over the course of the opening race weekend in Bahrain was a hair-raising start. It culminated into a spin into a barrier on the opening lap which earned him the unfortunate distinction of the shortest grand prix debut for almost two decades. Surely things could only improve from there.

They did, albeit slowly. But while the spins became less frequent, Mazepin committed other errors. In Portugal he blundered into the path of race leader Sergio Perez while being lapped. In Spain it was Lando Norris’ turn to be delayed by Mazepin, in qualifying. The Haas driver copped penalties for both.

But he avoided a sanction – unfathomably – for a shocking swerve towards his team mate as Mick Schumacher passed him approaching the line at Baku. Norris was given a warning for far less in Spain.

It was obvious from Mazepin’s radio messages alone how badly he wanted to put one over Schumacher in Azerbaijan. Having languished behind him for much of the season to that point (he lost 43 seconds to the other Haas in 24 laps at Imola) Mazepin ended a messy Baku qualifying session within a tenth of a second of his team mate.

He slipped back in the race, but the red flag allowed him to get back on terms with Schumacher, and Mazepin moved ahead with two laps to go. When Schumacher slipstreamed past him on the straight to restore their usual running order, Mazepin jinxed alarmingly close to his team mate, risking a serious crash.

Aside from the unnecessary risk involved, the most striking thing about the incident was how unlikely it was to occur had the roles been reversed, as Schumacher has had little difficulty leaving his team mate behind so far.

19. Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda

Beat team mate in qualifying 0/9
Beat team mate in race 2/9
Races finished 10/11
Laps spent ahead of team mate 126/559
Qualifying margin +0.51s
Points 18

Another driver who would clearly have benefited from more testing time before making his Formula 1 debut. Yuki Tsunoda has shown potential, but made a lot of mistakes.

He got off to an encouraging start in Bahrain, delivering points on his debut. But at a track where Tsunoda had already tested extensively, and with team mate Pierre Gasly compromised early on, this set unrealistic expectations of what was to come.

He came crashing down, literally, at Imola, where he binned the car in Q1. He also spun at Tamburello and collected a time penalty for repeatedly exceeding track limits. “Not acceptable”, was Tsunoda’s frank assessment of his own performance.

His team have been supportive. After spinning into a barrier again during the top 10 shoot-out at Baku team principal Franz Tost leapt to his defence, pointing out that crashing in Q3 is much easier to forgive than doing so in the first round. But next time out at Paul Ricard the wall beckoned Tsunoda once more during Q1.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Imola, 2021
Tsunoda has smashed up his AlphaTauri more than once

Tsunoda has generally done better at tracks he knows. That Q3 appearance in Baku led to seventh in the race, his best result until he went one better in Hungary. With four points finishes from the last six races, he is at least adding to AlphaTauri’s championship score, although his contribution is less in relative terms than any other driver on the grid.

He pointed out, not unreasonably, that the sprint qualifying format introduced at Silverstone deprived rookie drivers of more valuable practice time. However his Friday crash in Hungary left him similarly disadvantaged.

His goal after the summer break must be to put an end to the negative cycle of crashing, losing practice time and compromising his own weekend. If he can do that, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he can have a stronger second half of his debut campaign.

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18. Mick Schumacher

Mick Schumacher

Beat team mate in qualifying 9/9
Beat team mate in race 7/9
Races finished 11/11
Laps spent ahead of team mate 417/558
Qualifying margin -0.46s
Points 0

It’s abundantly clear which driver has the upper hand at Haas. What is less obvious, however, is how well Mick Schumacher stacks up against the other 18 drivers with considerably quicker cars.

The Haas VF-21 – a lightly reworked version of last year’s car – has not been quick enough for Schumacher to get on terms with the others on a regular basis. But he’s taken a few scalps, starting at Autodromo do Algarve with an audacious pass on Nicholas Latifi which saw him lead the Williams driver home.

He also achieved the team’s only Q2 appearance of the season, at Paul Ricard, though he wasn’t able to take part in the session after crashing his car. This has been an unfortunate theme of Schumacher’s first half-season in F1.

Schumacher spun off behind the Safety Car during the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. He’s also twice crashed during final practice and been unable to participate in qualifying as a result, at Monaco and Hungary.

Mick Schumacher, Haas, Hungaroring, 2021
A rare Schumacher-Verstappen scrap in Hungary

When he has qualified, he’s never failed to beat team mate Nikita Mazepin. Schumacher has often found more than half a second over the driver who caused him little trouble on their way up through the junior categories.

He’s usually had a healthy lead in the races too, putting 40 seconds on his team mate before the chequered flag in Spain. On the rare occasions Mazepin has come out ahead there’s usually been some external factor involved. In Monaco, where Schumacher irritated his team mate by passing him at the Fairmont Hotel hairpin on lap one, the team switched the running order after the number 47 car experienced a fuel pressure problem.

For both Haas drivers, 2021 is a question of waiting until they get their hands on better equipment next year. But so far Schumacher is the only one to have demonstrated he deserves that opportunity.

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17. Nicholas Latifi

Nicholas Latifi

Beat team mate in qualifying 0/11
Beat team mate in race 2/9
Races finished 10/11
Laps spent ahead of team mate 121/584
Qualifying margin +0.37s
Points 6

In his second full season as a Formula 1 driver, Nicholas Latifi has shown himself to be capable if unspectacular, though that didn’t stop him grabbing more points than his much-feted team mate when the opportunity presented itself in Hungary.

After failing to out-qualify George Russell at every race where they paired up last year, Latifi’s 11-0 drubbing so far this season comes as no surprise. It’s rarely been close between the pair of them, Latifi often more than three-tenths of a second adrift, though he virtually matched Russell in France.

Latifi has generally started strongly in a car which appears particularly averse to running in dirty air or in windy conditions. That has helped compensate for his sub-par qualifying positions.

As a result his race performances have usually been better than his qualifying efforts. He’s even managed to finish ahead of Russell twice, including in Hungary where he squeezed past at the start. Although Russell gained on him at the end, Latifi beat him to the chequered flag by a second, and therefore out-scored his team mate as Williams’ two-year points drought came to an end.

He usually follows his team mate home, though he had an early bath at Imola where he went off during the first lap, rejoined the track incautiously and was knocked into a barrier.

But Imola was as much an ‘outlier’ result for Latifi as Hungary was – he’s ordinarily a safe pair of hands. Nonetheless if the team does lose Russell at the end of the season it’s not hard to imagine they will need a replacement with more raw speed than Latifi has shown.

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