Formula 1 driver power rankings for 2021 after Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the championship after a very controversial finale in Abu Dhabi (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The focus may have all been on Max Verstappen’s season-long fight with Lewis Hamilton out front, but 18 other cars did compete in the 2021 Formula 1 season, to varying degrees of success.

The Mercedes and Red Bull cars were significantly faster than the rest throughout the course of the campaign, but with a regulation change coming for 2022 designed to bunch the field up, that may not be the case next time around.

So, who laid down a good marker in 2021, and who struggled? These are our power rankings for all 20 drivers who raced full-time in F1 this year.

1. Max Verstappen — Red Bull

Simply the fastest man all season long. Demonstrated a level of pace that few drivers to have ever walked the Earth could hope to match, and matched with the kind of determination and focus that meant he could take the fight directly to Hamilton on a race-by-race basis. Was overly aggressive on plenty of occasions, and began to look desperate in Saudi Arabia, but drove so relentlessly quickly over the course of 22 races that it was enough in the end.

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2. Lewis Hamilton — Mercedes

Raised his level of performance to probably the highest of his career in the face of the challenge posed by Verstappen and Red Bull, and managed to take eight wins in the most hardly-fought season of a generation. Was sensational in winning three race in a row before the finale at Abu Dhabi, and would have taken a deserved, record-breaking eighth title had it not been for Latifi’s crash at Yas Marini and the Michael Masi controversy which followed.

3. Lando Norris — McLaren

Took the first pole position of his career at Sochi and would have secured his maiden victory too if not for the sudden deluge which clipped his wings just a few laps from the end. Scored a second-place finish behind Ricciardo at Monza, qualified high up the grid most weekend and delivered consistent Sunday performances which combined strong pace and composed wheel-to-wheel racing. One of the fastest men in the field at this point.

4. Carlos Sainz — Ferrari

Transitioned to Ferrari so smoothly after leaving McLaren and beat his highly-rated team-mate in a superb debut season. Stood on the podium four times, including taking P2 behind Verstappen at Monaco, and confirmed himself a driver with the potential to challenge for the world championship if given the machinery to do so. The only driver to finish every single race of the season, with only two finishes outside the points.

5. Fernando Alonso — Alpine

After taking a few races to readjust to the speed and physical demands of F1 racing, Alonso delivered a series of impressive performances on his return to the sport after a two-year sabbatical. Qualifying results were good, not great, but he displayed a level of racecraft on a regular basis that probably remains the best of anybody on the grid. Delivered a defensive masterclass as good as any ever seen against Hamilton and Hungary and scored a deserved podium in Qatar.

6. Pierre Gasly — Alpha Tauri

Drove the wheels off the Alpha Tauri and out-paced his team-mate on 21 out of 22 Saturdays in another extremely strong season. Took a podium in Baku as well as a glut of fifth and sixth-placed finishes elsewhere as he continued to look a driver capable of challenging for wins in a faster car. Lead the team with confidence despite still being only 25 and seemed to have a good influence on Tsunoda’s manner as the season went on.

7. George Russell — Williams

Finally scored points for Williams by finishing inside the top ten in Hungary, Russia and Italy, and technically finished second at the Belgian Grand prix which never really happened. Took a backmarker car into Q2 more often than not and Q3 more frequently than the car merited, confirming his searing one-lap pace ahead of his much-anticipated move to Mercedes for 2022.

8. Charles Leclerc — Ferrari

Qualified on pole in Baku and Monet Carlo but the Ferrari did not have the pace to allow him to challenge for race victories over the course of the season. Took only one podium compared to his team-mate’s four, and seemed to struggle at times when bogged down in the midfield pack. Will be hoping for a Ferrari resurgence next year to allow his undoubted talent to flourish.

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9. Esteban Ocon — Alpine

Took his maiden victory at Hungary after capitalising on chaos caused by first lap crashes and changeable weather conditions, holding off Vettel to take the chequered flag. Finished the season very strongly with four solid points finishes and has built up a good working relationship with Alonso which bodes well for 2022.

10. Sergio Perez — Red Bull

Did not come near to matching Verstappen’s pace in qualifying and was often unable to put the sister Red Bull on the second row of the grid either, but did manage both the temperamental nature of the car and the pressure of supporting the Dutchman far better than predecessors Gasly and Alexander Albon. Won at Azerbaijan and made a crucial difference in the drivers’ championship when it mattered most at Abu Dhabi.

11. Valtteri Bottas — Mercedes

May have beaten Perez in the championship but ultimately did less to help his team-mate then his Red Bull counterpart when it really mattered. Too often found floundering lower down the field than the car should have been, but took probably the strongest win of his career at Turkey. Will benefit from moving to Alfa Romeo where he will simultaneously be under less pressure but potentially revel in the responsibility of being a team leader.

12. Sebastian Vettel — Aston Martin

The four-time world champion scored a couple of superb, and very popular, results by finishing on the podium in Azerbaijan and Hungary. Seemed to enjoy himself significantly more than he did with Ferrari in the previous campaign, but will have been disappointed to be driving the seventh-fastest car on the grid when it has been third the season before. Strange errors of judgement, such as switching to dry tyres in Turkey when the track was still soaking wet, seem par for the course now.

13. Daniel Ricciardo — McLaren

Scored a stunning victory at Monza, McLaren’s first in nine years, but otherwise endured a difficult transitional season in which he simply could not Norris’ results and speed. Very few errors across the course of the season but a regular lack of pace was worrying. Will travel home to Australia and spend time with family for the first time since the pandemic over the winter break, and can hopefully return recharged and ready to fight for big points again.

14. Lance Stroll — Aston Martin

Finished in the points more often than his team-mate but finished no higher than sixth all season long and seemed to take a step backwards in qualifying performance. First half of the campaign was stronger than the second but was limited by a car which was often a fair bit slower than the rest of the midfield runners.

15. Yuki Tsunoda — Alpha Tauri

Started and ended the season with excellent, quick performances at Bahrain and Abu Dhabi but the interim was defined by errors, inconsistency and team radio tirades. Finally outqualified Gasly at the season finale and showed flashes of the kind of pace which has made Red Bull think so highly of him, but will need to put consistent race weekends together in 2022 to progress or even keep his seat in 2023.

16. Mick Schumacher — Haas

Arguably the most difficult driver on the grid to assess. Spent the campaign at the back in by far the slowest car in the field, but decimated his team-mate in both qualifying and races all year long. Failed to score a point but in a car as poor as the Haas that is not his fault. Has a season of tough experience under his belt that will benefit him significantly.

17. Nicholas Latifi — Williams

Improved based on 2020, even beating Russell twice in qualifying, and earned a strong seventh place finish at Hungary when taking advantage of carnage at the start. Still nowhere near as fast as his team-mate over the course of the season, and his campaign (and in all likelihood, career) will now most likely be remembered for his needless crash at the Abu Dhabi Grand prix which led to the notorious safety car period.

18. Antonio Giovinazzi — Alfa Romeo

Struggled all year long in a car that was actually the most improved on the grid in terms of raw pace compared to 2020. A couple of Q3 appearances towards the end of the year were the bright spots but consistency and decision-making in races meant he only earned two points finishes.

19. Kimi Raikkonen — Alfa Romeo

A very poor final season from a man who looked disinterested in every appearance throughout the year, both on and off track. Some inexplicably poor errors, including crashing into Vettel on the last lap in Austria and rear-ending his team-mate on the pit straight in Portugal, were the standout moments. Retirement at the final race in Abu Dhabi after hitting the barriers summed it all up.

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20. Nikita Mazepin — Haas

An incompetent driver who is nowhere near talented enough to race in Formula 1. Out-paced by his team-mate in pretty much every single session of the season, and a regular danger to faster cars when yielding awkwardly under blue flags. Will likely stick around for the foreseeable future thanks to his father’s firm’s sponsorship of the team, but does not come close to meriting his place.

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