With 22 races, six different winners, 13 drivers standing on the podium at least once and both championships coming down to the final round, the 2021 Formula 1 season is one that will live long in the memory.
But while fans were treated to some heart-pounding action on a number of occasions through the year, this season also produced the most universally disliked race RaceFans readers have seen since we began our ‘Rate the Race’ polls 14 seasons and almost 300 grandsago.
Take a look back at the enthralling – and often polarising – races of the 2021 season from the worst rated to the highest rated of the year.
Average rating: 1.9/10The Belgian Grand Prix scored the lowest-ever rating
RaceFans readers’ lowest rated race of the 2021 season will be of no surprise. It was also the least popular race in the history of ‘Rate the Race’.
A race that very literally wasn’t, the Belgian Grand Prix lasted just three laps. Run entirely behind the safety car due to visibility-ruining wet conditions around Spa, it was controversially awarded half points after race control decided it had fulfilled the minimum race distance requirement.
Possibly the only redeemable aspect of the weekend would have been for Williams fans, who got to witness a significantly dampened podium for George Russell’s second place.
Average rating: 4.0/10
Charles Leclerc took a dramatic home pole position, crashing at the swimming pool section in the final moments of Q3 but despite an overnight repair job to his car, was unable to start the race. That promoted Max Verstappen to an effective pole, Bottas alongside him. The Mercedes driver might have been able to challenge Verstappen on strategy, had he not been foiled by a stuck wheel nut that saw him retire in the pits.
Typically overtaking-free – bar an impressive pass by Sebastian Vettel on the hill that the television director decided was less interesting than a replay of Lance Stroll missing a chicane – Verstappen led Carlos Sainz Jnr and Lando Norris home for an exuberant podium that saw the Red Bull driver take the championship lead.
Average rating: 5.4/10
The first race of two around the Red Bull Ring this season proved to be the far less intriguing of the pair.
Mercedes and Red Bull seemed to far outclass the rest of the field around Spielberg. Other cars were distant competition as even fifth-place Norris was lapped before the chequered flag.
A comparatively pedestrian round, by 2021’s standards, Verstappen won from pole while the only shuffle behind him to speak of was Bottas and Hamilton swapping for second. Two retirements happened: Pierre Gasly, after contact with Leclerc early on, and Russell, following a hydraulic failure while the Williams had been running in a points-paying position.
Average rating: 5.8/10
Mercedes swept the front row but Verstappen blasted through from third on the grid and ran away with it, the Red Bull’s slight pace advantage at the previous round in Austin turning into total superiority around Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Hamilton was never able to seriously contend the lead thereafter, except in a window after the Red Bull’s pit stop.
Sergio Perez became the first Mexican driver to lead his home grand prix and his third-place finish might as well have been a win as far as the raucous home crowd were concerned.
Average rating: 6.1/10The controversial Saudi Arabia race proved polarising
The brand new Jeddah Corniche Circuit delivered on controversy during its debut grand prix.
After an early red flag following Mick Schumacher’s crash, Verstappen and Hamilton battled at the restart before a multi-car pile-up saw the race stopped again. More action at the restart between the title contenders was followed by the pair battling for the lead in the final third of the race, with a highly contentious collision on the back straight proving to be the peak of the drama at the front.
Hamilton won the race from Verstappen who was penalised twice, with Bottas snatching a podium from Ocon in the final few metres of the race.
2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix report
Average rating: 6.2/10
Bottas claimed pole at Autodromo do Algarve but the battle between Red Bull and Mercedes was mostly won in the pits, an enormous first stint for Hamilton paying off and not so for Perez, as Red Bull tried to cover off all strategies.
An early safety car that briefly gave Verstappen the lead was caused by the Alfa Romeo drivers colliding while Alpine – who had looked uncompetitive in previous races – suddenly roared into life, both drivers finishing in the top ten.
Average rating: 6.3/10
The final race of the season was set up to be an all-time classic, but ultimately proved to be one of the most polarising races in Rate the Race history.
The two championship protagonists were level on points and lined up on the front row ready for a straight shootout for the title. There was excitement from the opening lap, with Hamilton passing polesitter Verstappen at the start, before a lunge from the Red Bull driver into turn six saw Hamilton miss turn seven and retain the lead. Perez fought hard to hold up Hamilton and allow Verstappen to bridge the gap after the title contenders pitted, but Hamilton appeared to have the pace to keep in control of the race out front.
Then, Nicholas Latifi’s crash with five laps to go allowed Red Bull to go all-in with a move to soft tyres, while Mercedes chose to stay out. FIA F1 race director Michael Masi’s controversial call to allow only five lapped cars between the two leaders pass the safety car before a final lap restart left Hamilton desperately vulnerable to his rival.
Verstappen passed Hamilton on the last lap to take the chequered flag and win both the race and the championship, while an outraged Mercedes team immediately protested the result. After days of agonising over whether to appeal the stewards’ dismissal of their protests, Mercedes eventually announced they would not take the matter further, confirming Verstappen as champion.
2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix report
Average rating: 6.3/10
The first sprint weekend of 2021 saw Hamilton take Friday pole, Verstappen win the sprint and Perez discover the hazards of the format as a spin caused him so much damage he was forced to start from the rear of the grand prix.
The grand prix provided more drama in a single lap: Verstappen and Hamilton had a high-speed collision that saw Verstappen hit the barriers hard. A red flag restart saw Hamilton cop a ten second time penalty for the accident, but he was still able to catch and pass Leclerc in the closing laps to claim an eighth home grand prix win – a major blow to Red Bull’s title lead.
Average rating: 6.4/10Qatar’s debut was more exciting than many predicted
Despite fears from the drivers, right up until the race start, that there might be no overtaking opportunities around the Losail circuit, the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix did see a reasonable amount of action.
Hamilton and Verstappen ran away with the lead but much of the rest of the race was made interesting by the return of mysterious tyre failures. Bottas, Russell, Latifi and Norris all suffered from punctures – especially frustrating for the McLaren, who had been running in a good position and only able to salvage ninth.
The driver to profit from any tyre chaos, however, was Alonso, who took third place for his first podium finish since 2014 as Hamilton won ahead of Verstappen.
Average rating: 6.5/10
One of 2021’s more processional races, Zandvoort did not lend itself particularly to overtaking. However, the heavily revised circuit was popular with drivers and featured some uncommonly high-banked corners that allowed for some unusual lines and opened up new passing opportunities that otherwise would not exist.
The vibrant Dutch fans would not have been disappointed by Verstappen taking pole and then a comfortable win, crossing the line 20 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Average rating: 6.5/10
Despite the Circuit de Catalunya’s tendency to produce pedestrian racing, 2021 saw it at least come down to tyre strategy, where a two-stop for Hamilton saw him gain an advantage over Verstappen in the early title chase.
Behind them, relatively little drama occurred bar a retirement for Yuki Tsunoda – whose rookie teething troubles were starting to show more obviously – due to an electrical failure. After a difficult start at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo finished ahead of team mate Lando Norris for the first time.
Average rating: 6.6/10
The lowest-rated rain-affected race of the season was also the second wet race in a row at the Istanbul circuit.
A mixed-condition start saw drivers have to make complicated calls about when to pit from initial intermediate runs. Hamilton, who had taken a grid penalty for a replacement combustion engine, made an attempt to go to the end of the race on his starting tyres (as is permitted in wet conditions) that ultimately fell apart in the final laps, allowing Red Bull to claim a two-three finish behind race winner Bottas.
Esteban Ocon did make the unlikely strategy work, running the whole grand prix distance on a flayed set of intermediate tyres to claim the last points place, despite nearly being beaten by Antonio Giovinazzi in the final corners.
Average rating: 6.8/10
The second race at the Red Bull Ring was far more entertaining than the first,.
Verstappen’s first ever career grand slam – starting on pole, leading every lap and taking fastest lap – was at least in part due to longstanding friend Norris’ excellent performance. Norris claimed second place in qualifying and was able to hold off both Perez and Hamilton for much of the opening stint, letting Verstappen build up a lead.
Although Norris dropped down the order, he recovered to third after damage on Hamilton’s car saw him fade in the later stages of the race. Bottas, who had started fifth, made the most improvement to claim second.
A controversial five-second penalty awarded to Norris for forcing Perez wide immediately came back to haunt decision makers when they had to then award the same penalty to Perez for similar action against Leclerc. Ocon was the only retirement after lap one contact.
Average rating: 7.7/10
The largest crowd for a grand prix ever held in the United States may not have witnessed the most eventful race of the season, but they did enjoy a tense duel between Verstappen and Hamilton.
Hamilton took the lead into turn one, but Verstappen was able to successfully undercut his rival to get back into the lead of the race. In the closing laps, Hamilton whittled the gap down to Verstappen to within one second at the final lap, setting the scene for an anxious end of the race. However, Hamilton was unable to get close enough to make an attempt on the lead and Verstappen held on to take his eighth win of the year.
Average rating: 7.8/10Baku produced the most unlikely podium of the season
Leclerc took his second pole of the season, however, Ferrari’s lack of race pace became apparent around Baku’s straights. Verstappen had been irritated not to set his final lap in Q3 once again, this time due to a combined crash between Ricciardo and Sainz but, nonetheless, led the race for much of the distance before both he and Lance Stroll suffered alarming tyre failures out of the final corner.
Hamilton could, most likely, have claimed a win after the red flag restart following Verstappen’s retrieval. However, he fumbled a ‘brake magic’ button and locked up at the first corner, finishing outside the points. Perez instead took the win with surprise podiums for Vettel and Gasly alongside him.
Average rating: 8.2/10
The first wet start of the season, drivers struggled through changing conditions as Verstappen avoided mistakes while Hamilton made them. Hamilton lost the lead to Verstappen off the line and made things harder for himself by going into gravel at Tosa halfway through the race distance, forcing him to recover places.
Hamilton was aided in his recovery up the field by a red flag caused by Russell and Bottas dramatically colliding while the Williams and Mercedes were fighting over ninth place, both – as well as Toto Wolff – vocally unhappy about the incident afterwards. More harmoniously, the first of several battles through the year between Hamilton and Norris played out in the final laps as the McLaren tried to hold on to second, eventually accepting third for his first podium finish of the year.
Average rating: 8.3/10
Although previous years at Paul Ricard had produced notably dismal races, the 2021 edition was surprisingly dramatic.
Verstappen had taken pole but was passed by Hamilton off the line. However, a two-stop strategy from Red Bull saw him reclaim the lead as Hamilton (and many other drivers) began to struggle in the later laps. Perez joined the title rivals on the podium for a Red Bull one-three.
Despite qualifying fifth and seventh, Sainz and Leclerc finished 11th and 16th in a seemingly inexorable slide down the order as they struggled with serious graining on cold tyres.
Average rating: 8.3/10
In an inversion to the Red Bull’s pace advantage he previous round in Mexico City, Hamilton appeared to be virtually unstoppable in Brazil. Despite being excluded from Friday’s qualifying session for a technical infringement, Hamilton recovered 15 places in the sprint qualifying race and then, again, was hit by a further five-place grid penalty for taking a new internal combustion engine.
Despite his setbacks, Hamilton was able to make up the remaining ten positions during the grand prix in order to take the victory.
Verstappen kept hold of second but the Red Bull’s pace had never been in competition with Hamilton’s. Controversy over Verstappen pushing Hamilton wide, as he made the pass for the lead in the final stages of the race, led to no effect on the result.
Average rating: 8.4/10Monza was a memorable race – particularly for McLaren
For the second successive season, Monza produced a memorable race and an unlikely winner.
The second sprint event of 2021 put McLaren in the spotlight, after locking out the second row following the sprint qualifying race. Although Bottas and Verstappen started ahead of Ricciardo and Norris, Bottas was relegated to the back of the grid for a power unit replacement penalty and Ricciardo passed Verstappen for the lead at the start.
Although a dramatic collision between Hamilton and Verstappen took both out of the race, Ricciardo had the lead on merit and McLaren were subsequently able to bring home the only one-two finish of 2021 and their first F1 victory since 2012.
Average rating: 8.6/10
The season-opener back in March set the tone for how the 2021 championship would pan out: a closely-fought scrap between Hamilton and Verstappen tinged with plenty of controversy over regulations and penalties.
Verstappen took pole but Hamilton was able to come out ahead of him in pit strategy and stay ahead by exceeding track limits at turn four – only for race control to seemingly begin enforcing them mid-race. A late-race passing attempt by Verstappen wasn’t enough and Bahrain saw one of the few Hamilton/Verstappen/Bottas podiums this year.
Further down the field, Alpine and Aston Martin fumbled for pace while AlphaTauri’s Tsunoda put in a genuinely impressive rookie performance on his grand prix debut, including an eye-catching overtake on Alonso.
Average rating: 8.7/10
A pile-up at turn one saw Bottas, Perez, Norris and Stroll all taken out of the race, with Verstappen and Ricciardo carrying massive damage to their cars from then on.
Were that not dramatic enough, the red flag restart saw the track dry enough that every car bar leader Hamilton – who might otherwise have taken an easy win – pit for slick tyres, leaving the Mercedes alone on the grid in one of the most bizarre images seen in the sport’s history.
Hamilton fought back up the order after pitting the subsequent lap but a robustly brilliant defence by Alonso kept him at bay long enough for Alpine team mate Ocon to take his first ever F1 victory and Alpine’s first since their return to factory-team status. At the absolute back of the grid, Williams also scored their first points for over two years, in a double-points finish that saw Latifi and Russell finish seventh and eighth.
Average rating: 9/10Sochi thrilled readers more than any other race in 2021
Few would have predicted prior to the start of the year that the Sochi Autodrom would produce RaceFans readers’ high-rated race of the 2021 season.
Unsurprisingly, the intervention of the weather played a big role in the dramatic action that unfolded throughout the course of the race.
McLaren fans’ joy in Monza turned to sorrow in Sochi as Norris took pole and led most of the race, confidently re-passing Sainz after an early loss of the lead and able to hold Hamilton behind him.
In the final laps, rain fell increasingly heavily and a bad call by Norris to attempt to hold on the chequered flag on slick tyres saw his potential win slide – along with his car – away into the runoff. Hamilton, who had taken advantage of a comfortable window to pit from second, claimed the win and Verstappen’s fight up the grid after taking power unit penalties was aided enough by the sudden change in conditions to claim second, ahead of Sainz.
Formula 1 declared its new sprint qualifying format a success after just two events – in Britain and Monza – and committed to six more in 2022. The most lively race came at Interlagos, when Hamilton was forced to climb 15 places up the order after being excluded from Friday qualifying for a technical infringement.
Sprint races allowed teams to potentially play with strategies on tyres and fuel but the first two produced variations on Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas as the top results, hardly shaking up the usual order. Carlos Sainz Jnr took third-place honours in Brazil, with Hamilton relegated down the order, although it wasn’t a position he could keep hold of in the grand prix.
While F1 loudly trumpeted the format as a success, its own poll showed the views of fans were mixed at best, and RaceFans readers greeted its introduction with scepticism.
British Grand Prix Sprint Qualifying rating: 4.9/10 Italian Grand Prix Sprint Qualifying rating: 3.2/10 Sao Paulo Grand Prix Sprint Qualifying rating: 5.5/10
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