With the 2021 F1 season done and dusted, FormulaRapida.net decided to draw out a ranking system in a new ‘Tier’ system, moving away from traditional individual ranked order.
The long 2021 F1 season had its share of strong performances from everyone on the grid, whether at the front of the field or at the back. For this reason, we decided to do away with the traditional system of an individual, ranked system of categorisation.
We – Darshan Chokhani (DC), Ollie Pattas (OP), Neil Farell (NF) and Selena Aburas (SA) – decided on the Tier system where we have 15 F1 drivers divided in four tiers, with the remaining five celebrated performances noted separately.
Here’s how the line-up stacked up:
Tier 1 –
Max Verstappen (DC):
Ever since that incident in Monaco in 2018, Max Verstappen has been a changed driver. His consistency has been top notch along with his aggression. Indeed, many have pointed out that it is a bit too much, with 2021 showing some extreme running against Lewis Hamilton in an epic tussle for the F1 drivers’ world championship. The two were at it all-season long and certainly they were a bit too close at times where the Dutchman was penalised for his mistakes and for some he could escape one too. His driving and consistency kept him in the game until the end with 10 wins and a record-breaking 18 podium finishes. Apart from Hungary and the races he had a DNF, he did not finish any lower than a Top 2 showcasing his fine performance and deserving credentials of a drivers’ world title.
Of course, the way it panned in Abu Dhabi did cause a sour taste, but as the championship is looked from the view of a whole season, the Dutchman was equal to Hamilton in the deserving list. To go with his race credentials, he registered 10 poles and six fastest laps to make it an all-round performance. Among his 10 wins, the victory against Hamilton in US GP did play up as a confidence booster as he won at a stronghold of the Brit and resisted his challenge for most part of the grand prix. There was no way that Verstappen wouldn’t feature in the Tier 1 which this year was made exclusive for him and the Brit.
Lewis Hamilton (DC):
As just mentioned above, a tied between Verstappen and Hamilton wouldn’t have been a bad result in context of how the 2021 F1 season panned out to be. Much like the Dutchman, the Brit showed why he is a seven-time world champion this year. He and Mercedes did have a slower start to the campaign but the way they overcame obstacles and hung in, in the game, it was commendable. They did have the ‘raw power’ advantage and needed to fine-tune to align the car within the regulations, once done, they were unstoppable and showed the dominance they posses. Red Bull had to be on their toes always as Hamilton showed up always, whether it was qualifying and or the races.
While Verstappen had the stats of 10 wins and 18 podiums, Hamilton was not far behind with eight victories and 17 podiums. He did have a third place podium finish but was largely in the Top 2 like his rival. The missed out stat was the Brit registering only five poles in the season – winning only two of them – which showcased how he handled the races well this year. He had five fastest laps as well which was crucial for those extra points. Overall, the Mercedes driver was no less in the deserving list of the F1 world championship like the Dutchman, as we also saw a different side to the Brit where he took on the fight against the youngster at various races alongside his usual mindgames.
Tier 2 –
Valtteri Bottas (OP):
It was yet another year of what could have been for Valtteri Bottas. His fifth and final crack at the world title with Mercedes started with great hope and confidence but was quickly crushed after it became evident Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were on a different level to the rest of the field. The air of uncertainty surrounding his future from Day 1 this season, was sure to not help with the arrival of George Russell for 2022, highly expected and anticipated. A solitary victory in Turkey will no doubt be his highlight along with four poles and 11 podiums – amid some unlucky moments at crucial junctures which again resonates the ‘what could have been’. By the end, he did his best to wingman his teammate but at times it just didn’t work out enough to help Hamilton earn an eighth title. But in the midst of all this the Finn helped secure his team’s eighth constructors title in a row to conclude his Mercedes career positively and move on to Alfa Romeo. He wasn’t a straight Tier 2 choice as given the car, he should have been an easy choice, but some genuine unlucky moments and the eventually third place finish warranted Tier 2 finish.
Sergio Perez (OP):
Effectively Bottas’ opposite number this season as #2 to their title contending teammates. Perez is worthy of a Tier 2 classification this year but only just. Again, like Bottas, he took just the one victory, albeit in fortunate circumstances. But this is more than can be said of his predecessors at Red Bull, who just getting on the podium, was task enough. Perez managed the podium on five occasions this year and at times did a sterling job to help teammate Verstappen on his way to a debut title, most notably, his aggressive tactics against Hamilton in Abu Dhabi. With the car he had this year, he could have for sure done more and improvement will be needed for 2022. But for now, it seems Red Bull have finally found their man to partner Verstappen and with the experience of 2021, it will be handy for him to build upon it for the immediate future at least.
Pierre Gasly (NF):
For AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, he had a good solid 2021 with 15 Top 10 point scoring placing and one podium with third at Azerbaijan. Overall, it was a good season with consistency being his principal positive in the season just gone. Not just that but there were some excellent qualifying performances during the season and only on three occasions did he not make it to Q3. Finishing ninth in the championship was much owed to his consistency, but he wouldn’t have certainly wanted to finish higher if not for some mistakes on his and team’s side throughout the season – one reason that the team lost out to Alpine. He was the best outside of the Mercedes Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren drivers finishing just 5 points behind Daniel Ricciardo in the WDC and even beating Fernando Alonso. As said, he was solid, consistent, dependable even perhaps which did made him an easy choice for Tier 2 where AlphaTauri registered their best points results, thanks to the 100 plus from the Frenchman.
Lando Norris (NF):
McLaren’s Lando Norris’ 2021 season was far and away the best of his three so far. Some excellent performances early in the season and in the middle of the year also. He finished in points 20 times throughout the season and was also unlucky somewhat not to pick up a race win in Russia where he had pole, fastest lap and led most race laps. Another model of consistency throughout the season, but the final seven races saw him achieve a best race place of seventh despite excellent results early in the season and this scuppered his chance of fifth in the WDC overall, losing out to Carlos Sainz in the end. At one stage, owing to his early season performances, third or fourth looked a good bet too possibly. Against his far more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, he constantly outshone him particularly in the early and middle season part. He became an easy Tier 2 choice with four podium finishes where he shone nicely even when times where difficult in second half.
Carlos Sainz (SA):
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz had arguably one of his best seasons to date in F1 this year. His consistent progress over the past few seasons has been impressive and the year 2021 being his first with Ferrari makes it even more impressive. Despite his bad luck and unfortunate crashes when it came to free practices this year, he was still able to deliver when it counted on Sundays with four podium finishes. The Spaniard finished within the points for 20 out of 22 races and also had 15 consecutive points finishes. Most importantly, he was the only driver to finish every race in 2021 as he finished the season with 0 DNF’s. The Ferrari driver finished with 164.5 points and secured fifth in the driver standings in the final race ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris – the crucial factor to be in Tier 2 was that he managed to beat the Monegasque in his first attempt.
Fernando Alonso (DC):
Having not been in the F1 racing scene for two years and suffering a broken jaw in the winter, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso had quite the return to the sport. It wasn’t the best of starts for the Spaniard but he was there and thereabouts. He still manage few points results but from Baku onward, it seemed like he found his rhythm. From then on, he scored in every race until Belgium – although that race didn’t see any racing. So, his first real stop came in Turkey. His consistent Q3 and points finishes helped him find an edge over Ocon, which is one big reason for him to be in sub-tier of Tier 2. A podium in Qatar only solidified his return and finishing in the Top 10 of the drivers’ standings was a bonus then.
George Russell (DC):
The 2021 F1 season was another year of reckoning for Williams’ George Russell. He finally scored points for the British outfit and as a bonus registered his first-ever podium finish as well, thanks to the ‘race’ in Belgium GP. It was a front-row start for him there too. But that podium shouldn’t mask his performances all-through the year where he made it look easy for him to be in Q2 at most events. In the mid-part, he was consistently fighting for the Top 10 positions in the races. Yes, he was overpowered a lot of times, but not before a fight. He fairly beat his teammate Nicholas Latifi and eventually was rewarded with a seat at Mercedes for 2022 alongside Lewis Hamilton. He did enough to be above Tier 3 but not enough to be directly in Tier 2 against some superlative performances.
Charles Leclerc (SA):
After a horrible 2020 season for Ferrari and Charles Leclerc, 2021 was a step-up for both. The Monegasque was able to get seventh in the drivers’ Championship with 159 points, a 61 point difference from last year’s total. He also secured two pole positions this year and a podium in Silverstone. However, bad luck really struck the Ferrari driver this year with a DNS at his home GP and a DNF at Hungary and crashes during free practices. His talent is undeniable with his Saturday and Sunday comebacks after bad free practices, but the lady luck was just not on his side. Overall, it was a good season for Leclerc but not as good as his teammate’s which is why he finds himself in sub-tier of Tier 2.
Tier 3 –
Daniel Ricciardo (OP):
Over his career Daniel Ricciardo has made a name for himself as one of the best drivers on the grid. But 2021 has been by far, the nadir of his career. Since leaving Red Bull in 2018, it hasn’t quite worked out for him. Some good showings for Renault but nothing more and now teammate Lando Norris at McLaren, has wiped the floor with him in this campaign. A lot of them expected Ricciardo to come in and school Norris but it was the complete other way round. The win in Monza his only saving grace for this season, he was the driver the clinch McLaren’s first win since 2012, a his first since 2018, let’s not play down that achievement in a car that could not compete with Red Bull and Mercedes over the course of a season. He improved over the course in qualifying but it was still not enough in a competitive midfield. He did overcome a lot by being better in races and will hope now that the second season is better. Its for these reasons that Ricciardo is in Tier 3.
Esteban Ocon (OP):
Esteban Ocon is a strange case. Omitted from a race seat in 2019, to come back in 2020, all under Mercedes management having previously been part of their young driver programme. Time was running out for the Frenchman to establish himself as worthy of that status and to silence his critics. And it’s fair to say that in 2021, he did that. Some breaktaking displays, most notably in Hungary of course where he took his debut win and in Jeddah where he proved that when there is chaos, he has a cool head and is there to pick up the spoils. Inconsistent at times yes but he ran legend and teammate Fernando Alonso close all season and ensured Alpine won the midfield battle. Ocon’s best season yet. Plus he secured a long term deal with Alpine, proving the team believe in him to carry them forward. It was a close call between him and the Spaniard for a sport in Tier 2 or its sub-tier, but he was marginally edged out to be in Tier 3 due to few inconsistent patches in qualifying and also in races.
Sebastian Vettel (SA) –
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel didn’t have the best of starts this season with a DNF at Emilia Romagna and no points until Monaco. However, the historic Baku race this season saw the German on the podium finishing P2. Another P2 was seen in Hungary but fuel miscalculations led to a DQ that took away the podium finish. He took some time to get going with his new team but once in groove, it was much smoother. Towards the end, though, it was pretty average with points here and there as the lack of development on the car side started to pinch them. After the disaster of 2020, Vettel found some pace to finis in P12 with 43 points. Although there are considerations of it being his first year at Aston Martin, the overall qualifying and race results this season puts him in Tier 3.
Antonio Giovinazzi (NF):
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi’s season was one of irritation and frustration, while he achieved a best result of ninth at Saudi Arabia and finished in 11th place on four occasions including three races running, his failure to score other than three points in the WDC cost him his drive. At times he matched his team mate Kimi Raikkonen and was better at times, his qualifying seventh at Zandvoort was most impressive. It was these results that helped him to be in sub-tier rather than the ‘others’ list. Another key factor was that he was the only one of the two drivers to have no retirements during the course of the 2021 F1 season but for a mechanical issue in finale in Abu Dhabi.
Yuki Tsunoda (NF):
For AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, he initially endured a baptism of fire. He had an impressive debut with ninth place in Bahrain. But then he had some tough times on track and was to a certain extent under fire because of his results and Gasly’s top notch running, but an excellent drive in Hungary to sixth place coupled with him working with Alex Albon from a driving coaching viewpoint saw him retained early for 2022. Unfortunately, some further negative drives followed but he saved his to last with a fine drive to fourth in Abu Dhabi which gives him ammunition to build on massively for next year. Overall, a good season and his result in Abu Dhabi will be a massive confidence booster, but having come in with some hype due to a solid F2 season, the Japanese didn’t meet those expectations to be in sub-tier of Tier 3.
Lance Stroll (SA):
While Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll expected to triumph over first-year Sebastian Vettel in 2021, but overall he had an average season when it came to Saturday and Sunday performances. He was not consistent enough despite having made it into Q3 multiple times and also finishing in points. The Canadian ended up P13 in the drivers’ Championship with 34 points at the end of the season which was one below than his teammate which is why he features in sub-tier of Tier 3.
Exemplary performances of note – mix of OP, NF and SR:
Mick Schumacher’s (OP) rookie year was always going to be tough in a very poor Haas car. It’s hard to display your talent when your machinery is so inferior to that of your rivals. But sure enough we got some flashes. His highlight will for sure be his Q2 appearance in Turkey that raised eyebrows throughout the paddock, a tremendous achievement given the season the team were having. Also, out of the chaos in Hungary he emerged on the brink of points and fought hard with those around him for the rest of the race and most importantly, he kept his head under immense pressure. No points yet for the German but it’s not far away. Moving on, it was sad to wave Kimi Raikkonen (OP) goodbye in Abu Dhabi. Overshadowed by the title fight, F1 lost a legend that day. His career unfortunately fizzled out at Alfa Romeo but he stayed around till he lost that fighting spirit and you have to respect the longevity. His car may not have had the pace to fight competitively, but the 2007 champion gave it a good go all year. A couple of eighth places in Russia and Mexico helped him on his way to his final points tally of 10. He had some good moments this year as displayed by coming third in the overtake award standings.
Another rookie and teammate to Schumacher, Haas’ Nikita Mazepin (NF) had a decent season but achieved very little in way of success – whether it was due to chassis or car not suiting his style. At times he came in for criticism from his fellow drivers and at times struggled to adjust to the Haas car and F1 itself in contrast to his teammate, who was also a rookie. He was in general, a tail end runner throughout the season and will hope for a much better show in 2022 to silent his doubters. Meanwhile, Nicholas Latifi’s (SA) season with Williams this year was an unexpected one. The Canadian got his first points finish in his F1 career in Hungary and also managed points in Belgium. He finished P17 in the drivers’ championship ahead of Antonio Giovanazzi. It was unexpected in more than just the points scored, but his major trouble was the inconsistent run where he couldn’t match his teammate George Russell on a consistent basis.
As for Robert Kubica (NF), a couple of stop gap races standing in for COVID-19 victim Raikkonen, he did in a way what was expected of him and finished both of his races in Holland (15th) and Italy (14th) – especially coming straight into the car without much time and he even finished 20th in the standings as his best of 14th followed by 15th was not the same for Mazepin, whose best of 14th was followed by 17th.
Here’s drivers’ selecting their Top 10 of F1 2021
Here’s the team bosses’ Top 10 list