How to pick a favorite Formula 1 driver ahead of Sunday's United States Grand Prix

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Formula 1 is back in the United States this weekend for the first time since 2019. Sunday's United States Grand Prix (2 p.m. ET, ABC) is set to be the biggest motorsports event of the weekend across the country.

F1's popularity in the United States has skyrocketed thanks to the "Drive to Survive" Netflix Series, ESPN's ubiquity and some absolutely riveting storylines this season. And while Sunday's race is going head-to-head with the NFL's 1 p.m. kickoffs, we're betting that more than a few people who normally watch football on a Sunday afternoon will be checking in on the race.

If you're a casual F1 fan because of "Drive to Survive" or you're wondering what the heck all the internet interest is about, here's a quick guide to pick a favorite driver. Racing is always more fun with a favorite driver. Especially Formula 1 racing. While Mercedes and Red Bull have — by far — the fastest cars, six different drivers have won races in 2021. And all six of those winners are listed below here in various categories. 

If you want to root for a legend

Then you’re picking Lewis Hamilton. The most dominant driver of the decade is tied with Michael Schumacher for the most F1 world titles (seven) and he has the most wins of any F1 driver. Another championship gives Hamilton an overwhelming case as the best Formula 1 driver ever — and maybe even the best driver in motorsports history.

If you want to root for the guy with the best chance of being a future legend

Then you’re picking Max Verstappen. Verstappen is giving Hamilton quite the run for the 2021 championship and currently leads Hamilton by six points in the standings. Verstappen, 24, has 17 wins in 135 starts and is positioned to be the top driver at Red Bull Racing for years to come. He’s a future champion, it’s just a matter of when he wins his first title.

If you want to root for a legend’s son

Then you’re picking Mick Schumacher. The son of Michael Schumacher has no shot at winning on Sunday or anytime in the future. He drives for the American Haas F1 team and Haas has had the slowest cars on the grid in 2021. Picking Mick as your driver now is more of a nostalgia pick than anything at this point, but maybe he’ll be in a faster car in the next couple of seasons.

If you want to root for the guy getting his big shot next year

Then you’re picking George Russell. The Mercedes driver is moving up to the Mercedes team in 2022 to team with Hamilton. Russell has shown overachieving pace at times in his backmarker Williams car and shined in his chance at Mercedes in 2020 when he was Hamilton’s COVID-19 replacement at Bahrain. Russell and Verstappen could be a fun rivalry after Hamilton retires.

If you want to root for the funniest driver on the grid

Then you’re picking Daniel Ricciardo. The McLaren F1 driver got his first win since 2018 at the Italian Grand Prix and the F1 world is a better one with the fun-loving Ricciardo drinking champagne out of sweaty shoes following race wins. Just look at this man’s genius Texas accent.

If you want to root for an upstart on the cusp of his first win

Then you’re picking Lando Norris. Norris would already be an F1 winner if it weren't for rain over the final few laps at the Russian Grand Prix. But he stayed out too long on slick tires and Hamilton took the win. Norris has five podiums in 54 races and is fourth in the standings. He’s been the best non-Mercedes or non-Red Bull driver so far this season and has a great chance to keep occupying that spot for as long as he’s at McLaren.

If you want to root for a driver on a team trying to get back to the top

Then you're picking either Charles LeClerc or Carlos Sainz. The two Ferrari drivers are fun to watch and will regularly contend for wins once Ferrari gets its act together. The legendary team has been lost in the wilderness since LeClerc and Sebastian Vettel combined for three wins in 2019. Ferrari's pace has picked up as the 2021 season has gone on and there's reason to hope the team can viably challenge Mercedes and Red Bull in 2022. 

If you want to root for the ultimate sidekick

Then you’re picking Valtteri Bottas. The Finnish driver is leaving Mercedes at the end of the season and heading to Alfa Romeo. His chances for wins and podiums are leaving with his Mercedes departure too, though it’s not going to be a stunner if Bottas wins another race or two before the season is over. Bottas moved to Mercedes ahead of the 2017 season and has won 10 races with the team while never really challenging Hamilton for team supremacy.

If you want to root for a Frenchman with a surprise win

Then you’re picking either Esteban Ocon or Pierre Gasly. Ocon got the first win of his career in Hungary earlier this season in a wild race, while Gasly got his first win at the Italian Grand Prix in 2020 in another unpredictable affair. Neither driver regularly competes for race wins because of his mid-pack equipment, but the drivers have shown that they can run up front when things break just right.

If you want to root for a driver in a cursed car

Then you’re picking Sergio Perez. Look, we’re not totally convinced that the curse of the second Red Bull car actually exists, but what other explanation is there for its performance? While Perez got a win in Baku earlier this year, Verstappen has nearly twice as many points as he does. Perez is currently fifth in the standings and is on pace to be the best-finishing second Red Bull driver in the past five seasons.

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