#1 Max Verstappen
Despite what the know-it all blue checkmarks tell you on twitter, Max Verstappen deserved to win the Championship that neither driver deserved to lose. He put up some 2015 Mercedes level numbers this season. 652 laps led which is nearly twice as many as Lewis, 18 podiums (a single season record), 10 pole positions, 10 race-wins, 6 fastest-laps, 1 grand-slam, 3 hat-tricks, and he did this all while never finishing on the bottom step of the podium. That is some ridiculous consistency, putting his 2021 season in the pantheon with some of the greats.
#2 Lewis Hamilton
As I said, this was a Championship neither driver deserved to lose. But after what was a mistake laden first half of the season by Lewis’ standards, he followed it up with a near perfect second half. There was the small wrinkle of getting out-qualified at Spa by his teammate to-be George Russel in a Williams, but he did paper over all of these cracks with an iconic drive in São Paulo. However, in the end it was a case of too little too late for Lewis, as his big mess-ups early in the year cost him the title on the balance of the season.
#3 Carlos Sainz
Carlos Sainz is perhaps the sole reason for the intense amount of scrutiny the likes of Ricciardo and Vettel faced early in the season. The ease and quickness with which he adapted to the Ferrari, relative to his peers was remarkable. His consistency throughout the season was an achievement in itself. 4 podiums, including an iconic P2 in Monaco, accompanied by the longest points-scoring streak in the history of Ferrari (15 and counting). Him and Leclerc have extracted the utmost out of what was, at best the 4th fastest car to start the season. His knack of keeping his nose out of trouble (you call it bad qualifying, I call it a heightened sense of danger), led him to be the big benefactor when several others faltered. Keeping with tradition of not being able to pick one of the top 2, he is certainly my Driver of the Season.
#4 Lando Norris
Here’s a guy who would’ve been the unanimous Driver of the Season, if it was not for the cat he ran over in Russia, or the umbrella he opened indoors in Qatar, or the several other bad-luck charms he carried with him race-to-race in the second half of the season. Lando had an incredible start to the season, rattling off 10 consecutive points finishes which included 9 top-5 finishes and 3 podiums. His and McLaren’s season peaked in the period between the Friday in Monza, and the final few dry laps of the Russian Grand Prix. Good team performances in the Monza Sprint capped off by McLaren’s first 1-2 since 2012, their first Pole Position since 2012, and realistically speaking the first win they bottled win since 2012 as well. Still, Lando had an incredible 2021, dominating his teammate, and transforming into the team-leader at McLaren.
#5 Charles Leclerc
By now, you must have noticed the trend that Carlos, Lando, and Charles had eerily similar seasons championed by their consistency, and disproportionately affected by the amount of trouble they found themselves in. Intentional or not, Charles consistently found himself in the worst possible scenarios. A few key ones include damaging his gear-box in Monaco, the several Red-Flag/SC/VSC’s that popped up throughout all the Asian Grand prix’s, and the several hundred times(okay, it was two) he got pushed in the gravel by Perez in Austria. Getting beaten by your teammate is never good, but despite all this Carlos and Charles were neck-and-neck going into the Finale which is an ode to Charles’ consistent knack of producing high output.
#6 Pierre Gasly
Half-way through the season, Pierre probably would have been much higher up this list. But based on evidence of 22 races, it is pretty clear the Alpha Tauri was mostly set-up for Saturday’s and specially in the latter half of the season was quite far off the pace on Sunday’s. Pierre’s 2021 is very similar to Charles’ 2020, when Ferrari finally gave up and started targeting Saturday’s, Charles was really able to to push the car beyond its capabilities in qualifying. The same seems to be the case with Pierre, and to his credit he has managed to put the Alpha Tauri in nose-bleed range several times this season.
#7 Sergio Perez
Checo had a superb end to the season, and as much as some people think it was just Masi that cost Lewis the Championship, it wasn’t. Several times this season, Checo managed to hold up Lewis in key-moments for Max, the biggest of which being the 7 seconds he cut in Abu Dhabi. Those 7 seconds might have been the gap between Lewis crossing the start-finish line before the safety car was deployed, leading to the race never being restarted, and what actually happened. Great teams make their own luck, and that’s what Checo has done brilliantly in key moments this season. Frankly the only reason he is ahead of Bottas is because he managed to hold-up Lewis for more than 1 corner several times this year. Despite, all this a lowly #7 ranking is still warranted given his poor start to the season, often finding himself behind the Alpha Tauri in qualifying with far superior machinery.
#8 Valtteri Bottas
In retrospect, Valtteri had a really tough start to the season featuring a pretty scary crash with George, the longest pitstop in the history of pitstops(not an exaggeration), and whatever went on in Hungary. However, once his future was secured/sorted out he came on much stronger. He was also the co-benefactor of the ‘new-engine every week’ strategy Mercedes adopted, providing him a massive pace delta later in the year over the midfield drivers who he struggled to beat earlier. But most importantly of all, he was at best a non-factor in the Championship battle between Max and Lewis. A stark contrast to the role Checo played.
#9 George Russell
A breakthrough year for Mr. Saturday which began with the aforementioned high speed crash with Bottas, whose seat he eventually managed to take for 2022. Some of the qualifying performances from George this year were sights to behold. His lap at the puddle of a track that was Spa-Francochamps, to put his Williams in P2 ahead of both Mercedes was one of the laps of the season. Then he only went on to do it again, and out qualified both Mercedes in Sochi as well to take P3 for Sunday. With the exception of Spa, he did go backwards pretty quick on Sunday’s, but it’s a Williams, what do you expect. Poor race-pace still didn’t stop him from escaping the ghosts of Kubica-past to finally score some points for Williams and also beat his teammate. Expectations will certainly be high for George in the hot seat next to Lewis Hamilton for 2022, but he has shown time and again this year that he will be up to the task.
#10 Fernando Alonso
El Plan was prophesied and achieved as the Maestro made his return to Formula 1. As Max Verstappen’s #1 fan on the grid, he too played his part in deciding the Championship. Retrospectively, his defence on Hamilton in Hungary was one of the major flashpoints of the season. In the long run, it minimised how much Hamilton dented Max’s title hopes and in terms of immediate returns he played a crucial role in getting Alpine/Renault their first win since 2009, and the first for a Renault engine since 2013. It was also a masterclass in always leaving just enough space to frustrate the life out of the car behind you. However, his highlight of the season was certainly a long-awaited return to the podium in Qatar. A result he achieved purely on merit. In the long-list of Fernando seasons, this was another where he maintained his perfect record of always beating his teammate, but with a little less passive aggressiveness this time.
#11 Esteban Ocon
2021 was a memorable year for Esteban Ocon. He secured himself a sweet new 3 year contract at Alpine, added himself to a list consisting of World Champions and middling drivers alike that have been slain by Alonso as their teammate, and oh he also won a Grand Prix. Ocon managed to keep a 4 time world champion behind him for some 60 laps in the changeable conditions of the Hungaroring to take his maiden win, an impressive feat. On the season as a whole, he has had his struggles as well. A cracked chassis could be blamed in some part for the early season woes, but other than that he did pretty well to find himself on pole position for the restart at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where he was ultimately pipped to the podium on the final straight by Bottas. A season of some major highs, but littered with some pretty average performances where he was consistently outperformed by Alonso. He is also the first race-winner to finish outside the top 10 in the WDC since *drum roll please*, Pastor Maldonado in 2012.
#12 Daniel Ricciardo
One word to describe Daniel’s 2021? ‘Yikes’. Formidably beaten by his teammate, embarrassingly off the pace at certain tracks, and yet he still managed to win a race. McLaren’s first race-winner since Jenson Button in 2012, Daniel had a pretty memorable moment this year among a slew of races that seemingly had a violin constantly playing over it. Well that’s a little harsh, he did improve in the second-half of the year but was it was still very much feast or famine for Daniel. He was either top 5 in the final 9 races, or completely out of the points. His poor form to start the year probably cost McLaren P3 in the Championship but I guess he made up for that in some way in Monza. Still, extremely disappointing.
#13 Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda left Bahrain in March dubbed as some sort of a Sebastian Vettel regen, becoming the first Japanese to score points since Kobayashi in 2012. However as the season went on, this hype was lost in a whirlwind of angry radio messages, and tons of broken front wings. But I don’t really blame Yuki for this, halfway through the year Franz Tost finally sorted things out and got Yuki a proper driver coach to help him and Alex Albon took him under his wing to guide him through the crests and troughs of F1. Why it took this long for Helmut Marko and Franz Tost to help their rookie can probably be summed up in 2 words, ‘Max Verstappen’. Red Bull were so consumed by the title battle, they forgot they had a rookie to develop. When some of the guidance finally started to pay off for Yuki near the tail-end of the year, it yielded results that were much more indicative of his raw pace which got him his Alpha Tauri drive in the first place. It all ended in joy with a P4, but its pretty hard to ignore the 15-race stretch of some pretty poor results that almost got him whitewashed in qualifying by Pierre.
#14 Sebastian Vettel
The 2021 Aston Martin was truly a terrible car, and there wasn’t much there for both drivers to extract. But Sebastian, still managed to capitalise on the little breaks they got to manage a podium in Baku and another in Hungary, before being unceremoniously being kicked off it as he did not have enough fuel in the car. He did deal with some bad luck, as he was taken out of 3 races in 3 separate incidents by good friend and badminton partner Kimi Raikkonen.
#15 Nicholas Latifi
The lasting memory of Nicholas Latifi from this season will be of his Williams parked on the exit of turn 14 in Abu Dhabi, quite literally on fire as the Netflix theme played on repeat in the Race Director’s office. Jokes aside, Latifi did make a leap from last year, and he was much closer to George in qualifying than people believe in terms of time gaps while being pretty even on race-pace. He finished on a good haul of points in the end considering the car, in what is still his sophomore year in Formula 1.
#16 Lance Stroll
Taking into account all the mitigating factors regarding how terrible the car was, Lance should have beaten Seb. He had all the experience of driving Mercedes replicas the past few years and still somehow bottled it. It is actually quite surprising that Lance is the first driver on this list that doesn’t have a positive memorable moment from this season. The only lasting memory of this season for Lance will be how bull-dozed into a glittery eyed Daniel Ricciardo into turn 2 in the Hungaroring, just as Daniel thought all the carnage was behind him. Lance is the First of ‘The Forgettable’s’ on this list.
#17 The Rest Of ‘The Forgettable’s‘
Antonio Giovinazzi sits atop this list as he garnered some attention with a string of P7’s in qualifying in his valiant attempt to keep his seat. Mick Schumacher is above Kimi for me, for 3 reasons. One being it was nice to see the MSC on the time sheets again, he did manage to crash his way into Q2 once and made it on merit a second time pretty impressive if you ask me. And last of all he seemed to be paying attention to his surroundings as compared to the man below him on this list, Kimi Raikonnen. We all love Kimi, but we’re all kidding ourselves saying we’ll miss him. He seemed pretty clocked out the entire year, lapses in concentration resulting in some of the crashes with Sebastian. Kimi is followed by the Polish Kube himself, Robert Kubica simply because it allows me to put Nikita Mazepin at #21.
That’s the list, thanks for sticking around.