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Formula One season review: McLaren vs Ferrari

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Roar Guru
15th December, 2021

It feels like an age since McLaren and Ferrari were battling away for noteworthy positions in Formula One, given each organisation’s respective struggles over the last decade and 2021 saw these former icons return to the limelight.

Behind the titanic championship battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, there was a cracking tussle for third between the former world champion constructors – which saw one end a lengthy drought of wins.

Both teams saw a change to their driver line-ups coming into 2021, with Carlos Sainz heeding the Scuderia’s call to jump ship from McLaren after two successful seasons and Daniel Ricciardo replacing him at Woking following a contrasting stint at Renault to the Spaniard.

As if the personal intrigue between Sainz and Ricciardo switching teams wasn’t enough, the recovery for both teams from their individual pitfalls was sufficiently riveting to supplement the main championship battle.

McLaren entered the season having rekindled an engine partnership with Mercedes-Benz, following three dismal years with an underbaked Honda and then coming to the realisation with Renault power that their chassis and organisational structure was fundamentally flawed.

The Scuderia on the other hand hit an all-time low in 2020, as consequence of the behind-closed-doors settlement with the FIA around its questionable power-unit during the 2019 campaign. Under powered and too much drag meant the Ferrari was uncompetitive and slumped into the depths of the midfield during the previous season.

Bolstered with a fresh and enthusiastic Sainz to accompany incumbent Charles Leclerc, Ferrari immediately found reward in the consistency in both their drivers’ performances – unlike last year when the out-going Sebastian Vettel did the Formula One equivalent of kicking stones around in the playground.

Sebastian Vettel Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel. (Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool)

Leclerc and Sainz often qualified in Noah’s ark formation, while at McLaren there were struggles throughout 2021 for Ricciardo in adapting to the MCL35M. Something that in hindsight cost the team consecutive third placings in the constructor’s championship.


48.5 points was the difference in Ferrari’s favour at the end of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, having taken the lead from McLaren in Mexico City. While Spaniard Sainz achieved a record 15 straight points finishes to sneak ahead of former teammate Norris for a career best fifth in the driver’s standings.

Despite pole positions around the streets of Monaco and Baku, the tyre overheating problems they experienced in Les Castellet exposed them as still not having rectified their 2020 problems. A late season power-unit upgrade ultimately acted as the icing on the cake for Ferrari, in finding the pace supremacy over McLaren.

Hindsight also teases what could’ve been if Leclerc had not had that crash at the end of Q3 after his pole lap, which led to the gearbox damage that saw his car fail to start the Monaco Grand Prix and take what may’ve been a certain victory.

Sainz however, did collect his first trophy wearing the famous scarlet overalls there, with Norris snapping at his heels in third to add to a podium already achieved at the second race in Imola. Overall, the arrival of the former McLaren driver did take a lot of the burden off Leclerc in 2021 from being the sole bread-barer – even if it wasn’t as spectacular a season for the Monegasque.

Coming within three-laps of winning the British Grand Prix, reminded everyone of the Leclerc seen winning the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix in 2019, even if he did bail out at Copse against Lewis Hamilton – who’d been penalised for crashing with Max Verstappen at the very same corner on the first lap.


Waxing lyrical about the Ferrari line-up would be elementary, though it would be remiss to dismiss the excellence of Norris – who essentially carried the papaya-clad squad throughout the duration of the season.

Four podiums, accompanied a pole position in Russia and if it weren’t for a fifty-fifty strategic call in the rain going against the 22-year old – a maiden grand prix win would’ve followed. So too the potentially blistering pace in the wet of the Belgian Grand Prix qualifying prior to crashing.

The season ended on a whimper for Norris though, achieving a best finish of seventh in the final races and impacted on multiple occasions by slow punctures. Still pales in comparison to Ricciardo, who in said five races scored points on one occasion.

Victory at Monza to end that drought dating back to 2012 and the first one-two finish for McLaren since 2010, still stands above all on pure sentiment of seeing this once great organisation – finding its way back to the forefront of Formula One.

2021 gave optimism above all, that both McLaren and Ferrari are headed back to the upper echelon and the revolutionary upheaval of the technical regulations next year, may see a shift in the balance of power in Formula One. Hopefully that means instead of fighting for third, they’re both fighting for the championship.

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