Top five Formula 1 drivers of 2021 season so far: Karun Chandhok's mid-season verdict
Four race winners, 10 different podium finishers, and one absolutely gripping world title duel. It has been quite the ride in Formula 1 2021 up to the summer break but who are the year's top performers so far? Sky F1's Karun Chandhok picks his 1-5 at mid-season...
Last Updated: 03/08/21 10:56pm
1. Max Verstappen
It was really hard to choose between Lewis and Max for who to put on top and, to be honest, there's a strong argument to be made for both.
Neither driver has been perfect, though. Max made an error in Bahrain by passing Lewis on the outside of the track, and then went wide in Portimao which cost him pole, while I still believe he could have given Lewis a bit more room in that crash at Silverstone.
But otherwise, he's been superb this season and has maximised the car he has got on every opportunity. Without the tyre blowout in Baku and even assuming he got second in Silverstone, he would be leading the championship by 37 points.
The Dutchman and the team will be hoping to swing the form back in their favour at the two home races he's got straight after the summer break.
2. Lewis Hamilton
As I said above, it has been hard to pick between the two drivers at the top of the table but ultimately Lewis' off-form weekend in Monaco and the error on the re-start in Baku were enough for me to put him behind Max.
The race win in Bahrain was utterly sublime and the final stint was a clear reminder to the whole paddock just why he's the benchmark driver of his generation. Lewis' ability to closely follow Max in the dirty air in Spain was crucial to getting the strategy to work.
Lewis got lucky in Imola in that the race was red flagged when he was in the gravel, but the great drivers always seem to also have the rub of the green when it matters.
Leading the World Championship going into the summer break after a weekend where he dominated qualifying will be a big psychological bonus.
3. Lando Norris
The young Brit has been a real star of the season thus far. I'll be honest, when I heard that Daniel Ricciardo was going to join McLaren, I thought that Lando would be in trouble but actually, this season has cemented Norris' reputation as one of the stars of Formula 1 for the next decade.
The fact that he's delivering on track and balancing it with wonderful humility, humour and charisma off track has endeared him to fans all around the world. You're definitely doing something right when you sell more merchandise than any other driver at the British Grand Prix.
It's a very different Lando I've seen this year. Gone are the jokey comments on the radio and instead there's a degree of maturity combined with a working environment that McLaren have created which has unlocked some serious speed.
Despite the fact he went wide on his quali lap in Imola by a few centimetres, I would still say that weekend was arguably the best single weekend performance of any driver this season.
4. Charles Leclerc
The uplift in Ferrari's form this season has once again allowed Charles Leclerc to show off his prodigious talent.
The pole position laps in Monaco and Baku were sensational as were the Saturday performances in Silverstone and Spain. Ferrari had a dreadful race with tyre wear in France and Charles was unlucky in Hungary but otherwise, he's shown a level of consistency this season that indicates that he is ready to be a title contender as soon as Ferrari are.
The only real blemish was the crash in qualifying in Monaco which obviously cost him the chance to fight for victory in his home Grand Prix. A class act outside the car, Ferrari have done well to lock him down for the long term before Mercedes or Red Bull came knocking.
5. Carlos Sainz
This was a really tough call to make, to be honest. You could make a case for Pierre Gasly or Esteban Ocon to be in this position but in the end I'm going to go with Sainz because I think the pressure of being a new Ferrari driver alongside an incumbent star like Leclerc is a very tough job and the Spaniard has adapted very quickly to life in Maranello.
I don't know why but things often seem to go wrong for Carlos in qualifying. Even going back to his McLaren days, you would get to the end of the season and be adding up a whole list of 'should have scored' points and this seems to be continuing with a plethora of races compromised by out-of-position grid places, either through bad luck or his own errors such as in Baku or Budapest.
On the whole though, 11 races in, his average deficit to Charles is only 0.117s which is seriously impressive if you consider Carlos has had to learn all about a new team and power unit.
Like in his McLaren years, when the bad luck stops and the results start to click, he will be a real asset to Ferrari which is why I constantly find myself saying that they have the best long-term driver line-up in F1.