Max Verstappen: World Champion
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
This year we witnessed a Formula One season for the ages. A most captivating and enthralling year with a Championship battle that went right down to the final lap of the season, the 2021 F1 season is certain to live long in the memory.
Fresh off the back of capturing a record-equalling 7th World Driver’s Championship in 2020, Sir Lewis Hamilton took victory at three of the opening four rounds of the 2021 season at Bahrain, Portugal and Spain. Hamilton finished P2 at the Emilia Romagna GP, as Max Verstappen won his first of the season at Imola.
Red Bull then emerged triumphant five races on the trot at Monaco, Azerbaijan, France, and two at their home track the Red Bull ring in Austria – four more victories for Verstappen and a first of 2021 for Sergio Pérez at Baku, who succeeded Alex Albon ahead of the season.
Chrstian Horner's Red Bull collected a whopping 174 points across those five GP, compared to just 101 for Toto Wolff's Mercedes.
In his home race Hamilton conquered Silverstone for an unprecedented eighth time after an opening-lap kerfuffle with polesitter Verstappen. The title protagonists traded the race lead before they made contact at Copse corner which saw the Red Bull spin into the tyre barriers and out of the British GP, at an estimated impact force of 51G.
The Mercedes driver received a considerably lenient 10-second stop-go penalty whilst Verstappen was receiving medical attention at a hospital.
Hamilton chased down Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for the race win and took 26 points off Verstappen in the title hunt.
In Hungary, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon took his maiden F1 race win after chaos ensued, again on the opening lap. Valtteri Bottas‘ Mercedes rear-ended the McLaren of Lando Norris at the first corner after lights out, resulting in five DNFs (including Bottas, Norris & Perez) and leaving Verstappen with damage to his Red Bull chassis.
Despite escaping from the carnage unscathed, Hamilton/Mercedes misjudged track conditions which ultimately cost the Silver Arrows victory at the Hungaroring, and not for the last time in 2021 did Mercedes leave the seven-time world champion out on track for too long.
Hamilton ended P2, Verstappen P9.
Hamilton took an 8-point lead into the three-week summer break before Verstappen secured back-to-back wins in his birth nation and home nation – Belgium and Netherlands.
Half-points were awarded at a wet Spa-Francorchamps with less than 75 per cent of the Belgian GP completed due to treacherous driving conditions, with the race red flagged after two formation laps behind the Safety Car. Verstappen claimed 12,5 points essentially for qualifying on Pole, while Hamiton took P3 and collected 7,5 points.
Hamilton’s Championship lead was sliced from eight points down to three.
At the first Dutch GP since 1985, a roaring Orange Army watched on at Zandvoort as their hero Verstappen raced to the finish line, 20-seconds ahead of Hamilton in P2, to take control of a tense Championship battle.
At the Italian GP the title rivals once again collided, this time both drivers incurred DNFs after neither would yield for the other at the end of the home straight at Monza, leaving the Red Bull physically atop of Hamilton’s Mercedes in the gravel after Turn 1.
With the big dogs out of the equation, Daniel Ricciardo emerged from the pack to take the chequered flag at the Temple of Speed with his teammate Norris completing a historic 1-2 finish for McLaren at the home of fierce rivals Ferrari.
This was McLaren’s first race win since 2012 in Brazil, and their first 1-2 in 11 years since Button followed Hamilton over the line at the 2010 Canadian GP.
Seeing out the European leg of the season, Mercedes claimed successive wins in Russia and Turkey. Hamilton took his 100th race win at the Sochi Autodrom, as late rainfall denied Norris a maiden win, before Bottas claimed a maximum 26 points at Istanbul Park.
Verstappen finished P2 on both occasions.
Next at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, Verstappen and Hamilton were engrossed in a wheel-to-wheel tussle from lights out all the way to the chequered flag. Hamilton took the race lead off polesitter Verstappen after the first corner but Red Bull worked the undercut pit-stop strategy which regained the lead for Verstappen.
In the final 10 laps at COTA, Hamilton closed in on Verstappen and was within DRS range of the Red Bull on the last of the 56-lap race, but the Mercedes was held at bay – by a marginal 1,3 seconds – as Verstappen won the US GP for the first time.
Verstappen took victory again in Mexico City, with Hamilton a little further down the road, to open up a 19-point advantage for the Red Bull driver in the Championship. Perez became the first local driver to finish on the podium at his home Mexican GP.
Hamilton showcased his brilliance at the Sao Paulo GP in Brazil, as the Briton climbed 25 places over the race weekend to win it all at Interlagos. After being disqualified from sprint quali for a rear wing infringement, Hamilton started the sprint race from the back of the grid and made up 15 places to end P5. The Mercedes was also handed a 5-place grid penalty for breaching the season's allocation of power units therefore started the Grand Prix in P10.
Hamilton steadily rose up the grid and was on Verstappen's tail with one-third of the race to go. After several attempts to overtake the Red Bull, Hamilton swept past on lap 59 of 71 and the car #44 held on to secure win number 101 for Hamilton.
With just 14 points splitting the two, Hamilton and Verstappen were set to contest a trilogy in the desert to decide the 2021 Drivers' Championship. In the inaugural Qatari GP, Hamilton snubbed Verstappen for Pole by six-tenths of a second and Verstappen was penalised five places on the grid for disobeying double-waved yellow flags, starting P7.
By lap 5 Verstappen had elevated himself to P2 with Hamilton four seconds further up the road. Hamilton would extend the gap throughout the race which left Verstappen chasing the fastest lap on the 57th and final lap to nick an extra point off the Mercedes.
Fresh off back-to-back wins in Brazil and Qatar, Hamilton had narrowed Verstappen’s advantage from 19 points down to eight ahead of the first-ever Saudi Arabian GP.
Verstappen was on course for Pole position before colliding with the barrier at the final corner on his hotlap, leaving Hamilton and Bottas to complete a Mercedes front row lock-out.
On Sunday prior to the Grand Prix, the F1 family paid its final respects to Sir Frank Williams who passed away one week prior to the race. Sir Frank was a pioneer in the sport and a leading figure amongst the paddock for more than four decades, with his constructor Williams Racing winning 16 World Championships since 1980, with nine of those titles coming between 1992-97.
There was mass pandemonium for most of the GP at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, which saw the Safety Car deployed for the first time on lap 10 when Mick Schumacher crashed at Turn 22. The race was subsequently red flagged on lap 13.
At the standing restart Max and Lewis were fighting neck-and-neck for the lead before the race was red flagged once more for a series of incidents involving Perez, Nikita Mazepin and George Russell.
The race started for a third time on lap 17 and the two Championship contenders soon distanced themselves from the rest of the pack.
There was confusion and commotion between the pair, when Verstappen was instructed to yield track position for Hamilton but the Mercedes rammed into the left-rear of the Red Bull when attempting to pass Verstappen on lap 37.
Hamilton eventually got past Verstappen on lap 43/50, with the Red Bull driver also given a 5-second time penalty for braking unsafely in front of Hamilton, however the penalty had no impact on the end result.
In his penultimate race driving for Mercedes, Bottas pipped Ocon to the final step on the podium and despite all of the madness at Jeddah, the podium still comprised of a familiar HAM-VER-BOT combination – the trio making their seventh appearance together this season and a record 20th of all-time.
It was the first time in 47 years that two drivers were level on points with one race to go, and the 30th title decider at the final race of the season.
Level on points heading into the final race of the year, Hamilton and Verstappen set a date in the desert for the title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP.
The Yas Marina Circuit underwent significant alterations since the 2020 finale which now sees the track flow smoother, with the fastest lap of final quali 13,1 seconds quicker than the fastest qualifying lap last year.
Hamilton was two-tenths clear of Verstappen in final practice but the Dutch driver overturned that deficit and qualified on Pole, four-tenths ahead of the Mercedes. Lando Norris qualified in P3 for the final race, with Perez alongside the McLaren on the second row.
The world was watching as the lights went out on Sunday at 5PM local time. Hamilton (medium tyres) got off the line better than polesitter Verstappen did on the soft tyres and the Mercedes led into Turn 1.
The two were inches from making contact at Turn 6 on the opening lap when Verstappen forced Hamilton off the track and the latter subsequently gained a few seconds' advantage via the escape road.
Despite starting on the supposed slower tyre compound, race leader Hamilton increased his gap over Verstappen who switched to the hard tyre on lap 15. Mercedes responded immediately, also putting Hamilton on the hards.
Hamilton exited the pits in P2 behind only Perez but the Mexican showed tremendous grit and teamwork to fend off the flying Silver Arrows, allowing for Red Bull teammate Verstappen to close the distance behind the Mercedes.
By the time Hamilton got past Perez on lap 21, Verstappen was right on the tail of Hamilton and the race was revived.
There was a Virtual Safety Car on lap 37 of 58 which allowed for a cheap pit-stop with Red Bull taking full advantage and swapping for a new set of hard tyres on Verstappen‘s car, while Mercedes kept Hamilton out to retain track position.
After struggling to get past Schumacher at the rear of the pack, Williams' Nicholas Latifi spun and crashed on lap 53 which brought out the Safety Car.
With only a handful of laps remaining, Verstappen changed for soft tyres, meanwhile on the same set of hard tyres since lap 16, Mercedes‘ engineers remarkably opted to still not box Hamilton.
Race director Michael Masi initially declared lapped cars were not to overtake the SC before controversially reversing his decision on the penultimate lap, bringing in the safety car and allowing for the five cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to overtake the SC, leaving the title contenders to race for Championship glory.
It all came down to the last lap of the final race of an unimaginable season which would be decided by the finest of margins. Verstappen pounced at the banking of Turn 5 and took the race lead and the title from out of the grasp of the four-time defending champion, beating Hamilton to the chequered flag to clinch a maiden WDC by eight points over the Briton.
There were rebuttals on Mercedes‘ part but their protests were rejected by the FIA, confirming Verstappen as the 34th F1 world champion and the first non-British and non-German WDC winner since Kimi Räikkönen in 2007, also ending a seven-year run of Mercedes winning the Drivers’ Championship.
After making his F1 debut in 2015 at the tender age of just 17 years & 5 months, Verstappen became the youngest race winner at the 2016 Spanish GP aged just 18 years & 7 months.
Now at the age of 24 years & 2 months, Verstappen is the fourth-youngest WDC behind the trio of Sebastian Vettel (23y & 4m), Hamilton (23y & 9m) and Fernando Alonso (24y & 1m) as the youngest champions in the sport's history.
Verstappen had 10 wins to his name ahead of the 2021 season and the Dutch driver doubled his tally with 10 more victories in a Championship-winning campaign. Verstappen set the fastest lap in five Grands Prix this year, one fewer than Hamilton's season-high six fastest laps.
Car no.33 took 10 Pole positions in 2021 – five more than Hamilton – with one of the two on Pole for 15 of 22 races this year.
Verstappen stood on the podium 18 times in 2021, one more top-3 appearance than his Mercedes counterpart.
A bittersweet ending to 2021 for Mercedes who, although lost out on the Drivers', did claim an eighth consecutive Constructors' Championship by 28 points over Red Bull – the smallest margin of victory in the WCC since 2012 when Red Bull beat McLaren-Mercedes by 44 points.
Mercedes and Red Bull have claimed all 24 World Championships since 2010 and as we approach a new chapter in the sport the duo are yet to be knocked off their perch by Ferrari, McLaren or anybody else.
The unexpected 1-2 finish at Monza would ultimately be the last time McLaren make an appearance on the podium, with no top-3 finishes in the last 8 races of 2021.
McLaren did however deliver their best points finish in nine years since Button and Hamilton racked up 378 points in 2012.
Sainz finished in the points for 15 consecutive races from the Styrian GP in June until the season finale at Abu Dhabi in mid-December, where the Spaniard came P3 behind title protagonists Verstappen and Hamilton.
In his first year with Ferrari, Sainz finished P5 in the WDC with 164,5 points – essentially the best of the rest after the two Mercedes’ and Red Bulls. Leclerc could only muster a P10 finish in Abu Dhabi, which meant Norris snubbed Leclerc for P6 in the Championship by a solitary point, 160 to 159. Ricciardo ended P8 on 115 Championship points.
Despite going two seasons without a win for the first time in 28 years, Ferrari finished above their bitter rivals as Mattia Binotto’s red army topped Zak Brown’s papaya orange McLaren by 48,5 points in the 2021 WCC.
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda raked in 22 points at Abu Dhabi but AlphaTauri were yet unable to finish ahead of Alpine in the WCC, with the French constructor ending 13 points above Red Bull's sister team, 155-142.
Alonso, 40, came P10 in the driver standings in his first year after returning to the grid.
Alonso together with Vettel and Räikkönen showcased their longevity as they made the most overtakes this season. Altogether this vastly experienced trio have won 106 races and seven WDC’s, and they made a combined 387 overtakes in 2021.
S Vettel - 132
F Alonso - 128
K Räikkönen - 127
A disappointing return season to F1 for Aston Martin as Lawrence Stroll's team accrued just 77 points and placed P7 in the Constructors' standings.
Alfa Romeo scored 13 points – 5 more than in 2020 – to end P9.
Williams have made a significant jump up after ending last in both of the last two seasons, with one point in 2019 and zero points in 2020. One of the sport's most respected constructors, Williams scored 23 points this year to finish eighth in the WCC.
After scoring a minuscule three points last year, Haas were the only team to not finish inside the points after 22 races in 2021.
As F1 ushers in a new era starting 2022 the driver lineup for next year is set in motion, with a handful of changes from the grid this year.
Kimi Räikkönen retires from the sport with a record 349 Grands Prix to his name in addition to 21 wins and 103 podiums. Räikkönen clinched a coveted WDC in 2007 and remains the most recent driver to reign supreme with a title at Ferrari.
The Iceman made his F1 debut with Sauber in 2001 and would go on to drive for the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus, before spending the final three years of his career back where it all began at Alfa Romeo (formerly Sauber).
Räikkönen is to be replaced by his fellow countryman Bottas who leaves Mercedes after five years, during which time he played a part in helping the team scoop the Constructor‘s crown in each year of Bottas’ spell with the Silver Arrows from 2017-2021.
Similarly to his successor George Russell, Bottas was promoted from Williams to Mercedes and the Finn achieved 10 wins, 58 podiums and 20 Pole positions during his time driving for Toto Wolff’s team.
Russell has been a member of the Mercedes Junior Programme since 2017, with he and Hamilton now set to form the first all-British driver lineup at a team since Hamilton and Button at McLaren in 2012.
Replacing Russell at Williams is former Red Bull driver Alex Albon who will partner Nicholas Latifi.
The experienced Bottas will be teamed with Guanya Zhou, the 22-year-old fresh out of Formula 2 and set to become the first Chinese driver in F1.
All other drivers remain the same for 2022 with Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine, AlphaTauri, Aston Martin, and Haas all retaining their respective 2021 pairings.
Similarly to the start of this year, a record 23 races have been provisionally pencilled for 2022 after 22 Grands Prix were staged in 2021.
Several changes affected the race calendar this year including the cancellation of the Japanese GP for a second year on the spin, as well as the rescheduled Turkish GP.
The 2022 Formula One season gets underway in Bahrain over the third weekend in March.
Australia, Canada, Japan & Singapore are set to return to the calendar while a debut race in May is on the cards for Miami, Florida.