Snapshots from a heady F1 season

The 2021 Formula One season saw the closest battle for both the titles in recent times and went down to the wire. But apart from the title battle, there were other memorable moments too. Sportstar takes a look at a few of them.

Taste of victory: Esteban Ocon of France and Alpine F1 Team celebrates after winning his maiden race at the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary in Budapest.   -  Getty Images

Esteban Ocon’s maiden win

Esteban Ocon made the best of leaders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s misfortunes to score his own and Alpine’s maiden win at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

In a chaotic race that was wet at the start, Valtteri Bottas hit Lando Norris who slid into Verstappen on the opening lap, causing damage to the cars of all three drivers. Bottas further hit Sergio Perez who retired immediately.

The race saw an early red flag but on the restart, every other driver, except Hamilton, chose to pit during the formation lap to change from intermediate to slick tyres.

It was a bizarre scenario to see only one car on the main grid taking the restart, but Hamilton and Mercedes were caught out by others pitting. This allowed Ocon to take the lead of the race when Hamilton stopped, a position he managed to hold on to despite being hounded by Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin.

Hamilton tried an aggressive three-stop strategy but Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso held the former for 12 laps which allowed Ocon to win the race.

Farcical GP: Race marshalls and technicians clear the car McLaren's British driver Lando Norris after he crashed during the qualifying session of the Formula One Belgian Grand Prix. The drivers had called for the session to be stopped because of dangerous driving conditions due to rain much before Lando Narris crashed.   -  AFP

 

The shortest race in history

The Belgian Grand Prix got into the record books for the wrong reasons this year. On Saturday, the qualifying session was held in wet conditions. The intensity kept increasing as the session progressed and during the third and final part of the qualifying, McLaren driver Norris had a huge crash, despite the drivers calling for the session to be stopped.

Later, Max Verstappen qualified on pole but the surprise was George Russell in the Williams lining up second ahead of Hamilton.

Sunday’s race was similarly affected by bad weather and after two formation laps behind the Safety Car, the start procedure was suspended. After numerous delays and close to three hours later, there were another two laps run behind the Safety Car and on the third lap, the race was red-flagged for good.

The race result was taken at the end of lap one and it was done to ensure at least half-points were awarded for the weekend. While Russell celebrated his first career podium, the drivers and fans were critical of the way how the event was handled and about running four laps behind a Safety Car just to award half-points.

Future bright: Third-placed Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr celebrates in the parc ferme of the Yas Marina Circuit after the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix. He finished on the podium on four occasions this season.   -  AFP

 

The best of the rest

This year saw drivers like Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz Jr and Pierre Gasly enhance their reputations as very quick and capable drivers behind the top-tier of Verstappen, Hamilton and Leclerc. In only his third season, Norris outperformed his new teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Especially in the first half of the season, Norris’ performance was miles ahead of the Australian who struggled to adapt to the McLaren having moved from Renault (now Alpine). The Briton had three podiums in the first half of the year though it was Ricciardo who won the team’s first race in nine years in Italy where Norris finished second.

Similarly, Sainz, who moved to Ferrari from McLaren, showed he was not going to be Leclerc’s wingman and adapted to his new team very quickly. Through the season his performances kept improving and eventually beat his fancied teammate by 5.5 points in the final standings. He also got four podiums to Leclerc’s one.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 21: Third placed Fernando Alonso of Spain and Alpine F1 Team celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 21, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)   -  Getty Images

 

Alonso’s podium

Fernando Alonso’s comeback to the sport did not get off strongly in the first part of the season as he was overshadowed by his teammate Ocon, especially in qualifying. But as the season progressed, Alonso slowly started to find his feet in the team and in a tricky car that showed wild performance swings from circuit to circuit.

His persistence though paid off towards the end of the year in Qatar where he started third after grid penalties to a few of the top drivers. The wily Spaniard jumped to second place for a while and was able to manage his tyres to execute a one-stop strategy to perfection as he claimed his first podium since 2014.

Iceman’s cave: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Alfa Romeo Racing poses for a photo with his wife Minttu and children before the final race of his F1 career at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.   -  Getty Images

 

Kimi’s retirement

Kimi Raikkonen, one of the most popular drivers on the F1 grid called time on his F1 career at the age of 42 after a record 349 starts. The Finn won his only title in 2007 with Ferrari, the last driver to do so for the team. He was a character on and off the track with his monosyllabic answers and memorable one-liners. Raikkonen made his debut in 2001 with the Sauber F1 team, which is now Alfa Romeo Racing, the team for which he drove for the last three years.

A true sprint: Max Verstappen of Red Bull in lead during the sprint race ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Brazil. It proved to be the most exciting sprint race of the season as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton charged from last to finish fifth with some breathtaking overtakes.   -  Getty Images

 

Sprint racing

Formula One tried a new format at three race weekends this season to make the three-day format more exciting for fans at the circuit and audiences.

The Sprint qualifying is a 30-minute race on Saturday to set the grid for Sunday’s race and the top three finishers get championship points.

The idea behind this was to have sessions of consequence on all three days of a race weekend. Instead of Free Practice 2 on Friday evening, there is qualifying for the Sprint Race on Saturday. The format was tried at Silverstone, Monza and Interlagos.

The most exciting one was in Brazil when Hamilton had to start from the back of the grid on Saturday due to a rear-wing infringement after Friday qualifying. He charged from last to finish fifth with some breathtaking overtakes.

The format received a mixed response as it doesn’t alter the pecking order largely as the best cars always find a way to be at the sharp end of the grid. In 2022, there are going to be six weekends ofi sprint qualifying.

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