The drivers may be the stars of the show but Formula 1’s team bosses have an integral role to play in ensuring their little worlds in the paddock keep turning.
Here, we rank all 10 on their performances across the 2021 season.
10: Guenther Steiner, Haas
Having two drivers at war never reflects well on the management’s ability to control them, and so it was at Haas as Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin kept on clashing.
Steiner never missed an opportunity to bang heads together in the days of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, but with the son of F1’s god on one side of the garage and the son of the title sponsor on the other he now finds himself in a very different and difficult position.
His brief has perhaps changed from total authority to constant appeasement and, as such, he is a leader and a personality diminished.
9: Otmar Szafnauer, Aston Martin
The 2021 floor changes came with the threat of cutting the low-rake teams off at the knees, yet while Mercedes bounced back to win an eighth consecutive Constructors’ title, Aston Martin were unable to mount a recovery.
Sebastian Vettel’s P2 in Baku provided brief respite, but his quest for more in Budapest was undermined by a slow stop costing him the chance to undercut race leader Esteban Ocon before he was later disqualified for a fuel infraction.
Such basic mistakes only feed the perception Aston are not quite the tenacious little team they used to be, although key appointments including Martin Whitmarsh and Dan Fallows suggest they will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future.
Will that future, though, involve Szafnauer, who recently issued a non-denial denial amid reports he is set to join Alpine? Watch this space.
8: Fred Vasseur, Alfa Romeo
Great leaders sometimes have to make unpopular decisions and Vasseur’s move to sign Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou for 2022 was cited as a key reason behind Sauber chairman Pascal Picci’s resignation in the autumn.
The decision to stop persevering with F1’s invisible man, Antonio Giovinazzi, risks alienating Ferrari, but will at least allow Alfa to become the masters of their own destiny.
Provided his post-Mercedes motivation remains high, Bottas’ raw pace comes with the promise of taking Alfa to heights unseen since 2018, while Zhou brings with him the potential to tap into the irresistible Chinese market.
It is, on paper, a well-balanced line-up. Now for Vasseur to stop Alfa being so wasteful on race weekends…
7: Toto Wolff, Mercedes
Not the greatest year for Wolff, who along with his team did not respond well to being challenged.
There were hints of fragility when Mercedes last went to war with Ferrari across 2017 and ‘18, but the difference this time was Red Bull and Max Verstappen were never going to be gradually worn down.
The hard truth? Verstappen and Red Bull were simply a more agile and potent partnership than Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, who were at times slow to react to what was happening in front of them.
That was most evident in Hungary, where Hamilton was the only car to take a standing restart, yet it could also be found in Mercedes’ stubbornness in refusing to upgrade the 2021 car beyond Silverstone, with Hamilton revealing he was prevented from pursuing a particular development path.
Mercedes’ decision to optimise what they had very nearly paid off, but it didn’t and has left Hamilton dethroned and potentially disillusioned.
6: Marcin Budkowski, Alpine
In a muddled management structure, Budkowski emerged as the public face of Alpine as the season progressed and his revelation to Sky Sports in Saudi Arabia that the team’s chassis design was first used in 2019 made their retention of P5 in the constructors’ standings all the more impressive.
With the returning Fernando Alonso alongside Ocon, the potential for fireworks at Alpine was obvious.
Yet two of the more historically abrasive characters on the grid formed an unexpectedly productive partnership, celebrating each other’s achievements – Ocon’s victory in Hungary, Alonso’s first podium since 2014 in Qatar – as if they were their own.
After the weird Cyril Abiteboul era, that sense of teamwork was central to Team Enstone looking more confident and self-assured than any stage since Renault returned to F1 in 2016.
5: Franz Tost, AlphaTauri
Is it time to reassess Tost’s reputation as a tough and uncompromising taskmaster?
AlphaTauri were very much Pierre Gasly’s team in 2021 as the Frenchman, increasingly comfortable in his own skin, delivered his most complete campaign yet, but it was the handling of his struggling team-mate Yuki Tsunoda that revealed Tost’s hitherto unseen emotionally intelligent side.
From an early stage Tost helped recognise the need to keep Tsunoda on a tight leash, moving him close to the team’s Faenza factory and organising a daily schedule of gym work, engineering meetings and English lessons.
With the 21-year-old running the risk of spiralling out of control later in the season, Tost turned to Alex Albon to act as a driver coach, with Red Bull’s persistence rewarded in Abu Dhabi as Tsunoda took a career-best P4 after out-qualifying Gasly for the first time.
4: Mattia Binotto, Ferrari
How they all laughed when Carlos Sainz swapped serenity at McLaren for Ferrari’s house of fun.
The Prancing Horse, though, never stays down for long and a return to the top three in the championship represents a stunning recovery from a disastrous 2020.
That result can be traced back to Binotto’s bravery in running Vettel out of town before his rivalry with Charles Leclerc grew into something destructive, with the different skillsets of Sainz and Leclerc complementing each other beautifully.
As Ferrari wrestled P3 away from McLaren, Binotto skipped races in favour of plotting the next step for 2022 from deep within Maranello.
Still an engineer at heart…
3: Andreas Seidl, McLaren
Ultimately, McLaren only lost P3 in the championship because Ferrari had two drivers consistently operating at a high level and they only had one.
Daniel Ricciardo’s win at Monza didn’t make up for his lack of contribution elsewhere, but even so this was the year the sight of a McLaren running at the front felt entirely normal again.
Lando Norris, the breakthrough star of the season, very nearly made it two victories in a row in Russia, and as the rain fell in Sochi that was the time for someone of Seidl’s experience and gravitas to make the decisive and race-clinching call.
The moment passed, but we should never lose sight of just how far McLaren have come in a short space of time since Seidl joined in early 2019.
2: Christian Horner, Red Bull
The Covid-enforced chassis carryover from 2020 represented Red Bull’s big ticket back to World Championship contention, the heavier-than-usual emphasis on evolution and refinement almost eradicating the risk of them overcomplicating things in their efforts to combat Mercedes.
With Honda keen to go out with a new and ambitious powertrain, it was clear very early on that Red Bull – having fed on scraps since their last title triumph in 2013 – would throw everything at 2021.
It was, in the spirit of their star driver, a high-risk, high-reward approach.
Horner himself is an acquired taste, but he – with previous experience of title battles between rival teams going all the way – seemed to play the political and media games more astutely than Wolff.
You were also left with the impression Red Bull went the extra mile in welcoming and integrating Sergio Perez into the team, potentially having realised they weren’t totally blameless in their difficulties in finding a suitable wingman for Verstappen in the past.
1: Jost Capito, Williams
It was difficult to know what the future held for Williams in late 2020, a matter of months after the family finally stepped away after more than four decades.
Then, just before Christmas, came the news of Capito’s appointment as CEO, which may in time come to be viewed as the most important development in the team’s recent history.
Williams’ upturn in results from a second point-less season in succession in 2020 may well have happened with or without Capito, but the decision to pick Albon as George Russell’s replacement had his fingerprints all over it.
Does Albon have the personality to finish what his friend started? Frankly, and without wishing to be flippant, does it matter? What’s so intriguing about the identity of Russell’s replacement is not so much who it is but what it represents.
And in choosing a Red Bull junior over a Mercedes-affiliated driver Capito – the former boss of the Red Bull-sponsored Volkswagen WRC team – has positioned Williams to ride on the wings of any future alliance between VW and Red Bull.
A shrewd move when you consider Williams, in their current condition, would struggle to live with fellow Mercedes customers McLaren and Aston Martin.
Just when it seemed their best days were long gone, Capito may have provided Williams with the promise of a future worth fighting for.
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