The 2021 season, regardless of whether a Mercedes or a Red Bull wins the title, shall always be regarded as the year where Max Verstappen truly stood up to tackle the dauntless pressure of Lewis Hamilton.
In that stage of the sport where things were singularly falling into Mercedes and Lewis’ lap, it’s been heartening and exciting to see one young driver standing up to offer some music to the team that’s left little to the imagination in controlling the sport with skill and awe!
Besides Hamilton and Verstappen’s dauntless wins, which achievements mark the most unsung moments of the 2021 F1 season?
Italian Jesus’ blessed Monaco drive
Few drivers are as talented yet don’t get spoken about as Alfa’s Romeo Antonio Giovinazzi.
In stark contrast to his impressive 2020 form where it took the Martina Franca-born driver just one Grand Prix to get going, opening his account through a thoroughly and fairly contested 2020 Austrian GP, wherein he’d bag P9, the Giovinazzi of 2021 has been a different creature altogether.
This year it took him 5 races to get going but when he did, Gio, as he’s famously called, scored the team’s first points at a track where it’s rather difficult to collect anything strong.
At the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Giovinazzi, for the entirety of the race, had the nose of his C41 ahead of teammate Raikkonen’s car and would eventually finish with a P10, with the Finn following the young driver on eleventh.
Yet, Giovinazzi, who once again helped Alfa Romeo collect their maiden points, found his performance under represented in the media and didn’t quite stir headlines.
Latifi and Russell at Hungary script a memorable race
If there were two drivers who had been working really hard all this while to prove a point and make themselves belong to the pinnacle of motor-racing, yet weren’t quite able to, then they were Russell and Latifi, the young guns of Williams.
While Latifi looked out of sorts in 2020, it wasn’t the case in the Hungarian GP where post the restart of the race, not before it was red-flagged, the Canadian quickly latched on to a handy position inside the top ten.
From that point on, it was about defending from the likes of Yuki, Antonio, and Mick Schumacher with all his might, which he’d successfully so in ending well inside the top ten. Eventually, a belter of a performance courtesy his valiant P7 would see the 26-year-old bag 6 valuable points.
Meanwhile, George Russell, who came ever so close to being on the podium, forget merely breaking into the top ten and that too, last year, at Bahrain, had been facing ill luck, of late, all of which would evaporate in the last Grand Prix.
While Fernando Alonso, a few Grand Prixs earlier, punctured Russell’s hope of sneaking out a point at Austria, that wouldn’t be the case this time around at Hungary where Russell, followed his teammate to collect a valuable eighth.
Called Mr. Saturday for his remarkable consistency on the qualifying days, a little over a fortnight ago, Great Britain’s most talented up and coming driver proved he’s also Mr. Sunday where the main race event is concerned.
The tears in the eyes and the look of contentment upon the conclusion of the event said it all!
The Iceman keeps his cool at Baku
Kimi Raikkonen, a legend of the sport has endured what can be called the most agonizing season of his career and that too, toward the fag end of his checkered career.
It’s been a year where the Finn, a former world champion, has been at the receiving end of irrepressible pressure from Giovinazzi where the qualifying drives are concerned, finding himself beaten by a much younger driver on eight in eleven qualifying battles so far.
And while Raikkonen opened his account not before round six of the current championship, his brilliant effort at Baku, an action-packed and accident-marred race proved the Iceman still has what it takes to perform at the highest level albeit not without some heated exchanges over the team radio.
A P10 at Baku where teammate Antonio Giovinazzi slipped further down the grid before recovering to eleventh saw Kimi in absolute control and beating Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes.
There are things that some drivers can do but things that only a Raikkonen can pull off!
Can he score in the forthcoming races, though?
Fernando Alonso’s Hungarian fight
There are great drivers, there are legends and then there’s Fernando Alonso, a true samurai of the sport.
The man who’s currently in his comeback year, the 2021 season with Alpine (formerly Renault) marking the Spaniard’s second wind in F1 hardly looks as if he’s lost any speed or edge whatsoever.
That’s despite the fact that for two consecutive years, Fernando Alonso didn’t take to the wheels of a Formula 1 car.
Having scored, consistently this season, despite having begun with a DNF at Bahrain, the season-opener, Alonso bagged his best-result at the very circuit where he last stood on the podium: the daunting Hungaroring.
Though the 2021 Hungarian GP would always be remembered for his teammate Esteban Ocon’s maiden F1 win, a victory none saw coming, perhaps not even Ocon himself, it was the magical performance of F1’s samurai that caught everyone’s attention.
From lap 55 until 65, Alonso’s solid defences kept defying Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes titan competing on a faster and fresher set of rubber albeit failing to break the staunch defences of a true titan of the sport.
Some precious minutes forged at the back of a titanic struggle for fourth saw two great drivers, formerly teammates at McLaren, engage in a nail-biting tussle. And it was only when Alonso locked up braking hard into a stiff right hander after the main straight that Lewis would get his opportunity to move up the order. But that stellar drive by a former Ferrari great, though which didn’t yield a podium finish, justifies being called the most under-sung effort as yet of the 2021 season.
The Rookie Yuki Tsunoda at Bahrain
There’ve been several drivers from Japan in the highest-annals of motor racing who came, didn’t conquer but left. The likes of Takuma Sato and Kazuki Nakajima have been two of the most famous exports of the ‘land of the rising sun’ to Formula 1. But unfortunately, the sun set early on two bright careers that could’ve gone the long way.
This precisely makes the excitement surrounding young Yuki Tsunoda all the more plausible and just.
Can there be a Japanese driver who can do something special in the most grilling form of single-seater racing there is? The answer to this was affirmative where young Yuki was concerned, the only current driver on the grid to be born in the 21st century.
And one learned that early in the season, in fact, at the curtain-raising Bahrain GP, where the Alpha Tauri new joiner gathered a fighting ninth at the testing Sakhir, thus earning points in his very first Formula 1 assignment.
Although, since then, Yuki, who could’ve been expected to do a lot better has slowed down and will need to really step up in the final half of the season. The sign of improvement is already here, given his P6 at the Hungaroring.