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today is Jan 28, 2022

The 2021 Formula 1 season gave us an unforgettable championship fight, a controversial conclusion and many memorable racing moments.

With all that going on, it was easy to overlook some of the strange and surprising stories of the last 12 months.

Another late start

The Formula 1 season – like many other championships – got off to a delayed start due to the ongoing pandemic. F1’s planned curtain-raiser on the Albert Park circuit in Australia was postponed. Eventually, for the second year running, the Melbourne event was called off completely.

The championship therefore began in Bahrain. The Middle East venue will also hold the first race on the 2022 F1 calendar.

  • Official: F1 season to start in Bahrain as Australian and Chinese GPs are postponed
  • IndyCar, WEC and WTCR delay 2021 season starts
Will F1 finally return to Melbourne next year

While we waited for the season to begin Formula 1 reprised the Virtual Grand Prix series which began in 2020. The format was revised, with the grid for the main race being set by a short race between Esport Pro Series driver, in what looked like a precursor to the real-world sprint qualifying races held at three rounds of the world championship.

  • What’s changed and what hasn’t in F1’s new-look charity Virtual GPs

No Russia

One of the 20 drivers on the F1 grid was not permitted to compete under their nationality during 2021. The World Anti Doping Agency’s sanction against Russia for athletics infringements affects sportspeople in a range of disciplines, including world championship events run by the WADA-affiliated FIA. That meant no national flag for Nikita Mazepin, who officially raced under the acronym ‘RAF’, for the Russian Automobile Federation.

The ban was put in place for two years, so the same will apply to Mazepin and any other Russian driver who competes in the 2022 F1 season. It also prevents the Russian national anthem from being played before their round of the world championship.

  • Mazepin and other Russian drivers forbidden from racing under country’s flag
  • Official F1 entry list describes Mazepin’s nationality as ‘RAF’

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Hamilton does two deals, Mercedes drop another

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021 Mercedes only carried Kingspan logos in Jeddah

Lewis Hamilton didn’t have a deal to drive for Mercedes when the year began. This was quickly taken care of, and soon afterwards another contract for upcoming seasons was inked, allowing him to focus on the championship fight in the meantime.

The upshot was the seven-times world champion had signed twice for Mercedes in the space of less than six months.

  • Wolff explains Hamilton’s one-year deal and dismisses ‘Verstappen clause’ rumour
  • Official: New deal keeps Hamilton at Mercedes until 2023

Later in the year Mercedes found themselves at the centre of criticism after they signed a new sponsor. Following outcry over their deal with Kingspan, and its connection to the Grenfell fire which claimed the lives of 72 people in 2017 and is still subject to an inquiry, the partnership was swiftly dropped.

  • Mercedes’ Kingspan sponsorship criticised by Grenfell fire survivors and minister
  • Mercedes and Kingspan end sponsorship deal following Grenfell controversy

Alonso’s comeback injury

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021 A sandwich bag ended Alonso’s first F1 race since 2018

Fernando Alonso’s return to Formula 1 after a two-year absence was put in jeopardy when he fractured his jaw when he was involved in a collision with a car while cycling in Switzerland. He had titanium plates fitted in his jaw which remained in place throughout the season.

  • Alonso has surgery on fractured jaw following cycling accident
  • Alonso to race with titanium plates in his jaw throughout 2021

Once he returned, a bizarre misfortune brought an early end to Alonso’s first F1 race for two years in Bahrain.

  • Sandwich bag ended Alonso’s first race back in Formula 1

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Mercedes power unit problems

Speculation abounded over reliability problems with Mercedes’ new power unit during the build-up to the new season. The team insisted all was well, but late in the year a reliability problem emerged which led to several extra power unit changes and penalties.

  • Mercedes haven’t had reliability problems with 2021 power unit – Wolff

‘Hack’ attacks

F1 app users received strange messages

Williams’ novel launch for its FW43B did not go to plan. The team intended to use an augmented reality app to present its latest design but pulled it ahead of the launch claiming it had been “hacked”. It seemed some users who downloaded the app discovered images of the car could be easily accessed within the files they had received, casting doubt on whether anything ‘hacking’ had actually taken place.

Four months later the official Formula 1 app also suffered a breach which led to users being sent messages which read “foo” and “Hmmmm, I should check my security.. :)”. F1 later said it did not believe any users’ data had been leaked.

  • Williams cancel plans for augmented reality launch after app is “hacked”
  • F1 confirms “foo” message sent on official app was the result of a hack

Safety steps

The appalling crash Romain Grosjean suffered during the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, which he escaped from with burns to his hands, yielded many useful pointer for the FIA to improve safety in F1 and other series.

  • Grosjean crash investigation yields 22 areas of improvement for driver safety

Human rights

Vettel and others took a stand for human rights

F1’s move into Qatar and Saudi Arabia prompted further objections over its decision to hold races in venues with poor human rights records. Hamilton was the most vocal driver on the subject and did not confine his comments to F1’s new events.

  • Hamilton raised human rights concerns with Bahrain’s officials and UK ambassador
  • Hamilton criticises Saudi Arabia’s “terrifying” LGBTQ+ laws and stance on women’s rights

In Hungary, Vettel was among three drivers who received a reprimand for wearing their T-shirts from the pre-race ‘We Race As One’ ceremony during the subsequent performance of the national anthem. In Vettel’s case, it was a shirt showing his support for LGBTQ+ rights which he chose to wear in response to the government’s recently-introduced legislation banning the teaching of gay issues to those under 18.

While his reprimand had no connection to his chosen cause, as for all three drivers it moved him a step closer to a potential penalty.

  • What was the FIA’s problem with Vettel’s pride T-shirt, and could it lead to a penalty?

Drive to contrive

Feature: Which Drive to Survive scenes triggered Verstappen’s accusation of fakery?

After the third series of Netflix’s Drive to Survive launch, team bosses played down concerns the series took too many liberties with the truth. Max Verstappen didn’t agree go, confirming later in the year he had ceased to participate in the series since its first season because he believed they had faked too much. He wasn’t the only driver who suggested the series was exaggerating rivalries.

  • No concerns over “creative licence” in Netflix’s Drive to Survive, say team bosses
  • Verstappen refuses to participate in “fake” Drive to Survive Netflix series

Rules changes have an impact

The 2021 season was the first year of F1’s budget cap. F1’s top teams had to cut back, which meant cutting staff for some.

  • Losing long-serving staff to meet budget cap was painful, says Horner

Changes to the aerodynamic regulations imposed to cut cornering speeds in 2021 were widely credited for closing the field up and trimming the advantage of the previously dominant Mercedes team. Aston Martin also suffered from the revision, and insisted other ways of slowing the cars without disadvantaging them were overlooked.

  • F1 rejected “more equal” ways to cut car speed in 2021, Aston Martin claim

Bottas’ pit lane woes

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Monaco, 2021 Bottas’ race was ended by a pit stop

There was ill luck for Bottas in the first race of the year as well. An 11-second pit stop was bad enough, but in Monaco his race ended in the pits as his team were unable to remove a wheel from his car. It was eventually cut away when the car was taken back to the team’s factory.

  • Mercedes explain error behind 11-second pit stop which ruined Bottas’s race
  • Mercedes still unable to remove wheel from Bottas’ car

Social media ‘idiots’

Daniel Ricciardo, who criticised the coverage of Grosjean’s Bahrain 2020 crash, renewed his complaints after seeing some of F1’s social media output. He later apologised for describing the producers of F1’s crash compilation videos as “fucking idiots”:

  • Ricciardo slates “idiots” behind F1’s social media output over focus on crashes
  • Ricciardo apologises for “aggressive” and profane criticism of F1’s social media coverage

Russell’s other team mates

Russell took out a ‘team mate’ at Imola

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was highly unimpressed the team’s junior driver, Williams racer George Russell, collided with Bottas at Imola, taking both out. Russell clearly took his future boss’s words onboard, and later in the season was confirmed as Hamilton’s new team mate for next year. Clearly, he was already treating him like one beforehand.

  • Russell’s move on Bottas was “too aggressive considering it was a Mercedes” – Wolff
  • “Lewis and Valtteri are team mates to me as Nicholas is” says Russell after “private” Wolff chat

F1 game price hike

Following the sale of Codemasters to EA, players of the official Formula 1 game saw steep price rises in some regions, due to a change in pricing policy. The absence of some new circuits from the same, a few of which were added later, didn’t help impressions of the newest edition of the franchise.

  • Why F1 2021 will be far more expensive for some – and three tracks will be missing at launch

Radio rows

Christian Horner Horner was unhappy with Wolff’s radio chats

During 2021 communications between FIA F1 race director Michael Masi and team personnel were broadcast during television feeds for the first time. Among the first to be played was Wolff urging Masi to show blue flags to Mazepin as Hamilton caught him in Spain.

At the time Masi described such communications from Wolff as uncommon. But come the end of the year he would get another earful from the Mercedes team boss.

  • Wolff’s radio complaint about Mazepin was a “very rare” occurrence – Masi

Following the crash between Hamilton and Verstappen at Silverstone, Wolff took the matter up with the stewards, a move his opposite number at Red Bull – Christian Horner – did not appreciate. However race director Masi said he wasn’t concerned about either speaking to the stewards during races.

  • FIA unmoved as Horner calls Mercedes’ lobbying of stewards “unacceptable”

Show us the other Aston…

One of the few moments of wheel-to-wheel action during the typically processional Monaco Grand Prix was missed because the television director chose to cut away to an action replay of Lance Stroll. Sebastian Vettel explained what the viewers didn’t see as he and Pierre Gasly went side-by-side up Massenet.

  • Vettel left Gasly “two centimetres” in overtake TV viewers didn’t see

Team mate tension at Haas

Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, Haas, Baku City Circuit, 2021 Schumacher was unimpressed by Mazepin’s swerve

Relations deteriorated between Haas’s two rookie drivers during 2021, particularly when Mazepin swerved towards Mick Schumacher as his team mate overtook him on the way to the finishing line.

  • “Does he want to kill us” fumes Schumacher after beating Mazepin by 0.07s

Styrian stewards kept busy

Verstappen celebrated his Styrian Grand Prix victory by stopping briefly and performing a burn-out. The FIA were not impressed by the potential hazard this created, and warned it will not be allowed in future.

  • Verstappen’s post-race burn-out celebration “will not be tolerated” again
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Red Bull Ring, 2021 Verstappen’s burn-out drew Masi’s ire

Following that, Alonso weighed in on the fight between the championship contenders, suggesting Verstappen would face a tougher time from some because of their nationalities.

  • ‘Verstappen’s not British so it will always be more difficult for him’ – Alonso

Over half the F1 field was placed under investigation following the end of the second race at the Red Bull Ring. In the end Kimi Raikkonen, Nicholas Latifi and Mazepin were penalised for failing to slow for yellow flags, the rest of the 11 drivers cleared.

  • Stewards investigating 11 drivers after end of Austrian GP
  • Mazepin and Latifi given 30s penalties, Raikkonen 20s, others cleared

Two for the record books

The collision between Verstappen and Hamilton on the first lap of the British Grand Prix, which put the Red Bull driver out, created a unique situation. Verstappen, who had won Saturday’s sprint qualifying race, therefore left Silverstone having scored three points despite not completing a lap of the grand prix – a first.

  • Verstappen is first driver to score points without completing a lap in grand prix

Esteban Ocon scored a shock, breakthrough victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Remarkably, he was the third driver to score their first grand prix victory in less than 12 months.

  • Ocon is Formula 1’s third new winner in less than a year

Rain stops play

F1 was unable to race at Spa

The Belgian Grand Prix was a low point of the season, as race control were forced to abandoned proceedings due to heavy rain. Spectators stood in soaking conditions for hours without seeing a single lap of competitive action, just three slow tours behind the Safety Car.

Hamilton later made what he called a “small token” of respect to the fans by sending team products to those who showed they had tickets to the race. “Everyone sent in their requests and their tickets and [we] provided them with merchandise,” he said.

He met a fan in New York who had attended the race. “She said that her and her son drove all the way from Geneva, so that’s eight or 11 hours’ drive, and sat in there and in the rain. And she said she was grateful that I had mentioned something because she said it’s pretty brutal to sit there in the rain and not actually see a race.”

The race promoters also offered fans F1 TV passes and a prize draw to win tickets to the 2022 race.

  • Hamilton offers “exclusive gift” to fans who attended Belgian GP wash-out
  • Spa spectators who saw no racing offered prize draw for 2022 tickets

Squirrel strike

Valtteri Bottas stormed to pole position for the sprint qualifying race at Monza despite hitting a squirrel on his out-lap. Unfortunately it wasn’t the only encounter between wildlife and the cars that weekend – Verstappen hit another squirrel during the race as well. Nicholas Latifi was at least able to dodge a hare during practice.

  • Bottas reveals he ran over a squirrel on his way to pole position

Controversial call stuns midfielders

Ricciardo was stunned by last-lap restart call

The controversial decision by FIA race director Michael Masi, which played a pivotal role in the outcome of the world championship, is not a story which is likely to be forgotten any time soon. But the stunned reaction of drivers not involved in the title fight, many of which were also affected by the unprecedented decision to only allow a portion of the field to un-lap themselves ahead of the final lap, was somewhat overlooked in the drama of the contentious title-decider.

  • F1’s midfield runners left “speechless” and confused by controversial late restart

F1’s weight gain goes on

The new technical regulations for 2022 were tweaked in various respects during the year. The most noticeable change has been a gradual rise in the minimum weight limit, which is now just 5kg short of the 800kg threshold.

  • FIA increases minimum weight of new F1 cars for 2022 again

2021 F1 season review

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