The 2021 F1 Season got underway in March, and despite the challenges faced due to the COVID 19 Pandemic, the FOM ensured that 22 races would get held over the season. While some tracks failed to host an F1 race for the second time in a row, others stepped up to the plate and helped the sport achieve its objective of a sizeable season. Zandvoort ( Netherlands ), Lusail ( Qatar ) and Jeddah ( Saudi Arabia ) were the new entrants in 2021.
2021 was also the season where the FIA and FOM sampled a new race weekend format, which featured Qualifying on Friday, followed by the F1 Sprint, a 100 km long race that decided the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday. With the overhaul of the technical regulations due for 2022, many teams shifted their focus to the new era. However, some persisted with success in 2021.
Although technical regulation changes ( in 2021 ) benefitted cars with a high rake aero setup, Hamilton and Mercedes remained favourites for the title. Verstappen and Red Bull hoped to be closer than ever in their quest to dethrone their arch-rivals. Did 2021 see the crowning of a new Champion? How did the teams and drivers fare in the final season of 1st chapter of the Turbo era?
Time to revisit the performances in 2021.
Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team :
Mercedes, the undisputed king of the Turbo Era, faced a formidable challenge from Red Bull in 2021. Mercedes retained the services of Hamilton and Bottas. It wasn't smooth sailing in the title fight, but Mercedes prevailed at the end to take their 8th consecutive Constructors' Championship. Although they secured the Constructors, they felt that Hamilton got robbed of the Drivers' title due to the controversial calls of the FIA Race Director near the end of the Abu Dhabi GP. The team even boycotted the FIA Awards Ceremony, expressing their displeasure and protesting against the Stewards verdict.
The final race marred what had been an incredible battle between two of the best drivers ( Hamilton and Verstappen ) in the sport.
Hamilton ended 2021 eight points behind Verstappen, with eight wins and nine podiums to his name. Barring a coming together with Verstappen in Italy, Hamilton went pointless only in Baku. However, small mistakes and dodgy strategy calls from the pit wall throughout 2021 proved pivotal in the title fight.
A solitary win in Turkey ended what had been an underwhelming season for Bottas. The Finn scored ten other podium finishes but couldn't challenge the likes of Verstappen or Hamilton. P3 was the best that Bottas could manage in the Drivers' Championship but being more consistent than Perez allowed Mercedes to clinch the Constructors' Championship.
Mercedes announced the appointment of Russell alongside Hamilton for 2022. Although Hamilton is yet to confirm his participation in the new era, Mercedes remains hopeful at convincing the Briton to stay put and battle in 2022.
Red Bull Racing F1 Team :
Red Bull entered the 2021 season intending to remain relentless in their quest for winning the Championship. There was no room for mediocrity, and the team decided to replace Albon with Perez to partner Verstappen. The upgrades brought throughout the season bore fruit for Red Bull, and they managed to stay within striking distance of Mercedes. However, resurgent performances by Hamilton and Bottas made it evident that Red Bull wouldn't secure the Constructors' title towards the end. While Red Bull's challenge fizzled out, Verstappen managed to lead and fend off Hamilton in the Drivers' Championship. Eventually, in the season finale at Abu Dhabi, both Verstappen and Hamilton were level on points in a winner-takes-all race.
The race turned out to be a roller coaster of emotions for both teams and fans, and after a controversial ending, Verstappen took the Drivers' Title for 2021! Perez also played a pivotal role in the race, and celebrations broke out in the Red Bull camp. Despite the controversial end to the season and the protests lodged by Mercedes, Verstappen retained the Championship. The Dutchman was the more consistent over the season and won 10 races ( to Hamilton's 8 ), securing eight podium finishes. The retirement at Baku and the accidents in Silverstone and Monza were some setbacks, but Verstappen didn't slip whenever the opportunity arose.
As for Perez, it was a mercurial debut year with Red Bull. Barring his victory in Baku and the four podium finishes in France, Turkey, USA and Mexico, the Mexican struggled with the role of the second driver at Red Bull. The Mexican ended 2021 in 4th, 36 points behind Bottas.
Red Bull achieved to break Hamilton's run of titles since 2016. They also denied the Briton the opportunity to become the most successful driver in the sport, keeping Schumacher's record of 7 titles intact. The team would now focus on retaining the Drivers' Championship and hoping for better performances from Perez to bring them closer to the Constructors in 2022.
Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team :
Ferrari had a dismal 2020 and needed to turn things around in 2021. Carlos Sainz joined their ranks to partner Leclerc. Progress was slow in the first half of the season, but the Scuderia finished it strongly to take P3 in the Constructors'. Although the gulf to the top two remained big, to be the best of the rest was no mean feat after the disappointments of 2020.
Interestingly, it was Sainz who won the intra-team battle against Leclerc. The Spaniard finished P5 in the Championship, 5.5 points clear of his teammate. Sainz bagged four podiums - P2 in Monaco and P3 in Hungary, Russia and Abu Dhabi. He failed to score in only two races, making him one of the most consistent in 2021.
Leclerc was winner elect in Monaco when he crashed his Ferrari in Q3 and couldn't start the race as a result. Nevertheless, the Monegasque secured P2 in Silverstone, his only podium finish of the season. He suffered another retirement in Hungary due to a turn one collision on the opening lap. France and Russia were the other tracks where Leclerc failed to score.
Ferrari retains the same line-up for 2022 and is working hard to produce a contender worthy of victories in the new era. The only way is upwards for the most successful team in F1.
McLaren F1 Team :
McLaren was the 3rd best team at the end of 2020. They had a formidable pairing in Sainz and Norris but lost Sainz to Ferrari for 2021. The replacement arrived in the form of Ricciardo from Alpine. McLaren remained locked in an intense battle for P3 with Ferrari, but their challenge petered out towards the end of the season. Eventually, the Woking-based team finished in P4, 48.5 points adrift. McLaren, however, managed to secure an unthinkable 1-2 in Monza, Italy, at Ferrari's home turf.
Norris ended the season P6 in the standings, P2 at Monza being his best finish. He also secured two P3s at Monaco and Austria, finishing in the top 10 on 16 other occasions. The Briton would have secured his first victory at Russia, but inclement weather made him overrule the pit calls, eventually relegating him to P7.
Ricciardo took victory for McLaren at Monza but failed to be as consistent as Norris. The Australian couldn't score in 9 races, bringing his tally to 115 points in P8 in the standings. However, being his first year with the team, Ricciardo was still settling into his new life at McLaren.
McLaren has been inching towards the sharp end of the grid but will need consistent performances from both its drivers to challenge the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
Alpine F1 Team :
Renault Sport F1 got rechristened Alpine F1 in 2021, named after the brand's performance division. As a full-works team, Alpine had a bitter-sweet 2021. They welcomed the return of Fernando Alonso to their ranks, alongside Esteban Ocon, and the duo managed to fend off an intense challenge by Alpha Tauri to give Alpine P5 in the Constructors.
Alonso edged out his teammate by 7 points to finish P10 in the Drivers' Championship. The former Double-World Champion bagged a podium ( P3 ) in Qatar besides finishing in the points in 14 other races.
Ocon, meanwhile, took an unlike victory at Hungary to give Alpine its first win since Australia 2013 ( when Raikkonen won with Lotus F1 ). Like Alonso, Ocon failed to score in 8 races yet managed 74 points.
The Alonso-Ocon pairing in 2021 has given Alpine a base to work with for their 2022 challenger. Will they be closer to the sharp end of the grid or remain in the midfield melee remains the million-dollar question.
Scuderia Alpha Tauri F1 Team :
Scuderia Alpha Tauri, Red Bull's B team, brought in Honda protegee Yuki Tsunoda to partner Pierre Gasly for 2021. With Honda engines improving in performance with each passing year, Alpha Tauri mounted a commendable challenge for P5 in the Constructors'. Although they fell short of their target by 13 points against Alpine, a full-works team, it had been a strong year for the Italian outfit.
Gasly was instrumental in scoring the bulk of the points for the team. The Frenchman finished P9 in the standings with 110 points, P3 in Azerbaijan being his best result. His Qualifying performances ensured him points- finishes in 14 other races.
Tsunoda, on the other hand, had a challenging rookie season. The Japanese driver managed a mere 32 points, finishing in the top 10 on seven occasions. P4 in Abu Dhabi was his best finish. Although Tsunoda's performances were sub-par, Red Bull decided to give him another chance in 2022. 2022 is a journey into the unknown, but Alpha Tauri has the resources of repeating the performances of 2021.
Aston Martin Racing F1 Team :
Aston Martin Racing, previously Racing Point, had a disappointing showing in 2021. After the highs of finishing P4 in the Constructors' in 2020, the Silverstone-based outfit managed only 77 points and P7 in 2021. Aston Martin got caught off-guard after the FIA brought about a change in technical regulations, which benefitted the teams running a high rake design. Although Aston Martin pushed for redesigns, it was too little too late as they slowly fell backwards in a highly-contested midfield.
With Perez getting released at the end of 2020, Aston Martin looked to Vettel for his experience and expertise alongside Stroll. The team sported an all-green livery ( with shades of pink ), the characteristic Aston Martin colours.
Vettel won the intra-team battle by 9 points, finishing P12 in the standings, followed by Stroll in 13th. Vettel secured P2 in Azerbaijan and Hungary but got disqualified in the latter due to a fuel irregularity. He finished in the points in six other races. Stroll's best finish was in Qatar ( P6 ), besides eight other points-finishes.
Aston Martin has retained the services of both its drivers for 2022.
Williams Racing F1 Team :
After their takeover by Dorilton Capital in 2020, Williams Racing has gone from strength to strength in 2021. After ending 2020 without a point to their name, Williams jumped to P8 in the Constructors, scoring 23 points and an unlikely podium with Russell ( P2 ) in Belgium. The team persisted with Russell and Latifi for 2022, and the duo repaid the team for trusting in them.
Russell ended 2021 P15 in the Drivers' Standings, with 3 points finishes ( Hungary, Italy and Russia ) and a podium finish ( P2 in Belgium ) to his name. Meanwhile, Latifi finished P7 in Hungary and P9 in Belgium. Russell's P2 in Belgium turned the tide in the battle for P8 against Alfa Romeo, and Williams remained unchallenged ever since.
While Russell switches to Mercedes for 2022, Albon joins Latifi at Williams, and the team hopes to do equally well, if not better, in the new year.
Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen F1 Team :
Alfa Romeo ended the 2021 F1 Season 9th in the Constructors' Standings. It was a mediocre season for the Hinwil-based outfit, strategic calls and lack of outright pace hurting them against their immediate rivals in Williams. Although they retained their driver line-up of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi for 2021, the team failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented throughout the season, ending 10 points shy of Williams in 8th.
While Giovinazzi outperformed Raikkonen on Saturdays, the veteran fared better on race days. Raikkonen finished in the points on four occasions, with 8th in Russia and Mexico being his best performance in 2021. The Finn announced his retirement from the sport, having finished 16th in the Drivers' Standings in his final year in F1.
As for Giovinazzi, P10 in Monaco and P9 in Saudi Arabia were his two finishes in the points. Like Raikkonen, he also suffered from poor tactical calls, which denied him better finishes in many races.
Alfa Romeo decided to start afresh in 2022 and announced an all new-lineup in Bottas and F2 graduate Guanyu Zhou. Will a new driver line-up ensure better results in 2022? Only time will tell.
Uralkali Haas F1 Team :
Haas F1 sported an all-rookie lineup in Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. The team failed to score in 2021, their first-ever season without a point in F1. While Ferrari protegee and Michael Schumacher's son Mick had a consistent season, Mazepin recovered from a tumultuous start to his F1 career.
Schumacher achieved his best result in Hungary ( P12 ) and suffered from 3 retirements. Meanwhile, Mazepin couldn't finish four races and withdrew from the season finale in Abu Dhabi due to a mechanical issue. P14 in Azerbaijan was the Russian's best result.
Haas needs to stem the tide of going backwards ( like Williams ), and 2022 presents an opportunity. Schumacher and Mazepin remain with the team and, with more experience under their belt, should produce a better showing in the new era.
2021 was an intriguing year for F1. Fans returned to attend many races in the season, and the addition of new tracks helped the sport increase its global footprint. Although the season end got marred in controversy, 2021 produced one of the best duels between the best drivers and teams on the grid. The battle at the front was intense, and the one in the midfield was as close as it could get. Verstappen and Hamilton had been in a league of their own, and both drivers deserved to win the title. But there could only be one winner at the end of the day. The FIA has launched an investigation to ascertain how the events of the controversial season finale unfolded. It might be too little, too late, though.
Will Verstappen reign supreme again, or will Hamilton reclaim the crown that got taken away from him? Could we see a new contender in the ranks in the next chapter of the Turbo Era?
Bring on 2022!