2021 was the year of the lion in F1 as Verstappen descended to the throne to become world champion for the first time in his career.
Make no bones about it, Verstappen got very lucky on the final lap in Abu Dhabi in being presented with an opportunity to beat Hamilton to the win and world title in circumstances that were shrouded in controversy.
But it is also true that Verstappen suffered his own share of bad luck across the season that threatened to jeopardise his maiden world title hopes.
A sudden tyre blowout denied him a certain victory in Baku, while he was still able to drag a severely damaged car into the points in Budapest after being wiped out by the Turn 1 carnage caused by Bottas.
The controversial collisions divided opinion in the paddock. Had Verstappen backed out on both occasions – as I believe he should have – he would have wrapped up the title well before Abu Dhabi. But these are all ifs, buts and maybes.
The bottom line is that Verstappen produced an extraordinary season and should be considered a fully deserving world champion.
Verstappen’s uncompromising, aggressive approach may have landed him in hot water with the stewards at times, but it paid off, and he successfully dethroned Hamilton in one of the most exciting F1 seasons in years.
Hungary aside, Verstappen finished either first or second in all the races he finished, underlying the sensational level of consistency he was able to reach all season. In total, 10 wins, 10 pole positions and 18 podiums were achieved.
His performance to claim both pole and a dominant victory at Zandvoort, under the weight of enormous expectation from a wild home crowd, was especially impressive and demonstrated that Verstappen was world champion material.
Verstappen never appeared bothered by the pressure and cooly soaked it up with a remarkably calm and measured attitude. Only at the title-deciding finale did Verstappen admit to feeling the nerves.
Equally impressive was just how few mistakes Verstappen made throughout the year. Aside from breaching track limits when attempting to pass Hamilton in Bahrain and during qualifying in Portugal, the only significant error Verstappen made was crashing on what should have been his pole lap in Saudi Arabia.
Verstappen’s Jeddah lap epitomised everything about his on-the-limit, attacking style. It was a sensational, mesmerising watch and will be remebered as being one of the greatest laps never to be completed. Had Verstappen made it through the final corner, it would have been right up there with Hamilton’s spectacular effort in Singapore 2018 and Ayrton Senna’s famous Monaco pole.
Both Verstappen and Hamilton reached new-found levels of performance that put them in a league of their own compared to the rest of the field in 2021. But unlike Hamilton, ‘off days’ were non-existent for Verstappen.
It was his sheer, relentless speed, combined with his consistency in delivering world class displays that was the key deciding factor that ensured he edged Hamilton for top spot in our list.
Happy New Year from all at Crash.net F1