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F1 season review: The best of the rest

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Roar Guru
16th December, 2021
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While the debate rages on surrounding the outcome of the 2021 Formula One world championship, won by Max Verstappen over Lewis Hamilton amid a controversial conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it is easy to forget the rest of drivers and teams.

2021 saw one of the most tightly-knit midfields in recent history and while carrying over last year’s specification of car meant that some of the more financially burdened outfits did aid in closing the gap, there was such a talented depth of drivers among this.

More than half of the 20-driver grid stood on the podium this year, with eight of the ten teams being represented throughout the season collecting trophies. Even George Russell, starved of success at Williams, had earned a maiden Formula One podium – albeit in the non-event Belgian Grand Prix.

Esteban Ocon, who a year ago was being questioned as to whether the hype around the young Frenchman was justifiable, among a difficult return to the sport with Renault, executed one of the best drives of 2021 and proved the age-old adage of being in the right place at the right time.

Following the bowling alley shenanigans at a wet first corner in Hungary, which saw almost half the grid wiped out, the track dried out during the red flag period. Upon the restart, the race leader in Hamilton made the ill decision to venture out on the intermediate tyres, while Ocon behind him was wise to lead on the mediums.

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving

(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

For the 25-year old then, it was all about controlling the race from there. Which he did a magnificent job at, despite a late threat from a recovering Hamilton – who too was baulked by Ocon’s teammate in the wily Fernando Alonso. A superb result for the Alpine née Renault team, whose last victory in Formula One came in 2013 when they were Lotus.

Ocon returned the favour to Alonso in Qatar, where he tried to defend like a lion against former teammate Sergio Perez. The two-time world champion on that occasion was rewarded with his first podium since 2014 and Alpine overall were good enough only for fifth in the constructor’s championship.

Not what would be expected from a manufacturer team, however the onus will be on them to hit the ground running under the new regulations in 2022, and crucially improve the underwhelming Renault power-unit ahead of the looming engine freeze.

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Thirteen points adrift of them in sixth was AlphaTauri, and despite since becoming a Red Bull-aligned outfit this being their best year in terms of points, the Faenza team squandered opportunities to have easily beaten Alpine.

Pierre Gasly was excellent again, collecting a podium at the bonkers Baku race and just consistently qualifying and finishing inside the top six. At times there were questions asked about why he should deserve another chance at Red Bull, however, given the fundamental differences between both organisations, the less cutthroat environment at AlphaTauri allows Gasly to lead the way he wants to.

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On the other side of the garage, however, was where the missed opportunities lay for AlphaTauri in their rookie driver Yuki Tsunoda. A talented driver by all means, bookending his season with great performances in Bahrain and a career-best fourth in Abu Dhabi – but it was evident that he arrived in Formula One too early.

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Though reflecting on what was more disappointing than Tsunoda getting to grips was the underwhelming transformation for the Lawrence Stroll-bankrolled Racing Point into Aston Martin. Their commitment and the heavy investment from Stroll can only be lauded, though the performances on track left a little to be desired.

From having the third-fastest car on paper in 2020 following the Mercedes chassis concept, it was thought carrying over their race winning RP20 into the AMR21 would see very little lost in terms of performance. How wrong could that statement have been, with the tweaks to the rear of the floors for all teams hurting Aston Martin significantly.

This reality left them to chase their own tails for seventh in the championship, with a single podium for marquee signing Sebastian Vettel in Azerbaijan. The four-time world champion also stood on the rostrum in Hungary, only for a fuel infringement to see that stripped.

Sebastian Vettel in his new Aston Martin cap

(Photo by Joe Portlock/Getty Images)

While it was a mournful backend to the season for Williams, with the loss of the team’s founder Sir Frank ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix, it was mostly a positive season where steps in the right direction could be seen since the sale by the stalwart family to Dorilton Capital.

The appointment of former VW Rally chief Jost Capito as the CEO and Team Principal saw the team’s first points scored since 2019 and in fact a run of four top-ten finishes in five races between Russell and Nicholas Latifi.

The emotion expressed by Mercedes-bound Russell after the Hungarian Grand Prix breakthrough was truly a heart melting moment, while Latifi finally was able to display performances worthy of staying at the Grove team for 2022.

Eight in the constructor’s truly justified the output from Williams in 2021, more so than what was seen by Alfa Romeo who will go into 2022 with a new driver line-up.

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Kimi Räikkönen at last called it a day on his impressive career, while Antonio Giovinazzi was simply underwhelming in the subpar car. Then when the Italian had happened to put in a great quality performance, he ended up making mistakes in the race to lose any chance of scoring points.

And then there was Haas. What’s there to say about a team that came into 2021 having stated that there would be no car upgrades due to their diabolical financial situation – as well as fielding two rookies?

Granted, Mick Schumacher was the reigning Formula 2 champion and had earned his transition into Formula One; the same cannot be said about teammate Nikita Mazepin. However, the less said about that, the better.

There can only be hope that the performance budget cap and the cash saved through 2021 will see Haas more competitive with the new technical regulations. If not, then some serious questions will need to be asked about how committed Gene Haas is to succeeding in the sport.

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