2021 Season quali battles: Rounds 1 to 6

2021 quali battle - Rounds 1 to 6

We already have 6 races in the bag, so let’s take a look at how the intrateam quali battles are developing so far in this 2021 Formula 1 season. I will make this article every one or two races so that you can stay updated on how the drivers are faring against their teammates so hopefully, you will enjoy it.


This analysis is quite similar to the one about Perez that I did a few days ago, but comparing performance between teammates for all the teams. As before, the main challenge is comparing performance between drivers in different tracks. Some tracks will have higher dispersion in quali times, while in some tracks you will see very similar lap times all across the grid. To overcome this issue I decided to standardize the data.

The process is quite simple. First, I obtained the average time done by all the drivers in every quali session analyzed. Eg, for the 2021 Emilia Romagna GP, I obtained the average lap time done in Q1, Q2 and Q3. This includes the lap times done by every driver who participated in each session. Second, I subtracted this average time from all the lap times done in that session. Finally, I divided that resulting number by the standard deviation to end up with the standardized lap time.

An example of the standardization process is shown in the table below. If you like formulas, this one should help you to understand a bit better how this process works.

\frac{(Lap\;time\;-Average\;session\;time\;)}{Session\;std\;deviation}\:=\: \frac{(01:15.394-01:15.573)}{.508} = -0.35

The second challenge with this analysis is how to compare performance when not all drivers qualify to all quali sessions. For example, I can’t compare the lap time of a driver in Q3 vs the lap time of his teammate in Q1. These numbers are just not comparable due to track evolution. The reality is that there is no proper way to do this. Due to this problem, I only compared quali sessions that both teammates had in common. Eg, I only compared the Q1 and Q2 sessions of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo from the Monaco GP. This means I compared Lando’s best time in Q1 with Daniel’s best time in Q1 and got the delta between them. I did the same for Q2. Since Danny Ric didn’t qualify for Q3, I didn’t utilize Lando’s lap time in Q3 for this analysis.

An analysis like this has the main limitation of not telling you if a driver is consistently missing qualifying to Q2 or Q3. I decided to represent this data with a simple bubble chart that I will show in a while.

Finally, if you want to take a look at the detailed data, I will add a table with all the information at the end of the article.

Standardized lap times


How do we interpret this chart? Some important pointers must be considered. First, the x-axis has no traditional units. The units shown here are not seconds or milliseconds, but standard deviations above or below the mean. Second, a standardized lap time of means that it was exactly the average time done during that particular quali session (Q1, Q2 or Q3). Negative timesdots shown to the left of 0represent faster lap times than the mean (this is good!), while positive times represent slower lap times than the average.

The gradient bands shown stand for high or low-density areas. Darker areas show where most of the laps were recorded, while lighter areas show the opposite.

The horizontal coloured lines represent the 66% and 95% quartiles. The thick line around the middle contains the middle 66% of the laps, while the thinner line spans 95% of the lap times done by each driver. Laps outside any of these two intervals could be considered as anomalies, that is laps that were perhaps a bit faster or slower than you would normally expect.  

As usual, click on the image to view the “image” in high resolution. Since it is a vector, not a rasterized image, you can zoom in as much as you want. To get a hi-res png image click here.


I will do a general overview analysis to keep this series going. Trust me, I would love to do a more detailed review. Unfortunately, time is limited and writing a very long article is not something I can do right now.

As an additionI will keep adding the previous charts to the same image carousel, so you can check how the deltas change race by race.

Interestingly, this time the positions changed due to the poor quali session of Valtteri Bottas at the 2021 Azerbaijan GP. You may wonder why the Aston Martin delta didn’t change. The answer is that there was no data to analyze from that team. Lance Stroll crashed before he was able to even set a time, so there was no way to compare Sebastian Vettel’s time with his time.

At Ferrari, the delta continues to be stable, and even though Charles Leclerc took the pole position at Baku, Carlos Sainz stood his ground and managed to keep the delta small over the 3 qualifying sessions.

The battles tighten

At AlphaTauri, the gap reduced from 0.6 to 0.51 standard deviations due to Yuki Tsunoda’s good performance in Q1 and Q2 in Baku. As I’ve said, this analysis has the limitation of not showing the deltas for each session. As you know, Yuki crashed his car in Q3 while attempting to improve his previous lap time. Is this reduced delta something Yuki should be happy about after failing in Q3? I don’t think so, but he’s the only one that knows the answer to that question.

At Red Bull, the gap reduced from the 7th largest to the 5th smallest. Sergio Perez had one of his best quali performances of the season, with him and Max being separated by almost nothing in Q3. While the Mexican driver couldn’t set a proper time in Q3 due to the early red flag, he will be happy with his performance at Azerbaijan.

Finally, let’s talk about two of the biggest winners during the 6th race of the season, Fernando Alonso and Nikita Mazepin. Fernando seemed to be struggling with his A521 once again in Q1 but bounced back to defeat Esteban Ocon for the first time since the Q1 session at the 2021 Bahrain GP. The Spaniard managed to advance to his 3rd Q3 session of the season and will gain confidence from his strong performance in a challenging track like the Baku City Circuit.

At Haas, neither Mick Schumacher nor Nikita Mazepin have been able to get out of Q1. Until the Azerbaijan GP, Mick had a dominating advantage over Nikita, but finally, the Russian driver managed to show a bit of speed. While Mick still outpaced Nikita, the controversial Russian was less than 1 tenth away from Mick, or just 0.11 standard deviations slower in terms of standardized lap times.

Standardized lap times: Session by session

The following table presents the information that has been shown before, but on a quali by quali session basis. Every quali session was considered to be a battle, with a driver crowned the winner by a certain margin (delta).

How is this different from the previous chart? The previous analysis considered the whole season to be a battle, while this chart considers each session as an individual competition. I am a fan of the season-long analysis, but the more granular race by race, session-by-session analysis provides some interesting information about the performance of the drivers.

Just as before, there is no way to compare the performance of the drivers if one of them classified to Q2 or Q3 while the other one didn’t. Because of this, you may not see a driver in any of these two columns even though he advanced to that particular session. I can’t declare a winner between for example Perez and Verstappen at the Q3 session of the 2021 Emilia Romagna GP since Perez failed to advance from Q2 to Q3.

Remember that the units that are being used here are NOT seconds, but standard deviations. These units are harder to interpret than pure seconds, but allow you to compare performance between different tracks. Seconds are easier to interpret, but the comparison between different tracks is misleading at best, so I decided not to use them for this analysis.

Appearances in quali sessions

2021 quali battle - Rounds 1 to 6


This is a quite simple chart to interpret. Each big bubble represents a team. The bubbles inside each big bubble represent each driver in each team. The little, medium and slightly larger bubbles inside show the appearances in each quali session of the season. Take a look at the size of Daniel’s bubble compared to Lando’s bubble. As you can see, it is smaller due to him having only three Q3 appearances, compared to Lando’s five.

If you want a hi-res png image of this chart just click here.


In terms of the number of appearances in Q2 and Q3 sessions, the biggest change was seen at McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo keeps struggling at his new team, and once again failed to qualify to Q3. The Aussie is a very talented driver, but he has been very disappointing up until the time of writing of this article. So far, he has managed to get out of Q2 only on 3 occasions, while Lando has made it into every Q3 session available.

The gap was also reduced at AlphaTauri, with Yuki Tsunoda getting into Q3 for the first time in his Formula 1 career. The young Japanese rookie put the car into the wall in Q3, but he at least managed to participate in the definitive quali session for once. If he reduces his number of errors, he may have a fighting chance against his focused teammate, Pierre Gasly.

Detailed data

This is a simple table that should be pretty much self-explanatory. The table shows the number of appearances in each quali session, the average position in each particular session, and a tiny sparkline chart with the range of the previously mentioned average position.

Final remarks

We’ve only seen 6 races of the season, but some trends are starting to appear in the quali sessions. Daniel Ricciardo keeps struggling to find the pace, while Sergio Perez managed to take a big step forward during the previous weekend.

I think it’s still too early to determine who will come out on top, regardless of the team, so I will keep some of my predictions to myself for the time being. What are your predictions?

As I said last time, I’m making this type of article a regular on this site. I will try to post an update every one or two weeks, depending on the Formula 1 calendar. With this type of format, I think I should be able to keep posting articles on non-racing days.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Working on articles like this one is no easy task, and takes quite a bit of time and effort. If you enjoy visiting my site, please consider sharing my posts on social media or with friends and family. If you want to support me, I would also greatly appreciate a donation.

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  1. Erick Mahle

    Hey there, a few colleagues and I have been following your work for some time. We really appreciate the work you do. I wanted to know if you’d be interested in connecting to perhaps work on a few collaborations together as we’re also using data to help make F1 predictions.

    • admin

      Hello Erick

      First of all, thank you for the nice comment. The appreciation and encouragement that I get from people like you is what keeps me going. Second, I saw your email and I will answer to you privately as soon as I get time to write a proper response (most likely tomorrow since it’s late here right now).

      Talk to you soon.


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