2021 Top F1 Driver Rankings Countdown

(Image credit:@F1)

Following a pulsating 22-race 2021 Formula One season, here is a countdown of how each driver has ranked this campaign.

Having begun the season in Bahrain in late March, F1 witnessed incredible drama within 261 days with six different race winners amongst 13 podium finishers and a dramatic title fight that went to a very final controversial lap in Abu Dhabi.

You could therefore be forgiven for struggling to rank all 20 regular drivers who participated in the season in any particular order, which is true because there has genuinely been many highlights from lights out in Bahrain to title rivals colliding in various races.

Now without further ado, here is how I have personally ranked the entire grid although a special shout-out is merited for Robert Kubica, who stood in for Kimi Raikkonen in Dutch and Italian Grands Prix due to illness.

 

20 – Nikita Mazepin (Haas)

(Image credit: Andy Hone / LAT Images)

Despite initially struggling to adapt to F1 as evidenced by various off-track excursions in his opening races, Mazepin has slowly but surely settled in and made progress in his learning at Haas despite not receiving any car development this season and zero points amidst various moans on team radio.

It is therefore slightly harsh to rank him as the worst driver of the season but he simply hasn’t done much to stand out on the grid, although the Russian can take heart from beating Mick Schumacher in three/four/five races where they both reached the checkered flag.

2022 though will provide us with a clearer understanding of Mazepin’s potential if Haas’ decision to focus entirely on next year’s car pays off with a competitive car, so don’t be too dismissive of Mazepin yet.

 

19 – Mick Schumacher (Haas)

(Image credit: Haas F1)

Like Mazepin, Schumacher has hardly set the world alight this season with zero points scored but he has looked more competitive with two appearances in Q2 this season, which is a positive sign of his raw speed yet he has been hindered by an uncompetitive car throughout the campaign.

Schumacher also can take heart from his race performances because he has been able to push Antonio Giovinazzi and Nicholas Latifi at times despite the latter pair being in quicker cars, which will provide Haas with some hope that he can be more competitive next season and fight for points.

Haas’ general lack of competitivity however has counted against him in these rankings because other drivers have enjoyed stronger seasons than the German.

 

18 – Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)

(Image credit: Alfa Romeo)

With Alfa Romeo ringing the changes in their driver line-up next season, I am not surprised that Antonio Giovinazzi has lost his seat because he hasn’t impressed at all across the last two seasons, although he has been consistent in often finishing between 10th and 15th in races this year.

Giovinazzi though has just lacked any real quality of note in 2021 compared to other drivers but he was consistently better than both Haas drivers, whilst also stepping up as team leader in Zandvoort and Monza with Q3 appearances as Kimi Raikkonen self-isolated due to Coronavirus.

I though won’t be disappointed to see Giovinazzi go because he hasn’t simply done anything outstanding to justify a contract renewal, although I do hope that he is able to show his talent more in Formula E alongside former F1 drivers like Jean-Eric Vergne and others.

 

17 – Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

(Image credit: Alfa Romeo F1)

Much like Mazepin, Schumacher and Giovinazzi, there isn’t much to say about Raikkonen’s season because he hasn’t exactly lit up any fireworks ahead of retirement, instead lucking in to three of his four individual points finishes through a mixture of mistakes from others or rain in the case of Russia.

Raikkonen though can be proud of his performance in Mexico because he was genuinely competitive throughout the weekend, which marked the last time that we saw the 2007 champion look at his best despite being 42 years-old.

What I will miss most though is Raikkonen’s attitude because although he does a solid job on track, he also has delivered plenty of classic one-liners over two decades and didn’t flap around involving himself in F1 politics, which is something that many F1 fans will miss across the grid overall.

It however shouldn’t go without saying that Raikkonen has earned his retirement because he has been excellent across two separate stints in F1, whether it’s delivering strong race performances or delivering classic entertainment on team radio or in media interviews.

 

16 – Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)

(Image credit: Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Although 16th feels like a low ranking for Yuki Tsunoda, he has simply failed to match his pre-season promise where he finished second-fastest because there have been several errors with crashes in Qualifying in Imola, Baku and France proving notable examples on top of inconsistent race form.

There however are plenty of positives which Tsunoda can take from his rookie campaign because he clearly has raw one lap pace which he has shown when given the right chances on ideal circuits, whilst his race performances has improved in the closing stages of this season with some solid drives.

It is also worth noting that Tsunoda has also had to adapt to the F1 environment as evidenced by a house move mid-season which probably isn’t ideal for any driver, given the logistics aspect as well as focusing on his racing.

I however feel like Tsunoda has built a solid base from which he can build on in 2022 now that he knows how to handle new circuits on top of the more traditional tracks from his F2 days, whilst continuity of Pierre Gasly as his teammate plus a settled environment could lead to stronger results.

 

15 – Nicholas Latifi (Williams)

(Image credit: @NicholasLatifi)

Despite continuing to find himself in George Russell’s shadow at Williams, Nicholas Latifi has continued to progress development wise with four Q2 appearances and looked competitive in several races towards the back.

A huge positive for Latifi though has to be the fact that he has scored points this season, albeit aided by misfortunes for other drivers and a farcically managed Belgian Grand Prix but for someone in Latifi’s position, points are points and will give him some extra confidence.

2022 though will be Latifi’s biggest test yet because with Russell departing and Alex Albon joining the team, he now needs to step up as the number one driver at Williams especially with a new car in play or risk Albon outclassing him like at DAMS in 2018 F2 season.

Either way, this is a season of progress aided by a more competitive Williams car but Latifi still has work to do if he is to show his full potential properly.

 

14 – Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

(Image credit: Aston Martin F1)

After enjoying a positive 2020 season under the Racing Point name, Lance Stroll has just struggled to find consistency this season after a difficult pre-season test as the team adjusted to the new rules concerning the high/low rake car designs.

Stroll though can take heart from some solid results because he has often turned his Q3 appearances into points, whilst executing some brilliant alternative race strategies in other races to snatch points from the jaws of miserable weekends.

Now if I am being honest, that is all that can really be said of Stroll’s season because he has simply been inconsistent or unluckily caught up in various incidents but the new car regulations in 2022 should hopefully enable him to rediscover his 2020 spark if Aston Martin nail their designs.

 

13 – Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)

(Image credit: Aston Martin F1)

After spending a decade fighting at the top of the grid, Sebastian Vettel embarked on a new chapter at Aston Martin which has been solid if unspectacular at times although he has rebounded well from a slow start to the season.

Vettel though managed to find consistency in his Qualifying and race performances from early on which lasted throughout the season, whilst also benefitting from drama elsewhere to snatch two podiums (albeit he was later disqualified in Hungary).

2022 however is going to be an important season for Vettel if he and Aston Martin are to progress up the grid but 13th is a solid ranking given his efforts this season, especially given that his focus slowly seems to be more towards his legacy post-retirement concerning equality and environment.

 

12 – Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)

(Image credit: @McLarenF1)

Despite enjoying a positive first season at McLaren with strong top-ten consistency for much of the season, Daniel Ricciardo was outshone for much of the first half of the season by Lando Norris and has recently endured a tricky run-in through a mixture of performance plateau and unreliability.

Ricciardo though did seem to find his feet in the middle of the season especially after the summer break in which he got a lucky fourth in Belgium, before enjoying a strong vintage weekend in Italy culminating in a deserved win after fending off Norris in a brilliant fight for victory.

His late-season dip though has prevented me from placing him higher up the order because other drivers have enjoyed stronger seasons overall.

 

11 – Esteban Ocon (Alpine) 

(Image credit: Alpine F1)

After enjoying a positive end to 2020 with his first podium, Esteban Ocon has kicked on in 2021 with a series of strong consistent performances, which included a stunning maiden F1 win in Hungary following a mature drive as he fended off Vettel who has the superior experience of fighting for victories.

Ocon also has stood up well against experienced teammate – Fernando Alonso with a close Qualifying head-to-head between the pair, which does bode well for the Frenchman who is continuing to develop well in his overall performance despite minor ruts this season.

With questions however continuing to hang over his and Alonso’s futures despite the 25 year-old signing a new contract until 2024, Ocon will need to continue to step up his game because Alpine junior – Oscar Piastri is eying a 2023 seat and next season sees new regulations come into play.

 

10 –  Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

Although tenth seems like a low ranking for Valtteri Bottas, he hasn’t exactly done much to light up the season in terms of performance because he has struggled at times especially in the first half of the season at venues like Imola and Baku compared to Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas though can take heart from his consistency in his battle against Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in their scrap as the second-choice drivers, especially because he did rediscover his confidence in the second-half of the season which paid off with an eighth consecutive constructor title for Mercedes.

Although 2022 will see Bottas join Alfa Romeo, it is also noticeable that his driving improved considerably following the announcement in September because he has gone on to claim three of his four pole positions this season after his move was confirmed.

Tenth though feels like the right placing for Bottas in this season’s rankings especially compared to the performances of other drivers on the grid.

 

9 – Fernando Alonso (Alpine)

(Image credit: Alpine F1)

Having enjoyed a two-season sabbatical, Alonso has enjoyed a positive campaign back at Enstone because he has been consistently around the top ten and fighting much younger drivers with a renewed edge to his racing.

We also cannot afford to ignore Alonso’s defensive ability and team player qualities because both skills merged perfectly in Hungary as he helped Ocon to victory through staunch defending against Hamilton for five laps.

Alonso also delivered some impressive attacking performances this season especially in the British Sprint Qualifying and Qatar, where he delivered a first podium since July 2014 after a brilliant drive on a one-stop strategy underlining that he is still as sharp as ever at 40 years-old.

2022 therefore could well bring further success for Alonso if Alpine nail the new regulations and provide the Spaniard with a car to challenge for wins, although a third title would be quite an achievement depending on how the grid shakes up next season.

 

8 – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

(Image credit: @ScuderiaFerrari)

Having encountered various flashpoints in his first two seasons at Ferrari against Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc has matured brilliantly in how he has approached races in not only performance but battling his new teammate – Sainz.

Leclerc’s Qualifying performances in particular has been consistent with pole positions in Monaco and Baku, yet he undoubtedly outdrove the car’s Qualifying potential in the first half of this season against McLaren’s Lando Norris before finishing 2021 with the upper hand.

His race performances also have been consistent but his average finishing position of 6.60 is marginally worse than his average Qualifying position of 6.45, although two of those lower finishes were through retirements due to unreliability in fairness.

Monaco though will feel like Leclerc’s low point after failing to start his home race from pole due to a driveshaft failure on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, yet he can be proud of another strong season as Ferrari finished third in the constructors’ championship.

 

7 – George Russell (Williams)

(Image credit: Williams F1)

After enjoying a tough but valuable end to 2020 where he spun out of a top ten finish in Imola for Williams before enjoying a dramatic guest drive for Mercedes in Sakhir GP, George Russell has certainly kicked on this season with improved performances and a lucky podium.

With just two. head-to-head losses to Nicholas Latifi in Qualifying, Russell has again been dominant in Qualifying with 15 Q2 appearances and four outings in Q3 which underlines why he has earned a promotion to Mercedes for next season.

Russell’s race performances has also been highly impressive as he constantly fought both Alfa Romeo drivers and occasionally some higher-quality drivers who were enduring difficult races, in which he beat likes of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll from time to time.

Seventh therefore feels like a strong placing for Russell given his improvements this season and he will certainly be one to watch in 2022 at Mercedes with his raw speed and race skills, although his clash with Bottas at Imola will be a huge lesson for the Brit in fighting experienced drivers.

 

6 – Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

Image credit: Ferrari)

Having made the switch from McLaren to Ferrari this season, Carlos Sainz has certainly adapted well to life at Maranello with plenty of consistent drives and has often been a match for Charles Leclerc at times this season.

Consistency also has been one of Sainz’s biggest strengths this season on top of building a strong team bond with Leclerc, which was evident in Mexico when the pair was evenly matched on pace and Sainz was allowed to try and snatch fourth before eventually returning fifth to Leclerc in the end.

Just to further highlight how impressive Sainz has been this season, his average grid position was 7.91 yet his average race finish is 6.50 which is impressive for someone in their first season as part of the Scuderia against a tough teammate in Leclerc.

This season though really felt more like a settling in season for Sainz where he has adapted well with a solid season and four podiums – of which two were down to luck and correct strategical calls, so expect to see this Spaniard pushing for wins in 2022 if Ferrari design a title fighting car.

 

5 – Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

(Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Having looked destined to bow out of F1 at end of last season, Sergio Perez has certainly maximised his late reprieve despite a tough switch to Red Bull where he only outqualified Max Verstappen twice all season.

Perez though can be proud of how he adapted to a tougher environment where he wasn’t the lead driver because he did push Verstappen a lot this season, whilst also providing Mercedes with a strategical headache at several races which was what Red Bull needed him to do.

One aspect of Perez’s season that needs highlighting surely is his ability to put his own ambition aside selflessly, which was evident in Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi when he managed to hold Hamilton up with a stern defence at times and lucked into victory in the former race.

Although Verstappen failed to benefit from either of Perez’s acts due to a tyre failure and pace difference respectively, Perez can take heart from discovering a new side to his racing style outside of his excellent tyre management which was still evident.

Perez’s Qualifying pace though was quite inconsistent at times which needs improvement in 2022 because he often was in the midfield pack, which could of left Verstappen strategically vulnerable to both Mercedes drivers if Bottas had been on the pace up front.

On that note, it is worth mentioning that Perez’s average grid position was 4.41 yet his race finish averaged out at 6.60, thereby creating a slight concern about his overall pace but he did a grand job in terms of what everyone expected of him this season.

Eventually, Verstappen managed to win the title on his own merit (speak about Michael Masi’s idiocy later) but Perez does still have work to do to improve in 2022 if he is to fight more up front, with fifth place representing a decent ranking for Perez in 2021.

 

4 – Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)

(Image credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Having looked firmly placed in the midfield battle after pre-season testing and set for a tricky season against Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly has certainly been a surprise star of the season with excellent one-lap pace consistency in Qualifying with just four non Q3 appearances this season.

Just to underline his Qualifying consistency, it is worth noting that Gasly qualified 12th fastest on those four occasions he failed to reach Q3, which is simply impressive for a midfield driver especially after his demotion from Red Bull in 2019.

Gasly has also shown strong race pace this season as he often made progress from his grid position which showed in his overall points tally, as the Frenchman surpassed 100 points for the first time in his F1 career which highlights how well he has regrouped mentally at AlphaTauri.

Now if there are any highlights of how excellent Gasly has been this season, it has to be his strong defence against Leclerc in Azerbaijan for a third-placed finish, whilst also holding the Monegasque off for fourth in Zandvoort and Mexico City.

This decision to place Gasly fourth in this year’s driver rankings therefore wasn’t a difficult decision because he has simply outperformed the car’s potential, whilst also causing the occasional headache for faster cars as even Verstappen discovered briefly in Qatar.

 

3 – Lando Norris (McLaren)

(Image credit: McLaren F1)

Having shown strong maturity across his first two seasons in F1, Lando Norris this season just found a new level with strong consistency throughout the whole season, in which he managed to hold his own at times in the scrap for third against Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez.

Sixth place in the championship therefore should feel disappointing but Norris does have a lot to be proud of, especially with his performance in Russia where he executed a perfect Q3 to claim a maiden F1 pole as a high point of his season but late rain showers cruelly denied him victory.

Norris’ race performances also have been excellent this season with four podiums and plenty of impressive defending, especially against Hamilton in Imola and Sochi where he delivered incredible defensive moves under immense pressure.

We should also not forget that Norris had an incredibly experienced new teammate alongside him at McLaren in Daniel Ricciardo, yet he outclassed the Aussie 15-7 in not just Qualifying but also race head-to-heads which is simply stunning for the 22 year-old.

Italy also deserves a shout out because although Norris finished second to Ricciardo in that race, he certainly didn’t just roll over because he pushed Ricciardo across the last 23 laps all the way to the checkered flag highlighting his desire to try and take chances at wins where possible.

Now if Norris can push his development and maturity to new heights in 2022 and iron out that late-season dip against his closest competitors, he definitely will be one to watch in terms of potential scraps for race victories.

 

2 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

(Image credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Deciding the exact ranking order for the top two drivers of this season certainly was a toughie but in the end, I put Max Verstappen second for many reasons.

Having topped pre-season testing, Verstappen certainly endured that performance wasn’t a fluke as he proceeded to enjoy his best F1 season yet with ten pole positions and wins, of which seven victories were converted from pole position.

Verstappen also showed incredible consistency throughout the season across single lap and race pace, which was particularly evident in the triple-header of French, Styrian and Austrian Grands Prix where he just outclassed the field with three consecutive wins.

It is also worth noting that Verstappen delivered excellent execution of tyre strategy gambles in France, USA and Abu Dhabi, which all proved crucial to his record-breaking haul of 18 podiums from 22 races en route to a controversial maiden title.

One stat though which underlines how sensational Verstappen has been this season is the fact that he has led 652 laps, compared to 645 laps in total managed by all other drivers on the grid in total which is simply crazy to believe.

Ordinarily, those reasons alone would be enough to place him as the top driver of the season and he could of sealed the title sooner if not for a tyre blow-out in Baku or two race-ending collisions, although his aggressive racing and sportsmanship exposed a lack of maturity still present within his style.

There were early flashpoints in Bahrain and Imola of which Verstappen did benefit in the latter race, due to an aggressive move in the opening corners which forced Hamilton off-track yet stewards turned a blind eye as they did at several points throughout the season.

Verstappen though needs to still learn to think before he speaks because he was selfish to accuse Hamilton of ‘disrespectful’ celebrations after his win at Silverstone, amidst an undeserved time penalty for the Brit due to reckless defending from Verstappen which sent him crashing out.

Monza also highlighted another worrying sign of Verstappen’s psychology as he aggressively tried an overtake over the kerbs of Variante Del Rettifilo on Lap 26, which launched his Red Bull dangerously over the top of Hamilton’s Mercedes as he missed his title rival by mere inches.

What stood out about that particular incident for me though was the manner in which Verstappen casually exited his car and coldly strolled back to the pits, yet without even bothering to check Hamilton was fine which is shocking of any driver let alone a title contender.

Add in the fact that he received a pathetic three-place grid penalty for Russia as a result of his actions which Red Bull covered up with a power unit change and definite back of grid start, effectively meaning that he wasn’t properly punished for that reckless move.

There was also the small matter of a deliberate late braking move to force Hamilton off-track in Brazil which stewards ignored, whilst his various attempts to wipe Hamilton out in Saudi Arabia were softly punished plus his post-podium exit attitude that race was just immature.

His intentional touching of the rear wing on Hamilton’s Mercedes in Brazil post-Qualifying also showed disregard for basic sportsmanship, especially given that rear wing went on to fail a test yet Hamilton eventually gave Verstappen karma by snatching the race win.

On that note, there is clearly still a lot of progress that Verstappen needs to make next season in his sporting behaviour on and off track if he wants to be a top end-of-season ranked driver in future, seeing as he has shown his potential on track this season.

If he can elevate his sportsmanship whilst continuing to lift his raw performances in 2022 then he will certainly be my top driver, yet he is ranked second this year due to a mixture of factors going against him but he is a deserving champion on pure form alone.

 

1 – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

(Image credit: Jiri Krenek)

Having entered the season as a seven-time champion, Hamilton certainly has had his toughest year in a long time yet his grit and experience has seen him create plenty of history on and off track.

Let start with a wind back to March because Hamilton was fifth fastest overall in pre-season testing with a 1.065 second deficit to Verstappen, which was made further concerning by the fact that he set his time on the softest tyre whereas Verstappen had set his quickest lap on second softest tyres.

One of Hamilton’s biggest qualities though is his ability to fight back which he delivered in the season-opener with a lucky win, which kick-started a run of three wins in the opening four races as he maintained a high level of consistency all season.

Determination also played a huge role in Hamilton’s season because whenever dealt a tough knock, he always found a way to either hit back immediately or ensure damage limitation if needed highlighting not just his maturity but also his vast experience to play a long game.

Brazil however was the perfect jaw-dropping highlight of both aspects because he recovered from a post-Qualifying disqualification in Sprint Qualifying to fifth, ahead of a five-place penalty for an Internal Combustion Engine change yet won the main race from tenth.

2021 though did see mistakes begin to creep into Hamilton’s style as evidenced by braking errors in Imola and Azerbaijan, of which the latter error now is where he blew the championship because if he hadn’t ran wide on the late restart, he would of certainly won an eighth title this season.

Stewards also didn’t provide Hamilton with much optimism following several silly judgements against the Brit at times, especially at Silverstone where Verstappen engineered deliberate contact at Copse yet Hamilton got punished despite not being able to do much on inside line.

Abu Dhabi though was the perfect icing on a cake of potential unconscious bias against Hamilton with inept Safety Car restart management, which cost Hamilton the title after he valiantly fought back to enter the finale level on points before dominating the race until a cruel final lap.

His sportsmanship in the end though set him apart from Verstappen because despite a brutal title loss in circumstances which nobody should endure, he still had the decency to congratulate and celebrate with Verstappen post-race amidst Mercedes’ protests to the FIA.

Hamilton though can take heart from the fact that he has made incredible history this season beyond becoming the first driver to win 100+ races in F1, because he has also achieved much success off-track in terms of tackling racism within motorsport with the Hamilton Commission report.

It is therefore difficult to sum up 2021 in one word relating to Hamilton because this has been a tough season as Mercedes adapted to unfavourable regulation tweaks, yet he refused to give up in the face of adversary and finished the year with huge momentum.

2022 though promises all-new technical regulations and cars but if Hamilton elects to continue racing amidst retirement rumours, he certainly will be a serious title contender as he seeks a historic eighth title and will have extra motivation after the farcical climax to this season.

Finishing on the present though, Hamilton has simply hit new heights this season in his racecraft and sportsmanship, which ultimately proved the difference in making him the top driver in my opinion of 2021 and a ‘people’s champion’ in the eyes of many F1 fans worldwide.

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