Rating every driver’s F1 season: 2021 Edition (Part 1)

The 2021 line-up form a circle around the 2022 Prototype car. It will be interesting to see if better wheel-to-wheel racing will be possible with the new regulations coming into force next year

There is going to be an awful lot of impatient twiddling of thumbs and seat-shuffling as we wait in eager anticipation for the 2022 F1 season. In the mean time all we can do is reminisce about how lucky we were to have been alive to witness the absolutely thrilling, exciting and downright spectacular 2021 campaign. While a lot of the chatter has been about the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen (and their respective team bosses!), I believe it would be a great injustice to ignore all the other drivers who competed in this year’s illustrious calendar of racing. While some have had seasons to forget, others have gone above and beyond what was expected of them at the start of the season. Let’s go through each driver (except Robert Kubica, he was only in 2 races), and give them a rating out of 10:

Nikita Mazepin: 3.5/10

He’s learnt a lot, but still has a long way to go

It’s quite difficult to rank the Haas drivers since their car was so incredibly slow that even a fast driver would fail to turn any heads. However Mazepin was turning heads for all the wrong reasons, especially in the first half of the season. He was prone to spinning completely of his own accord (i.e. Bahrain) and his on-road etiquette has got to be the worst on the grid. For example he blocked drivers on fast laps multiple times in qualifying and races (i.e. Perez at Imola) and came perilously close to putting his teammate into the pit wall at Zandvoort. However, I believe he showed signs of improvement in the latter half of the season such as at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix and his demeanour and manner in interviews gives the impression that he really wants to improve his race craft and outright pace. There is still a gulf in speed between him and his teammate however, so he must get to work on the simulator overtime in the off-season if he wants to remain at Haas, although the money he brings to the outfit might keep him in the squad regardless.

Mick Schumacher: 5/10

Being compared to your father isn’t easy, especially if your father is a 7-time world champion. But Mick has dealt with the mental pressure very well

Perhaps if Mick was in another team, he would have warranted a better rating, but as I mentioned earlier being in the slowest car in the paddock makes it difficult to see a driver’s true ability. However there is no question that Mick outperformed his teammate Mazepin this year. He won the qualifying battle against Nikita by 19 rounds to 2, and at times was fast enough to battle with some of the Alfa Romeo or even Williams drivers in the races. The best example of this was at the Hungarian GP, where Mick gave us a ballsy defensive display against Max Verstappen and held off Antonio Giovinazzi for a brilliant P12 finish. He even got into Q2 on one occasion in Turkey. It is hard to ignore the fact that Schumacher did have quite a few crashes this year, and has accrued the highest damage repair costs of any driver on the grid. This certainly brought down his rating by a couple of points.

Antonio Giovinazzi: 6/10

“Italian Jesus” is leaving Formula 1 for Formula E next year, as he was unjustly thrown out of the sport to make space for Guanyu Zhou at Alfa Romeo

While Giovinazzi didn’t manage to muster as many points as Raikkonen this year (3 compared to Kimi’s 10), I believe that the Italian was overall the more consistent and quick driver throughout the entire season. The Alfa Romeo car kind of petered out in the second half of the season and therefore it was very hard for poor old Gio to get into the top 10 very often. His best race was probably Monaco; notorious for being purely about driving ability rather than the car’s pace, he put his Alfa at P7 and managed P10 in the race. So his qualifying pace was great, but he often went backwards in the races, hence his low points tally. It’ll be a shame to see the paddock next year devoid of his luscious locks, but given he was in the sport for three full seasons Antonio simply didn’t show enough raw speed or improvement

Nicholas Latifi: 6.5/10

Latifi showed a massive level of improvement over his 2020 campaign, but I think even he knew he was going to be overshadowed by his teammate again this year

When you have the formidable George Russell as your teammate, it’s almost a given that you are going to be second-best in your team. While this was certainly the case for Nicholas Latifi, I think he improved by leaps and bounds this year. While it is true that the FW43B was also a huge improvement over the FW43 of 2020, Latifi also put in some stellar individual performances to boot, such as a great haul of points at the Hungarian GP and almost adding to his score at Monza and Saudi Arabia, where he outdrove both Alfa Romeos and even his teammate. He even outqualified George on 2 occasions, which is no mean feat! I truly believe he has gotten rid of his moniker as simply a pay driver; in my opinion his performance this year means he deserves to stay just for being a decent driver, not just for money’s sake.

Kimi Raikkonen: 5.5/10

Far from his best year… but I doubt Kimi cares even remotely. He’s simply happy to be taking off his gloves and living a more relaxed lifestyle from now on

Kimi will always be Kimi, meaning year on year he shows us why he was world champion back in 2007 and is still regarded as one of the best drivers to ever grace this Earth. Although his qualifying pace dropped significantly this year, he had some incredible wheel-to-wheel racing at some races. My mind keeps going back to COTA this year where we saw some side-by-side action between him and Alonso. But in other races you could just sense that he didn’t have the same fight and hunger to win as he once used to have in spades, simply letting others overtake him on the inside and not putting much thought into defending. Perhaps he was thinking of the long-run or saving his tyres for later, but this wasn’t the Kimi I was used to seeing from his championship-winning season. I think he’s over the moon to have finally hung up his racing boots and will enjoy a more peaceful life away from the constant harassment of the reporters. Good on him!

George Russell: 8/10

This guy keeps performing miracles in his underperforming Williams. My hopes are through the roof for how he will fare in a Mercedes next year

The Williams car was arguably the ninth-fastest car on the grid, only above that of the ailing Haas outfit. It was by no means a vehicle capable of making it out of Q1 very often, let alone Q2. But someway, somehow, George Russell managed to get the FW43B into the top 10 on Saturday on 4 occasions! As we know, Russell has always been at the highest calibre when it comes to one lap pace, but his pace on the day that really matters, Sunday, has often paled in comparison. While this is still largely the case (he rarely makes up places in the race) there has been a positive trajectory to his race craft, staying largely out of trouble (not including Imola!) to ensure points finishes at Hungary, Italy and Russia. His obvious highlight was Spa-Francorchamps, where he qualified in second-place thanks to a bulletproof, confident drive in the wet where most others faltered. I can’t wait to see Hamilton and Russell will duke it out in the same car next year.

Yuki Tsunoda: 4.5/10

The gap between the rookie Japanese driver and his teammate was simply too great for it to be mere coincidence. Given his performances late in the year, we expect more from him in 2022

Yuki started off the season superbly, with a solid points finish in Bahrain after a breath-taking move on Lance Stroll on the final lap as well as a host of other overtakes throughout the race. But I think his crash during qualifying for the next race at Imola rocked his confidence quite a bit. He was far off the undeniable speed of his established teammate Pierre Gasly and in some instances was being engulfed by the Alfa Romeos and Williams cars which was quite troubling to see even for a rookie. It took him a which to regain his resolve and we saw by the end of the season that he has some real speed within him. He got into Q3 in the last three races in a row and attained an amazing fourth-place finish in Abu Dhabi. Hopefully he can carry this fine run of form into the next season but unfortunately I have to give him a low rating due to him being absolutely nowhere for most of the campaign.

Lance Stroll: 6.5/10

Lance Stroll has outgrown all his “Daddy’s cash” jokes and memes now; he is a truly established driver and looked more consistent this year

The slight regulation changes hurt the low-rake cars the most, namely Mercedes and Lance’s father’s Aston Martin racing team. So Lance’s hopes of finishing P5 in the drivers’ championship seemed a bit off from the start, but if you compare his performance to that of his teammate Sebastian Vettel there are some remarkable points to notice considering Vettel is a four-time world champion. For example, he finished in the points 9 times to Vettel’s 7, showing how he has improved his race consistency. But the fact still remains that Lance is simply not good enough on Saturdays, and while his recovery drives on a Sunday are at times quite spectacular, getting past slower cars with precision and ease, his car should not be starting from a Q1 position in the first place.

Sebastian Vettel: 7.5/10

Perhaps his best years are beyond him, but Vettel still showed us why he’s a 4x WDC, with exceptional drives in an unworthy car

Sebastian Vettel is now a true veteran of the highest calibre of motorsport, having been a regular on the paddock since 2007. Now that Kimi Raikkonen has retired, this makes him the second longest standing current F1 driver, on par with Hamilton and behind Fernando Alonso. It could be argued that he has gone past his peak now and makes the occasional strange error that we wouldn’t have expected of him in the early 2010s (i.e. 2 tangles with Raikkonen in Austria and Saudi Arabia). But he’s just got superb racing ability in his veins, do you know what I mean? 2nd places in Azerbaijan and Hungary (the latter was annulled due to a fuel leak meaning he couldn’t pass the minimum fuel test after the race) and big points amassed at Monaco and Spa meant he was able to finish ahead of Lance Stroll in the final standings.

Esteban Ocon: 7.5/10

After a disappointing 2020, Ocon most certainly bounced back with gusto in the reformed Alpine outfit

Only 2 drivers other than those at Mercedes and Red Bull were able to win races this year. One of them was Ocon, who took a surprise victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix. He lead almost all of the laps and didn’t put a foot wrong the entire race. That wasn’t the only good performance by the Frenchman this year either. Solid drives in Qatar and Saudi Arabia confirmed to all fans of the sport that he is worthy of the wonderkid status that he was lauded with back when he made his debut for Manor Motorsport back in 2016. The only thing he lacks at the moment in my opinion is race-to-race consistency. Perhaps he prefers some tracks to others, but sometimes he goes completely missing for an entire weekend, such as at the Styrian Grand Prix and Mexico where he was never in contention for points.

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