End of an Era


The F1 now ushers in a new era of regulations, with a stylish finish to the season to cap it off (courtesy of Twitter)

It’s been a month since the 2021 Formula 1 finale, and I’m still in shock over the events that transpired. A final lap showdown between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen saw Verstappen win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the 2021 Drivers Championship. The win capped off a titanic title battle between the two drivers, who both had pivotal moments that made this a season to remember. And, with this being the last season under the current regulations, it was a perfect way to round out the current era.

It all started at preseason testing, with Red Bull appearing to have the better car than Mercedes, the defending champions. It continued to the season opener in Bahrain where Hamilton struck the first blow by winning. Verstappen was hunting down Hamilton in the closing laps and actually passed Hamilton but had to give the position for exceeding the track limits. Verstappen responded in the next race by winning the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. At one point in the race, Hamilton went off the track and fell down to seventh, but after the race was red flagged for an accident between Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas and George Russell of Williams, he was able to recover to finish second. We then traveled to Portugal for the Portuguese Grand Prix with Hamilton winning ahead of Verstappen in second. F1 then traveled to Spain, where Hamilton won with a strategic masterclass, making it a two-stop while Verstappen was on a one-stop strategy. Hamilton was able to use his fresher tires and overtake Verstappen to make it three wins out of four. Verstappen finished second and was 14 points behind the seven-time reigning champion. However, with 22 races in this season, there was plenty to race for.

F1 traveled to Monaco for round five, where we saw Ferrari grab pole position with Charles Leclerc. Verstappen qualified second and Hamilton managed seventh. However, Leclerc had to retire from the Grand Prix right before the race due to a mechanical issue that he sustained during a crash. This promoted Verstappen into pole position for the race where he never looked back. He cruised to victory while Hamilton was stuck behind traffic and finished seventh. This gave Verstappen the championship lead and Red Bull the Constructors’ Championship lead. This was the first time since 2019 that Mercedes was not leading any of the championships. The next race was in Azerbaijan where Red Bull was in complete control. Verstappen was leading ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez with Hamilton in third. However, with five laps to go, Verstappen suffered a tire failure and crashed out of the race. When the race restarted, Hamilton got an electric start and passed Perez to take the lead. However, when they reached the first turn, Hamilton’s brakes locked up, and he went into the runoff and tumbled down the order and out of the points, throwing away a huge amount of points in a race where his title rival was out. Perez won the race and increased Red Bull’s lead since Mercedes didn’t score any  points. We then moved to France, where Verstappen got pole ahead of Hamilton. In the race, Verstappen went deep into turn one and Hamilton took the lead. Here, Verstappen did what Hamilton did back in Spain and executed a two stop while Hamilton stuck on a one stop. Verstappen overtook Hamilton to win the race and to increase his lead in the standings. The next two rounds were in Austria, where Verstappen dominated and won both races, leading all 142 laps across both races to extend his championship lead to 33 points.

Then,F1 went to Britain for the British Grand Prix, where one of the season’s moments occurred. This was the first weekend to include a sprint race. The sprint race grid order would be determined by qualifying while the sprint race would set the grid for the race on Sunday. Verstappen won the sprint to get pole position with Hamilton in second. When the lights went out, both rivals got away to a great start and had one of the best wheel-to-wheel battles in recent history  that lasted for half a lap. When approaching Copse corner, Hamilton attempted a lunge down the inside and crashed into Verstappen, taking him out of the race. Hamilton was able to continue and was given a penalty for the accident. Despite the penalty, Hamilton was able to win the race and reduce the points gap from 33 down to eight. 

The following race was at the Hungaroring for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton grabbed pole with Bottas in second and Verstappen in third. When the lights went out, Bottas had a horrible start and fell behind several places. When the grid reached turn one, Bottas locked up and caused an accident which took Perez out of the race and severely damaged Verstappen’s car. When the race resumed, the track changed from wet to dry. During the lap to the grid, all of the cars except Hamilton pitted for dry tires which meant that when the lights went out, Hamilton was the only car on the grid. This mistake forced Hamilton to pit the following lap.  Hamilton fell down the order because his stop was during racing conditions while everyone else’s was during the formation lap, meaning they lost less time. After a chaotic race, Esteban Ocon of Alpine won his first ever race. Meanwhile,Hamilton retook the  lead of the standings as the season reached its summer break.

After the break came the Belgium Grand Prix which saw Verstappen win, albeit an extremely shortened race due to the torrential amount of rain. The race also saw Russell get his first ever podium due to his amazing qualifying which saw him start the race in second. The next race was the Dutch Grand Prix which saw Verstappen win his home race in dominating fashion and retake the championship lead. 

In the Italian Grand Prix, the title rivals once again clashed on the track and as a result took each other out. When emerging from the pit lane, Verstappen ended up right behind Hamilton. Verstappen tried a move on the outside of turn one but Hamilton slightly pushed him wide and with no space left, Verstappen’s car ended up on top of Hamilton’s car and stuck in the gravel trap, taking both of them out of the race. With both drivers out of the race, McLaren took its first win since 2012   with Daniel Riccardo. F1 then went to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix where Hamilton earned his 100th career win, becoming the first-ever driver to hit that milestone. At this point, with seven races to go, Hamilton retook the lead by two points. The following race was the Turkish Grand Prix which saw Bottas get his first win of the season. In this race, since it was raining, no driver was forced to have a pit stop which led Hamilton to believe that he could go the entire race without pitting. As the laps were dwindling down, Hamilton was in constant contact with his race engineer saying that he should stay out. Mercedes was trying to calculate if it was possible and eventually with a few laps to go, pitted Hamilton and in doing so fell down the order from third to fifth. Verstappen finished second to extend his championship lead.

The next race saw F1 travel to Texas for the U.S. Grand Prix which saw Verstappen win at what has usually been a Mercedes stronghold. Verstappen continued his hot run of form in Mexico, cruising to victory and increasing his gap to Hamilton to 19 points with four races to go. However, in Brazil, Hamilton won in one of the finest drives of his career, starting from the back of the grid at the sprint race. His qualifying time was deleted and he was disqualified because of a technical irregularity and would start the sprint race in dead last, giving Verstappen a huge advantage for the race and the championship. When the sprint race happened, Hamilton put his foot down and didn’t look back, overtaking 15 cars to finish the sprint race in fifth. However, due to a pre-planned engine change, he was given another five-place grid penalty and would start the main race in 10th. When the race started, he started to slice through the pack again and overtook everyone to win the race and  breathe more life into the championship battle. Hamilton won again in Qatar to reduce the gap to eight points.

Then came the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, which was one of the most chaotic races in recent times that included several red flags and the title rivals colliding into each other. Verstappen overtook Hamilton but was then told to give the position back to Hamilton. Verstappen slowed down, albeit in the middle of the track. Hamilton was not told that Verstappen was giving the place back and rear-ended the Red Bull. Hamilton eventually passed Verstappen and won his third race in a row to reduce the gap to nothing. Hamilton and Verstappen were tied on points entering the final race. This brings us to the season finale that saw a controversial one-lap showdown where Verstappen overtook Hamilton to win the race and become the 2021 Formula 1 World Champion.

This season had it all. Throughout the entire year, Verstappen was always in form. In the entire season, there were 11 drivers who led a lap. Fernando Alonso led two, Sebastian Vettel led four, Carlos Sainz led 12, Lando Norris led 31, Perez led 48, Ricciardo led 48, Leclerc led 60, Ocon led 66, Bottas led 79 and Hamilton led 297 laps,  totaling 645 laps. Verstappen alone led 652 laps, more than the entire rest of the grid combined. Verstappen had 10 wins in the season, six fastest laps, 10 pole positions and 18 podiums, which were either in first or second. The only races where he wasn’t on the podium were his three DNF’s and in Hungary where his car was severely damaged. Mercedes did win the Constructors’ Championship for a record eighth consecutive year, winning all of the Constructors’ titles during the hybrid era, which started back in 2014. This was the first year since 2008 where the driver’s champion was not on the winning team. This was the closest title battle in years which serves as a fitting conclusion to this era of cars. If you had told me back at the start of the season that this is how it would have ended, I would have called you crazy. If you look at my preseason predictions, I was somewhat right in some aspects but completely wrong in other aspects. I said that Mercedes would win the Constructors’, which they did, but I was wrong when I said that Hamilton would win a record eighth title. 

These were the final constructor standings:

Mercedes (613.5 points)

Red Bull (585.5 points)
Ferrari (323.5 points)

McLaren (275 points)

Alpine (155 points)

Alpha Tauri (142 points)

Aston Martin (77 points)

Williams (23 points)

Alfa Romeo (13 points)

Hass (0 points)

I got Mercedes, Red Bull and Hass right. As for the rest of the teams, I was off by one or two places.

Now, Hamilton might just retire from the sport. With less than two months before the first race, only time will tell if the seven-time champion will return. He is still under contract with Mercedes for the 2022 season but after the controversial ending in Abu Dhabi, reports show that he might retire. Regardless of Hamilton’s decision, this is truly the end of an era.

Next year, there are several new changes, particularly in the drivers, with George Russell replacing Bottas with Mercedes. Bottas will now move to Alfa Romeo to replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen. It is a complete driver lineup change in Alfa Romeo with Antonio Giovanizzi being replaced by rookie Guanyu Zhou. Meanwhile, at Williams, Russell’s seat has been filled by former Red Bull driver Alex Albon, who spent the 2021 year as a reserve for the Red Bull team.  The future looks bright for 2022, with new regulations that are sure to change the current pecking order. With multiple driver changes, there should be plenty of title contenders as a new era begins for Formula 1.