Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

2021 F1 driver rankings #2: Lewis Hamilton

2021 F1 driver rankings

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Lewis Hamilton was one lap away from pulling off a remarkable comeback to clinch what would have been a record-breaking eighth world championship victory.

Lewis Hamilton

Beat team mate in qualifying 17/22
Beat team mate in race 14/17
Races finished 21/22
Laps spent ahead of team mate 933/1106
Qualifying margin -0.25s
Points 387.5

That comeback had begun in Brazil, where he arrived needing to sweep the final four races, assuming championship rival Max Verstappen kept up his usual scoring rate. But the situation looked grim for Hamilton when the stewards sent him to the back of the grid for Saturday’s sprint qualifying race after his DRS failed a technical inspection.

Astonishingly, from there until the penultimate lap in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton was on course to claim those four essential wins. Aided by a fresh fifth internal combustion engine in Brazil, he cut a swathe through the field and denied Verstappen victory. He followed it up with an emphatic win in Qatar and bested Verstappen in a bad-tempered affair in Jeddah, despite his front wing being damaged after his rival “brake-tested” him.

The deeply controversial circumstances in which he lost the championship in Abu Dhabi have been covered at length previously and remain an ongoing matter of debate for the FIA. As far as Hamilton’s performance is concerned, he had little prospect of holding off Verstappen on tyres that were two stages harder and 39 laps older than his rival’s once the race director had moved aside the lapped cars which separated them (and none of the others).

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Given that, it would be unjust to argue Hamilton would have made an undeserving champion of the 2021 season. At the same time, Verstappen drove a marginally better campaign than him over the course of year, which is why Hamilton is also second in RaceFans’ rankings for 2021.

His season began with a masterful performance in Bahrain. Verstappen had a quicker car at the opening round, but Hamilton used an early pit stop to get ahead and rebuffed his rival’s attacks to take a win. But he was fortunate to avoid a significant points loss to Verstappen after losing the lead at the start in Imola and skidding into a barrier later in the race.

Hamilton followed that up with a pair of wins, passing Verstappen in Portugal and Spain. But Monaco was another sub-par effort where, unusually, even team mate Valtteri Bottas out-paced him before retiring. Hamilton was vastly quicker than his team mate in Baku, but when fortune handed him a chance to take points off Verstappen he knocked the ‘brake magic’ button on his steering wheel and skidded off the track.

Over the next three races Red Bull held the upper hand and all Hamilton could do was minimise his points losses. At Silverstone, a badly-needed Mercedes upgrade evened up the competition, but after beating Verstappen to pole he lost out in sprint qualifying. Scrapping hard with his rival on the first lap of the race, Hamilton made a legitimate but over-committed attempt to pass on the inside of Copse, firing his rival into the barrier at speed. Again fortune was on his side: The race was red-flagged, meaning Hamilton’s damaged car could be fixed, and despite copping a 10-second time penalty he won the race, to Red Bull’s intense frustration.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2021
Brazil fightback was Hamilton’s best win of the year
Missing an opportunity to fit slicks before the restart in Hungary left Hamilton mounting a recovery drive to an eventual second place. At Zandvoort he tried in vain to keep Verstappen from a home win, then at Monza they had their second collision of the year. This time Verstappen was clearly the one to blame as he thumped into Hamilton at the chicane. But Hamilton was fortunate to have got ahead of the Red Bull to begin with, as he dropped back in the sprint event the day before and regained lost ground in the grand prix when his rival had a slow pit stop.

Over the final third of the season, as Mercedes honed their W12 into a more competitive machine than it had been over the opening races, Hamilton applied renewed pressure to Verstappen. After a slip-up in qualifying at Sochi he captured his 100th career win, but was confined to fifth by an engine change penalty at Istanbul.

He couldn’t contain Verstappen at the Circuit of the Americas, despite getting ahead at the start, and the Red Bulls were clearly quicker in Mexico when Hamilton had to fight a rearguard action against Perez.

Then came that four-race championship run-in, over the course of which Hamilton repeatedly demonstrated the speed, racecraft and coolness under pressure which have delivered his first seven titles. But there were times earlier in the season where just a bit more of that could have made the difference, and rendered moot the questionable decision which ultimately swung the championship outcome. Given that, he has to rank behind his title rival.

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What’s your verdict on Lewis Hamilton’s 2021 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

Add your views on the other drivers in the comments.

2021 F1 season review

Browse all 2021 F1 season review articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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103 comments on “2021 F1 driver rankings #2: Lewis Hamilton”

  1. Fair enough.

    Max was more consistent and although I would still maintain that Lewis was robbed in the season finale, that doesn’t stop Max from being a worthy champion.

    1. Even if the season had finished under SC, with LH as WDC, I would still rank Verstappen above Hamilton for the full year.
      And I’d probably rate the difference as marginally wider than the “marginally better campaign” as described in this article. We often seem to forget about the first part of the season when reviewing the full year.

      1. Totally agree. Lewis made more mistakes than usual this year, and that should give him comfort next year: that he still has the raw speed, racecraft, and especially towards the end of the year, nous to go up against anyone. Max drove a better overall season (minus the on-track shennanigans).

        1. I actually argue he did his best F1 season in 2021, as never in the past he had been forced by a competitor to race at such a high level with such high consistency.

          Even in highly contested seasons, his competitors made a similar amount of mistakes that level things.

          Last year he surpassed himself to a level he probably thought he was uncapable of, yet he not only lost but but deservedly –in comparison to Verstappen’s performance.

          That’s probably he’s having such a hard time –“what do I need to do?” must be dominating his head, and he’s right about that.

      2. Absolutely. Hamilton had a stellar end of the season. But the reason the championship was so close was his many mistakes prior to that. He was very fortunate too with mistakes that either didn’t end up costing him much, or straight up helped him. In Imola he should have been out of the points, but the red flag saved him and allowed him to catch the pack and then easily DRS pass everyone; 18 points salvaged. In Silverstone, he made a questionable move, took Max out and damaged his car fairly severely. He would have fallen a lap behind. But again, the red flag he caused allowed him to be repaired, and flex their superior speed that weekend to win the race. That’s 25 points salvaged. In Hungary he had nothing to do with it, but he benefitted from Bottas’ mistake and then proceeded to throw away a very easy win staying out and starting the race by himself. Finally, in Italy, that was a 50/50 incident, but one where it was Hamilton who stood to lose the most. He clearly had the faster car that weekend and would have eventually gotten by Max. It was ego and hubris that caused that stupid accident.

  2. Then came that four-race championship run-in

    This eventually really coloured the season, didn’t it? Mercedes fitting their rocket engine gave Lewis the speed and, with that, the confidence he needed to make a challange, which in turn drove Verstappen to (and here and there over) the edge.
    I still don’t know where Mercedes suddenly found so much overspeed after so many years of dominance and development, it’s impressive.

    1. Accroding to Andreas Seidel there was no rocket engine. More likely Mercedes and Lewis found a setup sweetspot in Brazil.

      1. Does he really said that? Can you provide me a source?

      2. I dont buy the rocket engine argument. I think Red Bull were using that as a distraction. If the Merc engine was that fast, we’d see McLaren, AM, and Williams see a boost as well, or be clamoring for it as they all had plenty to gain with that extra power. None of the analysts or team engineers found anything.
        Lewis was faster in every sector in Brazil during sprint and the race, even the twisty middle sector which is all about downforce. That he was able to follow Max so closely through there was amazing, and that has nothing to do with engine. Once he was past he built a big gap. Same for Jeddah, its a higher downforce circuit, and once Lewis was past Max he drove away. Merc and Lewis found their sweet spot.
        Lewis traditionally finds another gear after the break, though this year it took him longer than usual to. Ted alluded to it in his notebook after Spa I think.

        1. Lewis was faster in every sector in Brazil during sprint and the race, even the twisty middle sector which is all about downforce. That he was able to follow Max so closely through there was amazing, and that has nothing to do with engine.

          If they’re making more power than the competition, they can run more downforce than the competition.
          Downforce certainly helps in the twisty bits and following close.

      3. If anyone watched Practice 1; it was a sprint weekend, not only did Ham hit the sweet spot, but Max was all over the place at the crucial T10 and was a sitting duck out of that corner. The commentators picked up on it straight away and Davidson did a piece on it post sprint.
        IMS Max was well below the top ten in speed through the traps as well. I think even the Haas was faster.
        Ham having the fastest yes, but hardly a rocket ship.

    2. That rocket engine Mercedes always had but between the races you can change engine mapping and deploy. Now you know why Bottas had so many engines as they found a setting giving a powerfull engine even more power…
      But as you notice that engine lost a lot of power in the last 2 races.

      So i think they always had this problem the whole hybride era why it looked that Red Bull could come closer at the end of the seasons but just that the engine was turn down a lot think the dragrace with Gasly in Brasil (as that wasn’t Honda strongest engine yet)

      1. But as you notice that engine lost a lot of power in the last 2 races.

        Given the difference in speed, in Abu Dhabi, on race day and even Hamilton’s feisty attacks on the last lap on old hard tyres vs. Max on new softs I’d say there was still quite something in that engine — but maybe that’s due to a difference in set-up.

        As much as I’m done with their dominance I’m not accussing Merc of foul play, I think indeed they used other drivers to try different engine modes and checked how much they would wear the engine down. Cynically you could say that’s against the spirit of the ‘use as little engine components as possible rule’, but being in F1: if there’s a loophole to explore you should.

        Regardless it really influenced the (narrative towards the end of the) season, since it allowed Hamilton to claw back points in the championship and it drove Verstappen to and here and there over the edge.

  3. I hope Keith counts all of Max’s errors as he did for Hamilton’s. Max made quite a big number of errors ALL of the last four races. Can’t see how he should ranked higher than Lewis after those.

    1. Max made loads of mistakes

      Crashing into Hamilton in Monza–he received a 5 place grid penalty
      Brake checking Hamilton in Jeddah-he receive a 10s penalty
      Ignoring double yellows in Qatar-he received a 5 sec penalty
      Crashed into the wall in Q3 in Jeddah
      Messed up his overtake in Bahrain etc etc

      I think they both made a similar amount of mistakes, but i feel Max never had an off pace day like Hamilton did in Monaco so i think the assessment is fair. BUT that still doesn’t excuse what Masi did in Abu Dhabi. Either Max or Lewis would make a worthy 2021 WDC

      1. Disagree, hamilton is not a worthy 2021 champion cause he gained like 50 points through bad luck, just like rosberg isn’t for 2016.

      2. Bad luck in the sense verstappen’s ofc.

      3. But which of them were costly though in the end? All the races you mentioned he finished 2nd in 3 of those and only lost out 21pts to HAM, that too when Merc had the fastest car/race car in Monza, Qatar, Jeddah. So in the end VER maximised his position (2nd) anyway.

        But for HAM, he lost way too many points in Imola, Monaco, Baku, Austria, and not counting other races

        VER did mistakes, but the net loss pts was minimal in relation to the performance of the car for those particular races.

        HAM did mistakes, but the net loss pts was big in relation to the performance of the car for those particular races.

        There’s a difference.

    2. @david-beau

      There is a big difference between mistakes that have a significant impact or would have had, but for huge luck, vs mistakes that are relatively minor. For example, crashing in Jeddah merely prevented a pole position, which he wouldn’t have had anyway, without taking huge risks.

  4. I think this is fair. Both Verstappen and Hamilton made a similar number of mistakes each, but i can’t ever recall Verstappen having an off pace race like Hamilton in Monaco. Overall, there wasn’t much between the two title contenders but i can see why Verstappen edges this. However, Hamilton too would’ve made a worthy 2021 WDC, so Masi’s rule deviation that gifted the title to Verstappen, can’t and shouldn’t be justified

    1. similar number of mistakes? LOL, ok.

      1. Crashing into Hamilton in Monza–he received a 5 place grid penalty
        Brake checking Hamilton in Jeddah-he receive a 10s penalty
        Ignoring double yellows in Qatar-he received a 5 sec penalty
        Crashed into the wall in Q3 in Jeddah
        Messed up his overtake in Bahrain etc etc

        1. Versus….

          Bahrain 29 track limits
          Imola crash, P2
          Monaco off weekend, P7 (with 2 DNF-s ahead)
          Baku switch, P15
          Austria poor race, P4
          Silverstone crash
          Hungary tyre management, P2 (with all his rival out, Bot, Ver, Per, Nor)
          Turkey tyre magagement, P5

          Obviously we could add quali dips in Belgium and Sochi fe. as Max P3 crash in Jeddah is claimed to be a mistakes as well. Lewis obviously got lucky in Jeddah for ignoring yellow…in both Qatar and Jeddah it wasn’t displayed on the drivers dash…yet Max was penalize, Lewis not. Lewis also blocked Mazepin, but was cleared as this would have resulted into a 10 place grid penalty… (3rd warning) while his off at AD was far worse than Max in Jeddah.
          In the end it doesn’t matter…Max kept maximizing the cars potential eventhough he made mistakes, Lewis finished much lower than his car’s realisitc potential in at least 6 races.

          1. You were pretty kind not to list Sochi qualifying – that was a clear error.

            Spa is more nuanced; Lewis there went with a more race-friendly setup which made quallie tough. Too bad (for Lewis, anyway) that the race was rained off.

            I’m actually a bit curious about what really went on at Monaco. Lewis publically complained about not being able to go with a quallie-focussed setup (while Bottas did – it wrecked his tyres pretty quickly in the race, but pitstop mishap aside, he would have made good points anyway)

          2. you forgot running wide in France wich cost him enough time that would have allowed him to retain the lead

          3. Bahrain track limits? There were no track limits at that corner until RD reintroduced them. Or are we now pretending Max and the others never ignored the ‘track limits’ at that corner either? If Max didn’t take advantage at that corner then that is a clear error on his part and he should have paid more attention at the drivers briefing. In fact didn’t RB give him a radio message to remind him to go wider?
            And I don’t know how anyone can ignore Max chucking the car off at Imola when he was acting as the safety car. Or was that not an error?
            And I distinctly remember him closing the door approaching Copse to stop Ham going up the inside , only to fall for a Ham dummy and leave the door wide open. Not an error again?

          4. Monaco – clipped the wall in Q3. (had both runs in Q3, opposite to the likes of Ver, Bot, Sai)
            Damaged his floor on the kerb in Austria (2nd time in few years he did that mistake)
            Count mistake as A M does it.

            The only difference – all of Ham’s mistake, small like above or big like those you’ve mentioned did cost him points, whereas the so-called ”mistakes’ of Verstappen did not cost him anything. In Monza on the opposite the crash was clearly net gain for him and the grid penalty in Sochi did not make any difference since he achieved more than maximum result for the car he had there.

          5. @ian dearing
            Or are we now pretending Max and the others never ignored the ‘track limits’ at that corner either?
            We are not pretending. Neither of drivers ignored the ‘track limits’ at that corner from the start of the race. Neither, since it was clear for all they can’t do that! it was only Hamilton doing that lap after lap to gain advantage.

          6. don’t forget the atrocious start which dropped him 4 places at monza sprint – he should’ve easily won that weekend and would have started on pole for sunday’s race due to bottas’ penalty

        2. Jose Lopes da Silva
          27th January 2022, 16:31

          Let’s reopen: Verstappen did not crash into Hamilton in Monza.

          1. Fair point, Max just parked his car on top of Lewis’

        3. just LOL.
          how sad.

  5. Absolutely agree with this ranking.

    In fact, had Hamilton held Max back on that 1 lap with tyres 2 steps harder and 39 laps older and make it a deserving 8th title and an unbelievable achievement, I would have still ranked Hamilton 2nd.

    The Hamilton of 2017-19 would have never make mistakes like Baku, Imola, Austria, Sochi qualifying. Hamilton was lucky that 2 of these – Imola, Sochi – did not result in any points loss.

    1. Rose-tainted glasses.

      He had his best F1 season and pushed himself to performance/consistency levels he probably didn’t think he had.

      That’s why it’s been so hard to assimilate.

  6. Yes..mid 2017-2019 was PEAK Hamilton. At the age of 36-37yrs as he was in 2021, perhaps he’s starting the inevitable performance decline. Time waits for no man. Age catches up on everyone eventually.

    1. Lol. I though Hamilton was at his peak since 2007😂😂
      We can’t talk about Hamilton without his time alongside reigning, defending, undisputed champion of F1.

    2. Jeffrey Powell
      27th January 2022, 16:18

      Jack Brabham 3 times WDC competed successfully with Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and Jackie Ickx in 1970 when he was 44 , you had to be there, I was.

      1. Wow, those drivers all start with J, never noticed!

        On the main comment here, I agree at this age there has to be some decline, a little was happening to schumacher too in 2006, also with some mistakes without any of which he’d have won the title.

  7. I will be counting up the fans’ ranking tomorrow and it will be released on the page with Verstappen’s ranking. So anyone who wants their own included in it please put at least a top ten here before tomorrow.

    1. here? or where?

    2. 10. RUS
      9. PER
      8. VET
      7. SAI
      6. ALO
      5. LEC
      4. GAS
      3. NOR
      2. HAM
      1. VER

    3. 1. VER
      2. NOR
      3. RAI
      4. HAM
      5. GAS
      6. SAI
      7. LEC
      8. RUS
      9. OCO
      10. BOT

      1. 3. RAI?!

        1. You mean you expected him to be 1st? Cause I did, I’m actually surprised he put 2 drivers ahead of him.

          1. @esploratore1 Will you ever care to explain why you waged this crusade against me? Why do you follow me everywhere? Especially stupid since your replies consists 0% of information and they’re only filled with bullying, misinformation and pure stupidity.

          2. That’s not a crusade, I know you’re a raikkonen fan, in fact I said it’s interesting he wasn’t first, I like raikkonen too btw, but I think most of us would’ve ranked him around 15th or so.

          3. Also disagree about what you said about bullying, misinformation etc., that comment says more about you than me. As you can see another user was surprised about raikkonen 3rd above.

          4. I’d like to remind you you said alonso should be 20th btw, that has to be objective instead, huh?

    4. 1. Ver
      2. Gas
      3. Ham
      4. Nor
      5. Rai
      6. Lec
      7. Vet
      8. Alo
      9. Rus
      10. Sch

    5. 1 VER
      2 SAI
      3 NOR
      4 LEC
      5 GAS
      6 ALO
      7 SCH
      8 RAI
      9 RIC
      10 KUB

    6. 1. Verstappen
      2. Hamilton
      3. Norris
      4. Gasly
      5. Leclerc
      6. Sainz
      7. Alonso
      8. Russell
      9. Bottas
      10. Ocon

  8. Glad Kubica is no.1 btw.🤗

    1. A bit generous by Keith but he made my top ten

  9. It’s crazy how Monaco has become a bogey track for Lewis. He won in three of first four appearances there, and was close in 2007. And since 2009, he has had just 1 deserved win (2019) and even then he had to fight Max for the win until the end. And he has had 2 of his worst career weekends in Monaco (2011, 2021).

    1. Crazy that a driver who has won Monaco three times have it: probably rightly, classed as a bogey track.

    2. @wsrgo 2017 was far worse than 2021. He qualified 14th that day, and even though there was a late yellow flag, it was doubtful he’d even make it to Q2 (he was 9 tenths off making it to Q2). Meanwhile, his teammate was half a tenth from pole position. The field spread in 2017 was far greater and the advantage of the Mercedes relative to the midfield was probably 1.5 seconds.

    3. Lewis was actually very lucky with his first Monaco win aswell. He only won because he had to make an early pistop, which turned out good at the end, because he made a mistake and hit the barrier…
      It’s difficult to judge some champions at Monaco, since their teammates were better at that circuit. (Mika/DC, Vettel/Webber, Lewis/Nico) Ironicly, it’s a track were the car is less important and the drivers tallent gets the upper hand.

  10. Just like in 2016, I believe he lost it at Baku. In 2016, he could have had a better qualifying and last year he could have just finished 2nd and gaining 18 points.

    1. Equal points in AD, 1 lap away from his 8th title until…
      Masi lost it for him…

      1. Yes yes sure, but he could have just accepted 2nd at Baku. But we will never know how this would have turned had he finished the race at Baku in 2nd.

    2. RandomMallard
      27th January 2022, 17:53

      @krichelle I think there were several occasions you could potentially highlight as moments that cost Lewis the championship (and Max had it swung the other way in Abu Dhabi). Baku, Monaco, Imola (cost him the chance to attack Max at the restart, whether it would have gained him anything is another question). And for Max, there was Baku and Hungary (both not his fault), but also Bahrain (two critical moments: first, overtaking round the outside, but more importantly imo was him then slightly losing the rear and overheating the tyres after letting Lewis back in front, costing him another chance to attack).

      And then the big one for each of them. Silverstone and Monza. Max could have had a very different outcome in Silverstone had he left a bit more space. Whether he had to or not is a debate I don’t want to get into, but the fact of the matter is if he had settled for second on lap 1, he would have probably come out of that race with at least 18 more points than he did. Similarly in Monza, Lewis, while not “predominantly at fault”, could have left more space, and possibly gained a few points Max, instead of it being equal. Again, whether he needed to leave more space is not an debate I want to start.

      But as you say, speculating on this will never be accurate, because there’s a much greater range of possibilities. I don’t think you can say in hindsight, this moment definitely cost someone the championship, because of how much it would affect other events.

      Which I guess makes this entire comment meaningless? ;-)

      1. RandomMallard
        27th January 2022, 19:08

        Similarly in Monza, Lewis, while not “predominantly at fault”, could have left more space

        This actually reminds me of his collision with Maldonado in Valencia in 2012 thinking about it. Lewis was right up against the edge of the track limits, and Maldonado tried to come back on, ending in a collision. On both occasions, Lewis had the opportunity to leave more space (again, I’m not going to get into an argument about whether he should have or not), but the driver on the outside had the opportunity to back off and go over the runoff to prevent the collision, and I think that’s ultimately why both were penalised.