2021 Season quali battles: Rounds 1 to 5

2021 quali battle - Rounds 1 to 5

With 5 races in the bag, there is already pressure for some drivers to do better in quali sessions. Drivers like Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo are the main target of this criticism, but is that pressure justified? Let’s take a look at the numbers.


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

2021 Emilia Romagna GP
Quali summary - Red Bull
DriverLap time Session lap timeLap time - average session lap timeStandardized lap time
AverageStandard deviation

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

2021 quali battle - Rounds 1 to 5


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.



The closest seen until now is between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes. After 5 races, the delta between both drivers is of 0.02 standard deviations, with Hamilton leading Bottas by the slimmest of margins. Lewis had his best performance at the Q2 session of the Portuguese GP where he was more than 2 standard deviations faster than the average lap time. His worst performance? I’m sure you guessed it right, it came at the 2021 Monaco GP when he qualified 7th after failing to find performance in Q3.

Regarding Bottas, his best performance was at the Q1 session of the 2021 Emilia Romagna GP, in which he managed to be 1.7 standard deviations faster than the average. Interestingly, the Finn driver had his worst performance of the season at the same track, struggling in Q3 and  qualifying 8th for the start of the race.

Aston Martin

So far, the delta between both teammates is at 0.08 standard deviations. As you can see on the chart, the spread of both drivers is quite small, meaning that both of them have had similar levels of performance during all of the quali sessions of the season. 

Sebastian Vettel seemed to start slow at the British team but has managed to close the gap between him and Lance Stroll in the last two races. Lance Stroll is ahead due to his better performance at the Q1 session of the 2021 Spanish GP, but if I had to make a conclusion I would say that both drivers have been just as fast in quali sessions so far.

A final thing to note is the poor performance of Aston Martin in one lap pace. Most of the dots shown on the graph are to the right of the 0, meaning that Aston Martin’s drivers tend to be slower than the average on a typical quali session.


Carlos Sainz has been shown as the model of a strong teammate in the current F1 season. While Carlos has been doing a better job getting closer to his teammate than other drivers such as Ricciardo or Perez, his current delta to his teammate is still of 0.38 standard deviations.

The main difference between both drivers was, perhaps ironically, their performances at the 2021 Monaco GP. In Monte Carlo, Charles Leclerc had his 3 best quali performances of the season, being as much as 1.5 standard deviations faster than the average at the quali 2 session.

McLaren and AlphaTauri

You may have been surprised while seeing McLaren’s delta of “only” 0.54 standard deviations. After Ricciardo’s poor performance in Monaco, I’m sure many would’ve expected to see a bigger gap between Lando and him. This is, however, a clear example of the main limitation of this analysis.

How can Daniel be this close to Lando? Well, Daniel has been eliminated in Q1 at the 2021 Portuguese GP and at the Q2 session of the latest 2021 Monaco GP. Because of these early eliminations, I couldn’t compare his performance to Lando’s performance at the following quali sessions.

Something quite similar happens with the AlphaTauri drivers. If you ask me, Pierre Gasly has been thoroughly outperforming the rookie Yuki Tsunoda so far, but the delta between them is not as extreme as expected. Again, just as Daniel, Yuki has been eliminated from earlier quali sessions than his teammate, creating perhaps artificially misleading results.

I will follow up on these cases in the next section of this article.

Alfa Romeo

This is perhaps the most surprising result to me up until the 5th round of this season. I have never rated Antonio Giovinazzi very highly, while I have a ton of respect for Kimi Raikkonen’s career. Having said that, I have to give props to Antonio for his excellent performance so far, especially at the Monaco GP.

The qualifying delta between both drivers until now is of 0.6 standard deviations, but his number is a bit exaggerated due to Kimi’s poor performance at the Q2 session of the Portuguese GP. In that race, Kimi was almost 2 standard deviations slower than the mean, while Gio found himself being only 0.65 standard deviations slower than the average.

Having said that, you can see on the chart that Antonio is clearly performing better than Kimi. The Italian has actually been faster than average on 3 occasions, albeit all three of them in Q1 sessions. Kimi, on the other hand, has failed to find speed in his C41 and has been always slower than the average lap time.

Red Bull

This is the battle most people are interested in right now. Currently, the gap between both drivers stands at 0.65 standard deviations. While you can see that Max has been performing much better in quali sessions, the average gap is also skewed due to Sergio’s poor performance in a couple of sessions.

The Mexican driver has failed to show up for the latest two Q3 sessions, at the Monaco and Spanish GPs. In Barcelona, Sergio was 0.48 standard deviations slower than the mean, while in Monte Carlo he was a whopping 1.26 standard deviations slower than the average lap time of the session. You could argue, however, that Leclerc’s crash in the Q3 session in Monaco prevented Sergio from putting in a perhaps more competitive lap.


Another surprising result is seen at Alpine, with Esteban Ocon clearly extracting more pace from the car than Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard driver has been away from Formula 1 for two years, and that is abundantly clear to the average and experienced viewer. Fernando is one of the most talented drivers of his generation, but this year he has been struggling to adapt to the newest 2021 cars. Alonso has been faster than the average only on 2 occasions, while Esteban has managed this feat 6 times.

Credit where credit is due. Esteban has been doing a good job and showed that he has good one-lap pace on his first stint in Formula 1. Back in 2018 Esteban was quite fast against Sergio Perez and keeps showing right now that his speed from back then isn’t gone.


I think this is conceivably the less surprising result of the lot. Yes, George Russell is trouncing Nicholas Latifi. Is this due to George’s amazing one-lap pace, or due to Nicholas’ poor overall pace? I wish I had an answer for you, but I think that the result is a combination of both.

While it is easy to criticize Latifi, he has shown glimpses of talent. He had a strong showing at the Emilia Romagna GP, even beating Russell in Q1 but failing to repeat this target in Q2.

The main difference with both drivers is perhaps the lack of consistency of Latifi. The FW43B is not a fast car by any means, but it is much better than it has been in the previous 2 years. It is unreasonable to expect both drivers to consistently get into Q2 or Q3, but Russell has shown that the car has the performance in it. Nicholas must fight harder if he wants to be considered a serious Formula 1 driver.


It’s hard to talk about Haas objectively. The team has been run into the ground in the last few seasons and has already publicly stated that they are already focused on the 2022 season. The VF-21 is not fast, is not stable, and is not easy to drive. Having said that, both of their drivers are rookies who have to work with the same, so a comparison between them should be quite fair.

Mick Schumacher currently holds the largest delta to a teammate in quali sessions of the whole grid. At the time of the writing of this article, the delta stands at 1.05 standard deviations.

Honestly, it is impossible so far to say if Mick is performing above average, if Mazepin is performing below average, or if it is a combination of both. Neither driver has shown what I would consider good performance, but Mick has at least managed to outqualify a driver from a different team. In Barcelona, the German driver finished ahead of Nicholas Latifi by 1 tenth of a second, while Nikita has finished dead last in every quali session he has participated in. Yes, I know that technically he beat Mick in Monaco and Tsunoda in Imola, but only due to mechanical failure and not raw quali pace.

Appearances in quali sessions

2021 quali battle - Rounds 1 to 5


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.


As I said in the previous analysis, the standardized lap time comparison can be misleading on some occasions. The two most prominent cases are seen at McLaren and especially at AlphaTauri.

At McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo has only three Q3 appearances, compared to Lando’s five, and has only represented the team in four Q2 sessions. At AlphaTauri, the gap between drivers is even more extreme. I mean, just take a look at the chart and you’ll see the massive difference between Gasly and Tsunoda. The Frenchman has managed to qualify to Q3 four times, only failing to do so at the Spanish GP. Yuki, on the other hand, has been finding it difficult to adapt to Formula 1. The Japanese driver has only qualified to Q2 on two instances and is yet to appear in a Q3 session.

The average delta of both Ricciardo and Tsunoda is smaller than the delta found at Red Bull between Verstappen and Perez. Is this representative of better performance? Is Yuki doing a better job against Gasly than Sergio against Verstappen? I think it is up to you to decide. In my opinion, it is better to advance to Q2 or Q3 and start in the top 15 or top 10 than getting eliminated in Q1 or Q2. I believe it is reasonable to expect a harder battle in Q3 than Q2 and Q1, with the best drivers pushing the limits of the car. Because of this, I would adventure to say that Sergio is performing just slightly better than Ricciardo at the moment, and much better than Yuki, even if he has failed so far to achieve the high expectations that have been set on him.

Detailed data

2021 Season - Qualifying sessions summary
Rounds 1 to 5
Driver Q1 Q2 Q3
AppearancesAvg positionRangeAppearancesAvg positionRangeAppearancesAvg positionRange
Alfa Romeo
Giovinazzi511.8 412 110
Raikkonen514.6 314.33
Gasly57.6 59 46.25
Tsunoda411.5 213.5
Alonso512.7 411.62 29.5
Ocon59.3 48.25 36.66
Aston Martin
Stroll512 411 110
Vettel512.6 411 29
Leclerc54.8 53.8 54.2
Sainz57.8 55.4 45.75
Norris53.6 54.2 57
Ricciardo511 48.5 36.33
Bottas53.2 53.6 53.6
Hamilton54.8 53.6 52.6
Red Bull
Perez57.2 56 45.75
Verstappen54.59 54 52.2
Latifi516.8 114.5
Russell514 513.6

Final remarks

I have always felt the qualifying session is at times the most exciting part of a Formula 1 race weekend. The teammate battles can sway from one side to the other in an instant, causing us to have a perhaps biased view of reality. I think that an analysis like this one can be useful to see which drivers are over or underperforming.

At the moment I would say that the driver who has been underperforming the most is Daniel Ricciardo. Daniel is one of the best drivers of the grid, and the fact that he has been struggling so much to adapt to a new car tells you how difficult it has been for new drivers to work with the reduced pre-season testing format. Sergio Perez may be under great scrutiny since Red Bull has their most competitive car in years, and while he’s not currently shining, he has also been working with the shortened adaptation period.

Yuki Tsunoda has struggled badly, but he’s a rookie and his difficulties to adapt are not unexpected, while Fernando Alonso has been out of the sport for years and has to adapt to completely new cars.

Finally, I’m thinking of making this type of article a regular on this site since I want to keep you updated on how things keep developing over the whole season. Let me know if you would like that.

I hope you have enjoyed this longer-than-usual 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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