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F1 New Generation | Russell’s deal confirms changing of the guard

F1 New Generation | Russell’s deal confirms changing of the guard

08-09-2021 08:09 Last update: 10:35

With Max Verstappen at Red Bull Racing, Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, Lando Norris at McLaren and George Russell at Mercedes, 2022 really does seem like the year the youngsters take over in Formula One. How do these talents compare, and what are the similarities, to the previous generation?

Duels in Formula 1

Formula 1 is always a coming and going of talents, but at the top it often remains stable for years. Every era has its heroes. F1 started with title fights between Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari, before we saw duels between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher against Mika Hakkinen. Every generation has new heroes, and the new generation seems to be rising now.

After the era of Schumacher and Hakkinen, it was the turn of a new generation. Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso were the first to emerge, but by the end of that period, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were also on the scene. Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel would dominate the sport for years, but it is now time for a new generation.

Although Alonso and Vettel are still driving in F1, they are already not seen as the potential world champions in the coming seasons. Hamilton is still fighting at the top, but also his career will not last forever. So it's nice to see the next generation getting a chance at the top.

Verstappen looks like Alonso

The man who stands head and shoulders above the rest is, of course, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has been driving in F1 since 2015, and for a top team since 2016. He has completely turned Red Bull Racing to his will, and is the first of the new generation to attack the previous one. It's ironic that it's precisely Verstappen, especially when compared to the previous generation.

If you had to compare Verstappen to anyone, it would be Fernando Alonso. Like Alonso, Verstappen is an all-round driver who is very fast on the Saturday, but excels mainly on Sunday during the race. Every driver is afraid to duel with these drivers, because you can't just pass them and they will take advantage of every mistake.

Also, in character the two don't differ much. Both are very outspoken and hard towards the established (British) order in Formula 1. Both have a huge fan base in their country, and were the ones who managed to put F1 on the map in Spain and the Netherlands respectively. Verstappen, however, seems to be more relaxed internally than Alonso was in his prime. While Fernando threw away his chances of winning more world titles by arguing everywhere, Verstappen is able to really mould a team to his will.

The fact that Verstappen is the one to attack Hamilton now is ironic, as Hamilton was the first to attack Alonso. The Spaniard was seen as the new prodigy after his time at Renault, but was ousted from the throne at McLaren. That it happens the other way around is typical for Formula 1.

The new Vettel and Hamilton

Second in the list is Leclerc. Leclerc and Verstappen have known each other since karting and have fought out many duels. If they fight for the title it will be a hard fight. Leclerc still makes some mistakes, but in 2021 he is more consistent than ever before. If he can continue in that vein, it's just a matter of waiting for a good car from Ferrari.

Leclerc is more like Hamilton. The Monegasque has worked his way up to the top without much outside guidance. He is extremely fast over one lap, but is also a good racer. Above all, he is a fast learner. Like Hamilton early in his career, Leclerc is sometimes a bit wild in wheel-to-wheel racing, but like Lewis he is always very guilt-free immediately after races. If he was wrong he says so immediately and tries to learn from it.

Lando Norris is really breaking through for the first time in 2021, with his consistent performances at McLaren. The question is whether he is on the level of Leclerc and Verstappen. While those two showed brilliant things in their first season, Norris was a bit modest and was beaten by Carlos Sainz. Leclerc and Verstappen seem a little more advanced at the moment, but Norris is working hard on himself and with a good car from McLaren might be a good challenge in a few years time.

George Russell is the most difficult of the new recruits to assess. At the back of the grid, top performances are quickly noticed, but lesser days are also much less noticeable. Russell, like Leclerc and Verstappen, has shown those highlights, and has mainly done so on Saturday. He is extremely fast over a single lap, but has yet to prove it with a big team.

He'll get that chance at Mercedes in 2022. While Leclerc and Verstappen were quickly promoted to the highest team, Russell has had to wait three years for it. He will have to compete with Lewis Hamilton internally, and that is of course a good test.

Norris and Russell can best be compared to Sebastian Vettel. Incredibly fast over one lap, but still some problems on Sunday, and especially wheel-to-wheel racing. Vettel was unstoppable with the fast RB16B, but once in traffic as seen with Ferrari and Aston Martin, he gets into trouble quicker.

Norris and Russell have both shown improvement when it comes to Sunday, but are not yet the real racers that Leclerc and Verstappen are. Russell and Norris can drive an incredibly fast lap, and are therefore always difficult customers. Give them a good car, and you will probably never see them again as they drive off into the distance.

How good is the new generation?

Who is the best of the generation we can only say at the end of the ride. As a driver, Hamilton proved to be the best at choosing the right team and gathering the right people around him to often become world champion. He also knew how to develop himself as a driver, which enabled him to overcome new challenges.

In that respect, Alonso and Vettel were left behind in the previous generation. Alonso made war within McLaren and Ferrari and never managed to lead a team to the top. Vettel ended up in a successful spell at Red Bull Racing, but never managed to make Ferrari his own. This was also because he didn't seem to develop further as a driver.

The similarities with their predecessors, however, say nothing about the new generation. As said, Verstappen is much calmer than Alonso was in his time, where Leclerc still has to prove if he is capable to lead Ferrari to the top. For Russell and Norris, it will be important not to rely solely on a fast lap, because that only works if you have the best car.

In that respect F1 remains a tricky game. The sport hopes that the new regulations will bring the cars closer together, but the drivers will always be dependent on their equipment. However, good examples are followed. Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton showed that it is better to work for years within one team to perfect everything, than to hop from team to team. Let that be a wise lesson for the current generation.

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