The 2021 season began after another dominant season from Mercedes, the German team sweeping the 2020 constructors’ and drivers’ title with Lewis Hamilton.
Mercedes was looking to secure its 9th consecutive championship in a 22-race season. However, Red Bull rose to fight the reigning champions in what turned into a narrow fight right to the end of the season.
From the go, Red Bull proved to be quick as Max Verstappen took pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of the season. The cars roared off their grid slots for the first time in 2021. But the highly anticipated racing lasted a matter of seconds. Rookie Nikita Mazepin lost control of his Haas coming out of turn 2, sending his car spearing through the gravel trap and into the fence. The first safety car of the season was already called.
Later on, Verstappen dueled Lewis Hamilton over the remaining 5 or 6 laps of the race. The Dutchman sat behind the 7-time world champion for a number of laps after losing his lead during the pitstops, slowly getting close enough so he could lunge around the outside at turn 4. Verstappen made the move stick initially and took the lead of the Bahrain GP. However, the Red Bull driver was instructed to give the position back, as he ran off the circuit to complete the move on Hamilton. Verstappen obliged and frustratedly crossed the line in second place by just 0.745 seconds. This was only the start of Verstappen and Hamilton’s season-long skirmish for the 2021 F1 title.
This rivalry continued to ignite in the next race, the Emilia Romagna GP at Imola, Italy. Hamilton was left with no room next to Verstappen at the first corner, being forced off the track and bouncing over the curbs in the damp conditions. As the track dried, the race didn’t become any less chaotic. Hamilton would run off the circuit while hunting down Verstappen for the lead, and a red flag came out midway through the race after a big shunt between George Russell and Valtteri Bottas. Luckily for Hamilton, he managed to fight back to P2, passing Lando Norris with very few laps remaining. Verstappen went on to win the race.
For the following round in Portugal, Hamilton proved to be too fast to catch for Verstappen, winning the race by just under 30 seconds. The F1 circus then traveled to Spain, where Mercedes executed a supremely effective strategy to allow Hamilton to reel in and overtake Verstappen in the final few laps of the race.
In Monaco, a surprising surge of pace from Ferrari saw them in contention for pole position and the victory. Charles Leclerc would claim pole before ending the qualifying session with a crash in the concluding minutes. Unfortunately, the Monegasque’s bad luck in his home Grand Prix continued as his gearbox failed after sustaining damage in Saturday’s accident. Verstappen, meanwhile, gained a solid advantage to win by around 9 seconds over Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
The Azerbaijan GP saw yet another crazy race this year. Championship leader Max Verstappen was comfortably leading the race with 5 laps to go. His teammate Perez trailed by around 5 seconds while defending from an improving Lewis Hamilton. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly continued a long fight for P4. However, the race turned on its head when Verstappen experienced a high-speed crash due to a tire failure. The stewards called for another red flag as they cleared up the incident, making it a sprint to the finish between Perez and Hamilton in P1 and P2.
The race restarted with 2 laps to go, but Lewis Hamilton immediately threw away his chances at victory by locking his brakes into the first corner after pressing the wrong button on his steering wheel. Sergio Perez swept through and took off in the lead, while Vettel, Gasly, Leclerc, and Norris squabbled for the final podium positions. In an intense final couple of laps, Vettel managed to secure P2 while Gasly managed to hold off a hard-attacking Leclerc for P3.
Verstappen increased his championship lead at the French GP, during which he passed Hamilton for the win on the penultimate lap. Verstappen then cruised to victory for Red Bull in both races in Austria, extending his championship lead to 32 points. Norris also had a good second weekend in Austria, starting P2 in the race and making a move on Hamilton to finish on the podium.
The British Grand Prix was when the championship plot would flip over once again. Verstappen claimed pole in the inaugural qualifying sprint race the FIA trialed this year. However, he found himself defending from Hamilton again on the first lap of Sunday’s race. Hamilton then fully committed to a pass at Silverstone’s fastest corner, Copse.
Seconds later, the heavily damaged Red Bull lay buried in the barriers after being launched into a spin by Hamilton’s Mercedes. The stewards awarded Hamilton a 10-second stop-go penalty for his pitstop as a consequence of the collision. Charles Leclerc led most of the race, but Hamilton pulled out some blistering pace to pass the Ferrari. Hamilton went on to win his home race, dealing a massive blow to Verstappen’s championship lead.
The damp Hungarian GP was another chaotic race this season. It was red-flagged off the bat when Bottas plowed into Norris and both Red Bull drivers at the first corner. Other collisions occurred throughout the pack and the damage was enough to bring out a red flag. The track dried by the restart, but Hamilton was the only driver to stay out on intermediate tires to take the green flag.
This proved to be a crucial mistake, as he came in to change to dry tires the following lap anyway. From this point, Esteban Ocon inherited the lead. While Hamilton made his resurgence, Ocon gave his all to keep his lead from Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton made quick progress, but 2-time champion Fernando Alonso was keen on helping his teammate to his first F1 victory. The Spaniard put up a fantastic defense, costing Hamilton enough time to allow Ocon to hold on for his maiden F1 win.
Verstappen grabbed pole in Belgium ahead of a high-achieving George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. The race never saw green-flag conditions due to the heavy rain coming down on the circuit. In the end, half-points were awarded to the drivers. Following the Belgian GP, the teams travelled to the Netherlands for the first Dutch GP since 1985. Verstappen fittingly won his home race on its long-awaited return.
The Italian Grand Prix was the site of another massively controversial moment between the title contenders. Lewis Hamilton exited the pitlane on lap 26, crossing paths with Verstappen at the first corner. Neither driver would concede their position into the tight first chicane. Verstappen’s right-rear wheel found the left-rear of Hamilton’s car and launched over it. The collision brought both cars sprawling into the gravel trap, with both drivers eliminated from the race. Daniel Ricciardo went on to claim a remarkable win, with Norris finishing 2nd to deliver a 1-2 finish for McLaren.
The following race in Russia saw Lando Norris take his first pole position and almost a race win. In a moment of heartbreak for the McLaren driver, he opted to stay out on dry tires with just a few laps to go while his rivals changed to wet tires as heavier rain began falling. Painfully, this resulted in him losing the lead as well as his first win. Valtteri Bottas took his first victory of the season in the next race, the Turkish GP. Verstappen then won the United States GP, before dominating in Mexico the following round. There were now just four races left till the end of the season. Verstappen led Hamilton in the drivers’ standings by 19 points. Meanwhile, Red Bull trailed Mercedes by a singular point in the constructors’ standings.
Then, Brazil came along. Hamilton switched power units, receiving a 5-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race. To make things harder for Hamilton, his DRS flap failed the post-qualifying inspection, disqualifying him from the session results. During both the sprint race and Sunday’s race, Hamilton carved his way through the field with great pace. With the extra power under him, Hamilton had the advantage over Red Bull and soared to victory on Sunday. He also took two more victories in successive races. This included the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia, where the rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen sparked even brighter than before.
The championship protagonists scuffled for most of the race. It was a contest filled with penalties, controversies and narrowly avoided contact. Unfortunately, their intense battles did result in a collision when Verstappen slowed to allow Hamilton past after gaining an off-track advantage. Mercedes revealed they had no time to warn Hamilton of this, so it caught Hamilton by surprise when Verstappen slowed. In the confusion, the Mercedes clipped the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull. Luckily, little damage was done to both cars. Hamilton went on to pass Verstappen again later on in the race and solidified the victory.
This win brought Lewis Hamilton level on points with Max Verstappen going into the season finale in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton took the lead into turn 1, but Verstappen was desperate to keep the championship in his sight. The 24-year-old flung his car up the inside into the first chicane, leading Hamilton to cut the corner. Verstappen demanded that he give the position back, but the stewards chose to take no action on the incident. A frustrated Max Verstappen stayed behind Hamilton for most of the race. Miraculously for Verstappen, Nicholas Latifi rotated his Williams into the barriers with 5 laps to go, bringing out the safety car. This would give him another chance to get past Hamilton in the dying moments of the championship.
The odds were in Verstappen’s favor at the safety car restart. The stewards controversially let only a few lapped cars, those sitting between Hamilton and Verstappen, past the safety car queue. Verstappen pitted during the safety car for fresh soft tires while Hamilton unwillingly stayed out on old hard tires. Therefore, Red Bull held the advantage when the safety car finally veered into the pitlane. The final tense lap of the season saw Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton duel again. This time Verstappen managed to overtake and maintain the lead for the rest of the lap. Hamilton threw everything at him, but Verstappen defended hard to win the race and the 2021 world championship. Max Verstappen became a Formula 1 world champion and it all came down to the final lap.