Five stand-out stars from the 2021 season

Jon Wilde
Max Verstappen ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton in sprint qualifying at the British GP. Silverstone July 2021.

Max Verstappen's Red Bull ahead of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in sprint qualifying at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone July 2021.

One of the most enthralling Formula 1 seasons in history was bound to feature a host of shining stars – and we have picked out our favourite five.

In contrast to our five biggest flops, these are the drivers, a broadcaster and a grand prix that made us gasp, cheer, applaud and chuckle.

1 & 2: Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen embrace. Yas Marina December 2021.
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen embrace after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina December 2021.

Where else could we possibly begin?

In such an incredible campaign, it would be unfair to include one of the title protagonists without the other, especially because they were equally deserving of becoming World Champion.

And that’s because of, rather than despite, the deeply unsatisfactory events that surrounded those final few laps in Abu Dhabi.

Even at very different stages of their careers, Verstappen and Hamilton will look back in years to come on 2021 as being the most remarkable season they ever experienced.

It’s just a shame that for one of them, namely the Briton, it ended in such profound disappointment and a sense of injustice, because it did not deserve to.

The defending champion and the young pretender treated fans to such an intense, thrilling battle over 22 races that contained everything – exciting wheel-to-wheel action, overtakes, close finishes and, of course, controversy.

Every individual moment along the path contributed, in however small a way, to a story that potentially may never be equalled for F1 drama – although obviously we hope it can, sooner rather than later!

Besides everything else, what must also be fully registered was the supreme amount of ability both of these amazingly gifted drivers displayed throughout 2021.

They won 18 of the 22 grands prix between them, and it should arguably have been 20 or even 21 but for mishaps. A bit more about that later.

Not only that, but in several races they pulled half a minute clear of their rivals, two of whom had equivalent cars. It was often Hamilton and Verstappen out in front, in either order, with the rest nowhere.

Astonishing consistency from two drivers at their absolute peak.

3: Lando Norris

Let’s throw in one more driver. Any award being handed out for ‘most improved F1 performer of the season’ would surely have Norris very much on the shortlist.

Okay, so the 22-year-old Briton ended up being beaten to the honour of top non-Mercedes or Red Bull driver by a fast-finishing Carlos Sainz, his former team-mate now at Ferrari.

And in Norris’ own words, it was very much a season of two halves, even though the two occasions when he sensed a chance of a maiden victory came at back-to-back races in September.

But it was a stellar opening to the campaign from the McLaren driver, who responded to the challenge posed by the arrival of an experienced winner in Daniel Ricciardo as Sainz’s replacement by raising his own game exponentially.

There were some Norris performances that truly had you on the edge of your seat, initially in qualifying at Imola, the second race of the campaign, where he became a shock contender for pole position with two purple sectors on his final Q3 run…only to frustratingly exceed track limits and have his time deleted.

Finishing outside the top five only once in the opening 10 races, Norris was outperforming Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez points-wise for much of that spell before the season ended every bit as consistently – just not as competitively, regularly between P7 and P10.

And let’s not forget Lando remains a star off the track as well, continuing to talk freely, openly and entertainingly in his interviews.

More of the same, please, and especially the improvement, in 2022.

4: The Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Max Verstappen leads during the Azerbaijan GP. Baku June 2021.
Max Verstappen leads the field during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku June 2021.

Can a race fit the description of a ‘star’? Maybe not, but let us have it this time because, of all the 22 grands prix, this was the Sirius.

Verstappen and Hamilton would not agree. Apart from Monza, where they collided with each other, this was the only occasion when neither took home any points.

That absolutely should not have been the case, of course. The podium was looking like being filled by Verstappen, his Red Bull team-mate Perez and Hamilton when the Dutchman suffered a tyre blowout and crashed five laps from the end.

After the Safety Car was deployed, the race was red-flagged and amid a standing start for a two-lap sprint to the chequered flag, Hamilton caught his brake ‘magic’ button and went straight on at the first corner, eventually finishing 15th – behind the two Haas cars.

That left a podium of Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly, each thoroughly delighted to end up where they did.

Baku had to be scratched from the calendar for pandemic reasons in 2020, but the 2021 renewal made us realise just how much we had missed it.

Street races are not everyone’s cup of tea, but this was a belter. The tyre blowouts aside – Lance Stroll also had a nasty shunt – it gets our vote as the grand prix of the year.


5: Ted and his trusty Notebook

Again, this risks a backlash. Has Ted become a parody of himself? Well, perhaps, but who doesn’t enjoy their F1 info laced with a few laughs to increase the entertainment factor?

At one time a comparatively straight-laced pit-lane reporter, Kravitz now has the licence to freestyle his way through his twice-per-weekend – three if there’s sprint qualifying – Notebook programmes on Sky F1, with a curious ability to make you feel like you’re the only person watching.

From the familiar “Hiyaaaaa” greeting after the ad break to poking his nose into other people’s business, it’s 25 minutes – timed fastidiously by the man himself – of, pardon the pun, occasional car-crash TV but mostly an opportunity to look behind the scenes in the paddock and the pits when the usual cameras stop rolling.

The notes themselves sometimes get a bit lost in it all as Ted indulges himself, but that’s part of the appeal – after an intense qualifying session or race, a touch of humour to lighten the load can do wonders.

Highlights from the season? Too many to list here, but spending half a minute of his 25 on Kenneth Williams-esque pronunciations of Qatar Grand Prix sponsor Ooredoo will live long in the memory.