In a Nutshell: The 2021 Formula 1 Season

If nothing else, the 2021 Formula 1 season was one to remember. The 72nd running of the FIA Formula One World Championship had a little bit of everything: Grand Final controversy, Covid-induced cancellations, and breakout stars. Contested over 22 grand prix, the competition began in Bahrain on the 28th of March and concluded in Abu Dhabi on the 12th of December. Qatar and Saudi Arabia hosted their grand prix debuts, while the Vietnamese Grand Prix was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. In addition to Vietnam, other countries such as Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Australia, all had their races cancelled.  

The cancelling of races was a theme that had carried over from the previous year, in which multiple races were scrapped. One such race was the Dutch Grand Prix, which had not run since 1985. However, it made its long-awaited comeback this year, taking place in Circuit Zandvoort, and was won by the Dutch’s very own Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing-Honda. The 1985 Dutch Grand Prix was won by Australian driver Niki Lauda, driving for McClaren TAG.  

The 2021 season also saw several big moves. Four-time Drivers’ World Champion Sebastian Vettel joined Aston Martin after leaving Ferrari in 2020, where he was replaced by Spanish driver Carlos Sainz. Sainz was in turn replaced by Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, who drove with Renault in the two previous seasons. Mexican driver Sergio Perez made his debut at Red Bull, replacing Alex Albon, who was delegated Red Bull’s reserve driver. 

Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, made his F1 debut driving for Haas alongside his partner, Nikita Mazepin. Another debut driver was Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda, driving for Scuderia Alpha Tauri. His debut made him the first Japanese F1 driver since Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. 

The season saw the might of Mercedes prevail as they once again won the Constructors’ Championship – their eighth consecutive win in the competition. However, their star driver, Lewis Hamilton, could only secure second place in the Drivers’ Championship this year.  

He was bested by Dutchman Max Verstappen, who was driving for Red Bull. It was his first Drivers’ Championship, making him the first ever champion to hail from the Netherlands. On top of that, he became the first Honda-powered driver since Ayrton Senna in 1991, the first Red Bull driver since Sebastian Vettel in 2013, and the first non-Mercedes driver in the turbo-hybrid era to win the World Championship.  

Red Bull’s and Mercedes’s dominance continued down the standings, with third place going to Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas, and fourth place to Sergio Pérez of Red Bull. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finished in fifth place. 

At the end of the year, the top five constructors’ teams were Alpine-Renault in fifth, McClaren-Mercedes in fourth, Ferrari in third, Red Bull-Honda in second, and Mercedes in first. 

Like every season, 2021 was not without its controversies. Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s dominance of the grid throughout the year saw both drivers go into the final race with equal points. Heading into the final at Abu Dhabi, Verstappen was in pole position, with Hamilton and McClaren’s Lando Norris behind him, respectively. 

During the race, Hamilton had a better start and took the lead heading into the first turn. But at turn six, Verstappen attempted a particularly tight pass, forcing Hamilton to take evasive action that pushed him wide off the track. As Hamilton emerged from the corner, he still had the lead over Verstappen, but was instructed to concede the advantage he had gained. Both drivers kept their respective positions until the first round of pitstops, after which Hamilton extended his lead. 

Hamilton then lost a chunk of his lead when Verstappen’s teammate, Perez, blocked the Mercedes man from passing, although Verstappen failed to capitalise on this maneuver. Later, Verstappen took advantage of a virtual safety car period to change his tires without losing his track position. With a mere seven laps left in the race, the safety car was brought on track after a crash involving Canadian driver for Williams, Nicholas Latifi. Red Bull used this time to pit Verstappen and replace his soft tires. Hamilton was still on his now old, hard compound tires and had not pitted the whole race. 

It was race director Michael Masi who made the decision to allow the five lapped cars that were between Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves before restarting the race with only one lap remaining in the season. The restart of the final lap was tense. It saw Verstappen spring into action and pass Hamilton at lightning speed. Following this, Verstappen was able to hold Hamilton off for the remainder of the race, cementing his status as the 2021 World Champion. 

In the aftermath, Mercedes filed two protests against the win, but both were later dismissed. Much criticism was directed at race director Michael Masi’s decision-making during the race. By the 16th of December, Mercedes had withdrawn all their protests of the win and at the FIA prize giving ceremony, Hamilton was nowhere to be seen. The Emirati FIA president, Mohammed bin Sulayem, said the top three winners must attend the ceremony, and that Hamilton would be investigated for the breach. As of January 2022, Hamilton’s future in F1 hangs in uncertainty, as he has yet to confirm his return for the upcoming season. 

Photo by Glen Wheeler on Unsplash,

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