GRAND PRIX: And Finally….A Look Back at the 2021 Season

Posted on January 4, 2022.

A bad moment in Monaco.
A successful and happy combination.
Subtle and discreet track decoration in Austin.

By Tony Cotton and Nigel Bland

With the F1 season having ended, your regular reporters planned to meet up to talk about the highs and lows of the year just gone. Sadly, Winston had “commitments” so it was  just me and Nigel with a few bottles of Lidl’s finest.
We began with Ferrari’s best moment of the year.
TC- It has to be at a slow circuit, because Mercedes and Red Bull just had better aero.
NB- I wouldn’t agree. You’re right as regards Monaco, where Charles put it on pole…
TC – and for that matter he put it on pole in Baku as well….
NB – Stop interrupting.  In the Monaco race, Carlos was running 3rd  until Mercedes messed up by stripping the nut on Bottas’s wheel, giving him second, and Carlos’s first podium in a Ferrari. That was a bit special. But then Charles ran a great race at Silverstone. After passing Bottas at the start, and with Hamilton being given a 10 second penalty for the Verstappen incident, he ran in the lead until 3 laps from the end. At such a  high speed circuit, second was a real achievement.
TC – so what do you think was the Ferrari worst moment?
NB- Same as one of the best – Monaco.
TC- Yes, I was thinking that. I can cope with the bad bits. It’s the hope that really destroys me. Pole for Charles – euphoria- and then he tried to go faster – despair.
NB – Do you think he thought Verstappen might have put in a last minute blinder?
TC- I guess that must have been behind the effort, but whatever, it was a disaster as he hit the wall. The gearbox was under question and if they changed it, there was a penalty, so they must have examined it and decided there wasn’t a major risk. But with no penalty, why didn’t they change the drive shafts which took the impact? Those were what failed on the out lap, leaving Charles and around 10 million Ferrari fans distraught.
NB – So moving to the bigger picture, which was the best race of the year?
TC – I tend to judge “best” by how much I’m happily shouting at BBC FiveLive or the TV coverage. On that basis, it has to be Hungary. Watching Alonso hold off Hamilton for 16 laps when he was in a slower car, and doing it cleanly, was sheer joy. Although Ocon won the race, it was really Alonso who was the hero. He’s still got it, hasn’t he?
NB – No doubt. On the other hand, whilst neither of us are Hamilton fans you have to give him credit for  Brasil. A fight from the back, excellent strategy, and a clean final overtake for the win.
TC- And a recovery from a somewhat wide defensive line taken by Max when Hamilton tried to overtake a bit earlier.
NB – Ah, yes. Max needed a passport for that move, he was so far off line. It must have been the worst FIA decision of the year to not penalise him.
TC – Controversial view there Nigel – there are so many spectacularly bad FIA decisions to choose from.
NB – I suppose so, but that one was so blatant after they’d been so strict imposing penalties for slight transgressions in Austria by Norris and then Perez. It had big influences. It validated dubious “defensive” lines and put Verstappen in a position where he could have believed he could get away with most things. Leave the drivers and the teams some leeway and you will have trouble. It lost the FIA so much credibility that the teams must have felt they could try to pressure Masi into anything. So I would say it was partly responsible for the comically incomprehensible decision in Abu Dhabi, which is why I haven’t suggested that one.
TC – I also wasn’t impressed with allowing Hamilton to reverse back onto the track in Imola, but to me the most embarrassing decision was to call that farce in Belgium “a race”.
NB – [grimacing] Thanks, I had tried to erase that disgrace from my memory. If we had to choose “most disappointing race of the year” I wouldn’t even have counted Spa as a race.
TC – It’s funny how circuits I don’t fancy like Istanbul can give good races but great circuits like Spa can give terrible races. Zandvoort, for a spectator, is terrific and I bet it’s wonderful to drive, but their Grand Prix was just dull. And I’m not sure my hitherto healthy lungs would have liked all the firework smoke.
NB – Well they are Dutch. I reckon they put weed in the fireworks.
TC – Talking of disappointing, who’s the biggest underachiever? Possibly Giovanazzi, though underachieving in a Sauber is almost a given.  I have in mind Aston Martin. In 2020 they were 4th in the championship (as Racing Point), only narrowly missing out on 3rd. But this year they were 7th, closer to Williams than to Alpha Tauri. Somebody must have unplugged their photocopier.
NB –  Or was it the Mercedes’ copier that was unplugged? My underachiever, or “fall from grace” if we’re being a bit more polite, would be Ricciardo. He had a fantastic race in Italy where, with Max and Lewis out, he won and got fastest lap. Near to dominant there, but otherwise he was just midfield and scored through finishing reliably rather than finishing well.  I thought he would fit in nicely at McLaren but he just didn’t seem to suit their car.
TC – Do you think it was optimised for Lando, or was it just an average car where Lando over-delivered?
NB – I think Lando will be there with Leclerc as the best of this generation, with Verstappen being recognised as too brutal to be a true great. But I don’t think the McLaren was anything but a decent car, it just suited Lando a bit better. Like when RedBull would optimise cars for Vettel.
TC- Talking of Red Bull, I have a surprise candidate for “overachiever”: Perez. Not my candidate, I hasten to add, but that of the mysterious ex-F3 and LMP Sports Car team owner who occasionally contributes to my reports. He reckons Perez is a thinker, and is clever enough to be supported by his own people so he isn’t intimidated by Verstappen. He’s worked out how to drive a car which turns in well, but is a bit loose and can’t be cured by more rear downforce as that makes it slow in a straight line. His ability to adapt to a car by looking at the finite details will serve him well next year when the 18inch tyres come in.
NB – Interesting.  I almost had Perez as an under achiever based on his qualifying performance. I had in mind Gasly as overachiever. I quite fancied Tsunoda’s chances at the beginning of the year, but apart from the funny sweary radio messages he’s been a bit average. So it’s arguable that the Alpha Tauri is not a special car, yet Gasly habitually qualified it far higher than he should have done, even if the race could be a bit disappointing for him. Though in fairness, he did have nine top 6 finishes, being more effective towards the end of the year.
TC – You mentioned Tsunoda as a newcomer. What do you think of the others?
NB – As the other newcomers are both with Haas, it’s a bit tricky. Oddly enough, I would rate Schumacher over Tsunoda because he’s impressed despite the car. He even managed to drag it into Q2 in Turkey. As for Marzipan, I think the sooner he loses interest the better. He isn’t bringing anything to F1 and even crashed into his own team-mate. He needs to be out to make way for fresh talent.
TC – I know you keep an eye on the lower formulae. Who can we look out for? Who should be on the F1 grid in 2022, even if they won’t be?
NB – Oscar Piastri won F2 by 60 points, and it’s a hard fought championship. He’s a Renault Academy driver and their reserve for 2022, but reserve never seems to mean anything as the teams always get Hulkenberg in. I suppose he’s waiting for Alonso to get bored, which could be never or could be at the first race. Colton Herta is the youngest driver to have won an IndyCar race, pretty talented and as an American would be loved by Liberty Media.
TC – And the Ferrari academy?
NB – The best performance in the year is undoubtedly Robert Schwarzman. He was second in F2 and has tested with Haas and Ferrari, and will be Ferrari’s test driver. Arthur Leclerc is Charles’ younger brother and 10th in the “Formula 3” championship isn’t as inspiring as I would have hoped but don’t write him off. [Nigel did air quotes here, because “Formula 3” is now for 3.4L 380bhp V6 Mechachrome  powered Dallaras.] Problem is they’re 22 and 21 respectively, and there doesn’t seem to be a place at Ferrari coming up soon, so they’ll be old men by the time they get a chance.  It’s for that reason that my guess for the next Ferrari Academy driver in F1 will be young Brit Oliver Bearman. He’s 16, and has won ADAC and Italian F4 championships. As long as he continues his rise, I can’t see a better candidate.
TC – After the deep thought of new drivers, can I suggest a less serious item to end on. For “Mistake of the Year” , despite their success, Mercedes must be in line. There was that mistake with Bottas’s wheel nut at Monaco, but the most stupid and costly one was in Azerbaijan where Hamilton caught the so-called “magic brakes” button at the restart, switched off the rear brakes, locked up, went off and lost a likely 18 points. 10 more than he lost the championship by.
NB – Pretty bad, I agree, but could you count the Corporate Strategy error of Honda withdrawing from F1 just as their engine wins the championship? They seem pretty good at withdrawing at the wrong time, having also done so just before Brawn won with a car designed under their ownership.
TC – Of course, such an unkind award could also go to an individual. I’d nominate Derek Warwick who was an FIA Steward in AbuDhabi, Spa and Austria.
NB – He doesn’t have much luck does he?
TC – To redress the balance, let’s say something nice about somebody. And embarrassingly, it is about Ferrari. Despite the closeness of the season, Charles and Carlos seemed to get on very well. They’re different temperaments as drivers, Charles having the greater passion and perhaps flair, but Carlos comes over as the deep thinker who brings the points home.  The air of the team was of gentlemen. Mattia Binotto even magnanimously congratulated McLaren on their win in Monza. The “Essere Ferrari” slogan really does mean something.
NB – Now please can I say “And Finally”? [TC nods and spills his Merlot]. And Finally, what are the words and phrases that have been ingrained on our F1 minds over the year which it would be nice to be rid of?
TC – “Undercut”
NB – “Turn it up to 11”
TC – “Hammer Time”
NB – “Tyre failure”
Together – “Tyre deg!”
From myself, Nigel, Winston and our F1 spies, A Very Happy New Year to our readers.


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