We don’t know about you, but we’ve only got our breath back after THAT 2021 Formula 1 season finale!o After a nail-biting 22 races, Max Verstappen and Red Bull grabbed their first F1 drivers’ championship in the final round of the season at Abu Dhabi despite Lewis Hamilton seeming to be on course for a record-breaking eighth title for the majority of the race.
Wherever you stand on the F1 2021 season ender, the F1 community - team members and fans alike - are pretty much united in the belief that this year was one of the sport’s finest.
To reflect on what was undoubtedly the greatest F1 season since 2012, we’ve put together some of the highs and lows of a Formula 1 year that will hopefully go down in history for all of the right reasons.
(If you’d like to see how wrong we were with our F1 2021 pre-season predictions, click here to read it and then feel free to drop us a message laughing at us!)
Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing Finally Break The Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes Stranglehold on The F1 Drivers’ Championship
From 2014 to 2020, Mercedes won every Formula 1 drivers’ and constructors’ championship on the bounce. Whilst Nico Rosberg took the title in 2016, every other season was won by Lewis Hamilton. Come the end of the 2020 season, the Briton won his seventh drivers’ title to draw level with Michael Schumacher to become the most successful driver the sport has ever seen. Going into 2021, many - including us - expected Hamilton to score an eighth to become the Greatest of All Time. Didn’t happen though, did it? Wherever you stand on the controversial ending to the season in Abu Dhabi, F1’s new champion, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen is fully deserving of his maiden F1 title. The Dutchman won 10 races to Hamilton’s 8; he took 10 pole positions to Hamilton’s 5; The Red Bull driver also took 18 podiums to the Mercedes man’s 17. Perhaps most astonishingly of all, Verstappen led 652 laps whilst the rest of the field combined - including Hamilton - led 644. After taking stock of these numbers, let’s put the argument about who is the ‘true’ F1 champion of 2021 to bed and look back on what was one of the most competitive F1 seasons ever.
Sebastian Vettel Scores Two Podiums For The All-New Aston Martin F1 Team After a Dismal 2020 With Ferrari
On paper, four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel fared little better in his debut season with the newly-branded Aston Martin outfit than he did during his last year with Ferrari in 2020. After all, for a man who is the joint-third most successful driver in the history of the sport, 12th in the drivers’ standings and 43 points in 2021 is seemingly little to shout about. Yet despite finishing in the bottom half of the championship table, we finally saw the return of the old Seb this season. After finding his feet with his new team in the first opening races, the German put in a storming drive to fifth in Monaco to kickstart his year. The following race in Azerbaijan, Seb turned in a classic performance to avoid the chaos and finish second - in doing so, he scored Aston Martin’s first ever F1 podium, and his first top-three finish since Turkey 2020. Another P2 finish came at the Hungarian Grand Prix. However, Seb and Aston Martin were eventually disqualified for not having enough fuel in the car after the race. During the second half of 2021, Aston Martin turned its efforts fully to its 2022 car, so points for both Seb and his teammate Lance Stroll were few and far between. If, however, Aston Martin does manage to nail the next season’s new regulations as it has done so in its previous guises (see, Jordan, Force India, and Racing Point) expect to see The Green Team - and Vettel especially - punching above their weight more often than not.
Toto Wolff Being Toto Wolff
The excitement of the 2021 Formula 1 title battle wasn’t just relegated to Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on-track. Things got just as heated between Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner and his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff. Throughout the season the team principals took swipes at each other, with Horner calling Wolff “a windbag”, and Wolff referring to Horner as “pantomime dame.” What remains though, is that Toto is one hell of a team boss - in fact, he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Enzo Ferraris, Ron Dennises, and Frank Williams’ of this world. Despite losing out on the 2021 drivers’ title, Mercedes took its eighth constructors’ championship which puts it joint third with McLaren on the list of the most successful teams in F1 history. As team boss, Toto was also key to spearheading the Mercedes 2021 fightback. By mid-season, Verstappen had opened a 32-point lead over the Briton. For Hamilton and Mercedes to claw the gap back to come within a whisker of an eighth drivers’ title was nothing short of remarkable. Toto also provided some of the most memorable pitwall moments of the season. These include the image above which has since been given meme treatment by the Internet, and angrily breaking a pair of Bose headphones on his desk during the following race in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps most memorably, Peak Toto came when he told Hamilton to “f**k them all” in reference to the Briton’s detractors after his astonishing drive from 10th to first in Brazil.
The Return of Fernando Alonso To F1 and The Podium with Alpine
Back in 2018, Fernando Alonso left F1 a disgruntled man. After five fruitless seasons with Ferrari - despite narrowly missing out on the 2010 and 2012 drivers’ championships to Vettel - and another four trundling about in a series of rubbish McLarens, the Spaniard turned his back on the sport to go and race in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Toyota and have another - albeit disastrous - crack at the Indy 500 with McLaren. After the WEC title and two Le Mans victories, the pull of F1 proved too strong for Alonso and he returned to F1 this season with Alpine. Alpine - formerly Renault - is Alonso’s ‘home’ in F1. It was the team with whom he took his maiden pole position and victory in 2003. What’s more, he won the 2005 and 2006 drivers’ titles with ‘Team Enstone’. This season, Alonso came back to F1 refreshed. Gone was the sometimes-confrontational attitude, and he returned to the sport as a man with ‘El Plan’; a plan which he and Alpine Executive Director, Marcin Budkowski, devised in the hope it will transform them from midfield runners into championship contenders as of next season. Alonso - now 40 - proved that during his two-year break from F1, he’d lost none of the speed that makes him one of the sport’s all-time greats and a fan favourite. His overtakes during the Silverstone Sprint Race were hallmarks of a man who’d never mentally left, and his defence against a much faster Lewis Hamilton at the Hungaroring was a masterclass in how to stave off a much faster car. Alonso’s high-point of 2021 came in Qatar when he qualified and finished third in what was one of the most popular drives of the year. It was his first top-three finish since 2013. The Enstone team has a knack for getting things right when rule changes take place. We can’t help but feel that Alonso and Budkowski have something very special up their sleeves for 2022 when El Plan fully kicks in...
Sergio Perez Shows Red Bull What They Were Missing For Years During His First F1 Season With Them
Since Daniel Ricciardo jumped ship at the end of the 2018 F1 season, the results from the second half of the garage at Red Bull Racing have been patchy at best. Pierre Gasly was promoted to the Big Team from Toro Rosso for 2019, then duly dropped back to Toro Rosso mid-way through the season after he couldn’t match Max Verstappen. Alex Albon was brought in to replace him for the rest of the 2019 and 2020. Given he too couldn’t get anywhere near the mighty Dutchman, he was shunted across into a Third Driver role with Sergio Perez taking his seat for 2021. Whilst Perez was never going to match Verstappen on raw pace, he did the job Red Bull needed of him - to be the supporting act to their Number 1 driver, and pick up the pieces when needed. ‘Checo’ did his job perfectly. The likeable Mexican took his first win as a Red Bull driver in Azerbaijan - the second of his career - and four further podiums including a massively popular P3 at his home race in Mexico. What’s more, Checo’s robust defence of Lewis Hamilton in the Abu Dhabi championship decider was sublime and massively instrumental in helping his teammate to his first driver’s title. Never since the days of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber has Red Bull boasted such a strong driver line-up.
The Majestic Mercedes Fightback During The Second Half of 2021
By the middle of the 2021 season, Red Bull and Max Verstappen seemed well and truly on their way to wrapping up the drivers’ championship. After all, the Dutchman had a 32-point advantage over Hamilton after a triple-header clean sweep going into the British Grand Prix. Yet after the controversial clash between the two title protagonists at Silverstone where Hamilton took victory and Verstappen ended his race in the wall, the Mercedes man managed to slash his rival’s title lead to just eight points. Silverstone proved to be a turning point for Mercedes, and in the rounds that followed, it appeared to finally figure out its tricky 2021 car, the W12. Arguably, Mercedes’ peak came at the Brazilian Grand Prix when the team gave Hamilton a fresh engine as it sought to make up ground to Verstappen and Red Bull. The seven-time champion breezed through the field after starting 10th to take a well-deserved 101st F1 career victory ahead of Max who had no answer for the black and silver car. Such was the effectiveness of the W12 in Brazil, it was 25 kilometres per-hour faster than any car on the straights with the aid of DRS. After Brazil, Hamilton and Mercedes then went on to take back-to-back victories in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to draw level on points with Verstappen going into the Abu Dhabi finale.
In His Maiden Season as a Ferrari Driver Carlos Sainz Demonstrates His Class By Stealthily Beating Teammate Charles Leclerc
After Sebastian Vettel departed Ferrari under a cloud at the end of 2020, Carlos Sainz was drafted over from McLaren to replace the German. Despite his poor final season in red, Vettel’s shoes were still big shoes to fill. After all, he - even to this day - is the last driver to win a race for the Scuderia, and until Verstappen this season, Seb was the last driver to take a credible fight to the Mercedes/Hamilton juggernaut in 2017 and 2018. Yet none of this fazed Carlos. Quietly, the Spaniard got his head down at Ferrari, learned the ropes, and ended his debut season fifth in the championship as the best of the rest behind both Red Bull and Mercedes drivers. Most impressively though, Sainz outscored highly-rated teammate Charles Leclerc - the man who narrowly beat Vettel in 2019 and trounced him in 2020 - with 164.5 points to the Monegasque’s 159 points. Sainz also climbed the podium four times; a feat Leclerc managed just once after a spirited drive at Silverstone. The fact of the matter is that nobody expected F1’s “Smooth Operator” to perform so strongly in his first season at Maranello, let alone beat Leclerc. This, then, begs a legitimate question: has Ferrari accidently got the team leader it never asked for in Sainz?
Some Further Underrated Drives from Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon, and Pierre Gasly…
Given the majestic on-track battle between Verstappen and Hamilton, it was at times easy to overlook some of the other standout drives of the year. In his final season as a Mercedes driver, Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas joined an exclusive club of just three drivers - alongside Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost - who have qualified in the top 10 for 100 consecutive races. He also dominated Hamilton all weekend in Turkey to take the win and his 10th F1 career victory. Further down the grid, Pierre Gasly drove the wheels off of his Alpha Tauri to almost single-handedly take the team to sixth in the constructors’ title; just 13 points behind Alpine. Whilst the French driver was unable to repeat his shock 2020 victory, he did manage to score third place amidst the Azerbaijani anarchy and wind up 9th in the championship standings ahead of the likes of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Räikkönen. Further shoutouts go to Esteban Ocon for taking advantage of the first corner chaos in Hungary to score his and Alpine’s first F1 victories. The French driver also missed out on third-place finish by 0.103 seconds to Bottas after another gutsy drive in Saudi Arabia.
Some Seriously Dodgy Driving and Poor Decision Making by The FIA
The 2021 F1 season wasn’t a vintage year for exemplary driving standards and stewarding. We had the championship protagonists running into each other more than once, with the low point arriving in Saudi Arabia. On more than one occasion, Max Verstappen was way too optimistic with his overtakes, whilst Hamilton appeared to purposely drive into the back of the Red Bull as the Dutch driver seemingly let him by for an illegal pass. There was also the Silverstone incident, in which Verstappen ended his race in the wall after a 51-G Force crash. A handful of races later in Monza, the two came together again to record a double DNF. Whilst there is no problem with hard racing, dirty driving cheapens what is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport. What’s more, we saw continuously inconsistent penalty decisions made on behalf of the FIA all year. In what’s soon to be Year Three of the COVID-19 pandemic, never has the phrase “rules for thee, but not for me” been so applicable to not just Formula 1, but the world at large. The FIA need to seriously sort out their decision making process before 2022. As for solving the issue of iffy overtakes and abusing track limits, the FIA should just reintroduce gravel traps. That should solve the issue.
Kimi Räikkönen Says Goodbye to F1 Forever
After 345 F1 starts, 19 seasons, one championship, 21 wins, 103 podiums, and 18 pole positions, Kimi Räikkönen finally said goodbye to Formula 1 to spend more time with his young family and - presumably - have the drink. The much-loved Finn’s final seasons at Alfa Romeo were spent largely trundling around in the lower midfield. Yet that didn’t matter to Kimi, who simply loved the thrill of driving an F1 car fast. Very fast. Regarding the PR and marketing exercises that take up so much of a driver’s schedule away from their main job of driving, Kimi wasn’t so enamoured. What’s more, he wasn’t afraid to show it. Along with his open disdain for publicity work, the 42 year-old’s rejection of the glitz, glamour, and virtue signalling that come with latter day F1 endeared him to millions of fans around the world. Monosyllabic, lightning fast, and seemingly not arsed about anything apart from driving, Kimi will be very much missed come 2022. What’s more, Räikkönen can relax in retirement knowing that despite the best efforts of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, he is still the last driver to ever win a drivers’ title for Ferrari back in 2007.
F1’s Saudi Arabia S**t Shower
For a championship that prides itself on its #WeRaceAsOne slogan, Formula 1 should not have even entertained the thought of racing in Saudi Arabia. After all, this is the country that still makes journalists “disappear” should they report anything unfavourable about the country or its regime. Until 2018, the Saudi authorities forbid women to drive. Even today, same-sex relationships are banned. Lovely. Ethical reasons aside, F1’s first trip to Saudi Arabia was the season’s low point. The track was outright dangerous - it was too narrow and too quick to deal with the current spec of cars. To put this into context, a current-gen F1 car is almost six-metres long, two-metres wide, and produces the best part of 1,000bhp. It’s too much for this type of circuit. If the whole questionable situation wasn’t enough, Verstappen went full “Mad Max” with a number of his overtakes on Hamilton and was correctly penalised for some overly aggressive driving. Meanwhile, the Mercedes man appeared to deliberately run into the back of the Dutchman’s Red Bull. To round off a total pantomime of a race weekend, Red Bull seemingly tried to bargain Verstappen’s position with FIA Race Director, Michael Masi, over one of the race’s two restarts. Oh, and the restarts came after two Red Flag race stoppages and far too many Safety Car periods. In short, everything about the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix made it the darkest weekend for the sport in many, many years.
Honda Leaving F1 Again After Their First F1 Championship in 30 Years
Over the last few Formula 1 seasons, Honda produced nothing short of a remarkable turnaround during its latest period in F1. When it re-joined the sport in 2015 with McLaren, its Power Unit was extremely slow and massively unreliable. Come 2019 when it joined forces with Red Bull Racing after being dumped by McLaren at the end of the previous season, the Japanese firm was back in the winner’s circle courtesy of Max Verstappen. By 2021, Honda were World Champions once again, just as they had been with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost some three decades prior. Yet Honda - like it did in 1992 and 2008 - once again decided to pull out of F1 at the end of the 2021 season. At the start of October this year, the company cited its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 as the reason behind its latest withdrawal from the sport. Thankfully, it will continue supplying Red Bull and Alpha Tauri with Power Units until 2025. However, the Honda Power Units will race under the name of Red Bull Powertrains - a new division operating from Red Bull Racing’s case in Milton Keynes, which will receive technical assistance from Honda’s HQ in Sakura.
George Russell Going Full Karen on Twitter at The Abu Dhabi Season Finale
Back in September it was announced that George Russell would be leaving Williams to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes. When the news broke, it wasn’t exactly a shock to anyone that the Briton would be going up against compatriot Lewis Hamilton for 2022. What was a surprise was how the usually calm and collected Russell handled the 2021 F1 season finale. After retiring from his final race with Williams, Russell bashed his iPhone keyboard to screech - in block capitals, obviously - “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!!!!” in relation to how Verstappen won his maiden drivers’ title. Undoubtedly, everyone in the F1 world - employee or fan - has their thoughts on how the championship was decided. However, the Tweet from Russell above came across as massively hysterical and written by a man who was trying too hard to impress his new employer. As a reference point, Russell’s new teammate Lewis Hamilton learned the hard way about being too opinionated. In the eyes of a large part of the F1 community, Hamilton’s off-track actions in 2020 did irreparable damage to what will be an outstanding legacy in the sport when he retires. Going into 2022, it would be wise of Russell to emulate the likes of Perez and Sainz by getting his head down and learning his new team without any histrionics; Twitter-based or otherwise.
Alpine F2 Protegé Oscar Piastri Missing Out on a 2022 F1 Seat Because Money
Like the 2021 F1 season, this year’s Formula 2 was properly good. The field is packed with the post-Verstappen/Leclerc/Russell/Norris generation of talents including Estonia’s Jüri Vips, New Zealand’s Liam Lawson, and the chap you see here - Australia’s Oscar Piastri. A Renault - now Alpine - Sport Academy driver, Piastri won the 2019 Formula Renault EuroCup, and followed it up with the Formula 3 championship in 2020. Fast-forward to 2021, and the 20-year-old Aussie comprehensively won this season’s F2 title with six wins, 11 podiums, five pole positions, and six fastest laps. Come the end of the season, Piastri had won his maiden F2 title with 252.5 points; a winning margin of 60.5 points over championship runner-up, Robert Schwartzmann. On talent and achievements alone, Piastri’s single-seater record over the last three seasons should have propelled him to F1 for 2022. Yet for budgetary reasons, the Australian is - in his own words - set to be the “couch champion” for next year. If anyone here wants to join us in getting a Kickstarter campaign going to help him find a seat, drop us a line.
Nikita Mazepin Defying The Odds to Finish 21st in a 20 Driver Championship
Since forever, Formula 1 has had drivers who pay-to-play on the grid. In fact, even the front runners still bring about a certain amount of personal sponsorship to their teams. However, there are some pay drivers who’ve come half-decent (see, Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi in recent years) and those who have not. Unfortunately for Russian rookie Nikita Mazepin, it appears he comes under the latter category. Granted, the 2021 HAAS car was an absolute lemon, but Mazepin did himself no favours at all throughout his debut F1 season. Stuffing his car into the wall just corners into the Bahrain season opener, causing headaches to pretty much the rest of the grid, squabbling with teammate Mick Schumacher, and being generally off the pace were just a few of young Nikushka’s black marks in 2021. His dad’s firm, UralKali, is the title sponsor of the HAAS team, so don’t expect Mazepin to be going anywhere for the forthcoming future. Still, he’s young enough and resilient enough (he is Russian afterall…) to learn from his mistakes. Hopefully he’ll take 2021 onboard and mature into a half-decent driver in the future.
Who were your standout performers of the 2021 F1 season? Send us a message to tell us your thoughts, and where you stand on this season review!