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F1 season review: The tale of the No.2s

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Roar Guru
13th December, 2021
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Behind every championship calibre driver, it seems, is a reliable wingman and team player, and that adage was no different in the 2021 title battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas, despite having completed his final race for Mercedes before heading to the opposite end of the grid on a multi-year deal at Alfa Romeo, once again came up best of the rest and contributed heavily to an eighth consecutive constructor’s title for the Silver Arrows.

A contrast to his opposing equal at Red Bull in Sergio Perez, who was handed a lifeline by the Milton Keynes squad in the off-season last year when Racing Point left him without a drive for 2021.

Veteran Perez enjoyed one of his more successful campaigns in Formula One to date, which saw a spectacular victory at the death among the shambles of a red flag restart in Baku and an emphatic first podium on home soil in Mexico City.

Though overall the Mexican came up short in applying the same consistency as Bottas, which has been a testament to the dominant partnership with Hamilton and securing a fifth constructor’s title in as many years they’ve been teammates.

Thirty-six points was the gap between Bottas in third and Perez in fourth and given that McLaren’s Lando Norris spent the duration of the season up until the Dutch Grand Prix behind Verstappen and Hamilton, both really got their act together in the second half of the year.

Lando Norris of Great Britain driving the (4) McLaren F1

(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Qualifying was seen as the 31-year-old’s kryptonite, as Perez, like his predecessors in Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, failed to get to grips with the Verstappen set-up Red Bull car, as well as qualify at times, half-a-second off the Dutchman.

This would leave more work for Perez to do on race day, which has always been his strong suit during his career. Superior racecraft and guile in comparison to Bottas, who often became bogged down in traffic when self-sabotaging his starts, has seen the Mexican record some sensational drives.

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Though an out of position Perez often compromised Red Bull strategically as they could not back up Verstappen during the pit-stop phases at times.

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The ‘animal’-like performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, however, which saw Perez defend against Hamilton on fresh tyres to bring Verstappen back into the picture, was an example of what could’ve been done if he qualified further up the order.

Given that Red Bull essentially shunned their own young driver programme, when they shafted Albon for this year for the proven Perez, the expectation was no less than them winning that elusive constructor’s championship with two strong drivers akin to the Hamilton-Bottas combination.

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Having elucidated this, Perez still performed better than the likes of Gasly and Albon in that second Red Bull seat and by season’s end was confident enough to adopt his own setup of the volatile RB16B. Hopefully this means 2022 will see Checo more to the fore.

Bottas’ own season by comparison wholly wasn’t the cleanest either and at times the drums were beating for his immediate dismissal by the Mercedes juggernaut. Though despite his own poor performances at Imola and the bowling ball incident in Hungary, retirements in Monaco and Qatar were of no fault of the Finn.

Monza in fact was a stunning drive following a power-unit penalty to finish on the podium behind the sensational McLaren one-two, as well as a vintage Valtteri drive in Turkey for his only and final win for Mercedes in 2021.

Having contributed to five constructor’s world titles and always coming up short to Hamilton as the alpha, the writing was on the wall for Bottas and he will be replaced for 2022 by the young gun in George Russell.

Whether the Finn’s services will be missed, when Mercedes go after a ninth straight team’s championship remains to be seen.

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