Seeing that it’s already Jan 10, 2022, I think I’ve had enough time to process the final lap at Abu Dhabi on Dec 12, and I’m ready to comment on what was truly a remarkable season in so many ways. But before discussing the Hollywood like ending that still has social media abuzz, I need to give thanks to the following for keeping me enthralled over 22 weekends during these bizarre times that we live in:
ESPN- Yes, I have many gripes with the direction of “The Sports Leader” these days, but their move, brokered by Liberty Media, to give us the Sky Sports feed has been a gift from the Gods. Sure, Crofty’s broadcasting style in the commentary booth may not be for everyone, but the total presentation that we get week in and week out is superior to anything I’ve ever seen. Sorry Varsha, Hobbs and John Bisignano, you guys have been moved to #2.
Mothers Car Care Products- Two and a half hours of add free coverage of a race is bonkers! Do you remember cutting away from a great Schumacher-Hakkinen dice every 15 minutes to watch an ad for the Chia Pet or a local pizza parlor on Speed Channel in the 5:15 am west coast slot? I’d resort to talking to myself and slapping my face just to survive the lulls in the action. Having the privilege to watch a race unfold without interruption is a beautiful thing. Mothers may be contributing to the demise of the planet by manufacturing and selling large quantities of hazardous chemicals, but by virtue of giving us ad free F1 races, they move back to carbon neutrality in my opinion. Every serious fan in the US should go out and give someone the gift of Mothers car wax today.
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton- It’s not everyday that you get to witness two competitors in sport take their craft to the next level and go toe to toe for an entire season, but we were just treated to watching the master in his prime fight the much younger, fully developed heir to his throne to essentially a draw. Seriously, this is the stuff of legend that we humans have been enthralled with since the beginning of time. In F1 lore, it’s extremely rare to have two drivers in different teams separate from the pack and have at it. Senna vs Prost ‘90, Schumacher vs Hakkinen ‘98, and Schumacher vs Alonso ‘06 are a few that come to mind, but I feel like Max and Lewis took the fight into a whole different realm this year. I’ve said it many times that we were tragically robbed of the Senna vs Schumacher showdown that was brewing in ‘94, but I almost feel like this battle makes up for it. Thank you and I hope for more in the years to come. Don’t retire Lewis, Hollywood can wait!
And finally, I’d like to give thanks to……. Michael Masi. Yes, even our beleaguered race director gets a shout out for giving us the gift of entertainment. (I can hear people slamming their phones down in anger.) I can’t recall a season where the race director had to make more judgment calls and I certainly can’t say that I agree with all of the decisions handed down over the year, but if you put the three Abu Dhabi end of race scenarios that were available to Masi up on my TV screen and told me to pick one, I would have gone with the last lap shootout as well. Finishing under yellow would have been a complete letdown. Stopping the race for 25 minutes and then holding a brand new 5 lap GP on reds would have been amazing, but lord knows what would have happened when the lights went out. Keep in mind, Max held the tie breaker if neither car finished so you can bet your Dutch baby pancakes that Max would have sent it immediately and more fireworks (and thus more race control decisions) would have been likely. You can say that the one lap shootout with Max on reds while Lewis was sitting on 43-lap-old hards was unfair, but who says sports is always fair? Max caught a lucky break and still had to pass a 7-time champion in a Mercedes on the road without the aid of DRS. If anything, Lewis should have been thinking about defending the inside at turn 5. Had he done so, with his insane Mercedes straight line speed, he likely could have held Max at bay to turn 10 and then made the car Alonso-style wide to bring it home in front. I doubt that Lewis would ever admit it, but I’ll bet he’d like to have that last lap back. Regardless of the outcome, Masi’s call had me on my knees yelling at the top of my lungs for the entire lap and about 15 minutes after the race had ended. It was a brilliant way to end a brilliant season and I love seeing people bitching about a last lap pass to decide a championship.
Here’s a Netflix pitch: take all the footage of Masi and race control over the season and make a two hour intense documentary climaxing with “The Decision”.
Toto: “No No Mikey that is not right!”
Masi: “Toto, we went motor racing.”
There were so many moments that made this season special that I could write a blog post as lengthy as a Tolstoy novel, but I realize that our collective capacity to concentrate has been wiped out by devices and my wife is starting to give me the look that brings upon feelings of guilt, so here is what I can pull out of my foggy brain after some deep meditation it in the woods:
Bahrain – This shit is on! The opening race in Bahrain was proof that Max indeed could finally bring the fight to Lewis. Mercedes gained Lewis track position into the final stint, but Max had newer rubber and was able to track the Mercedes down with a couple of laps remaining. Rather than waiting for the DRS zone, Max made a late lunge around the outside of turn 4 and Lewis ran him wide and out of road. Max had to back out of it and it was game 1 to Lewis.
San Marino – Lewis catches his big break. After being forcefully passed by Max into the first corner, Lewis later skidded off the wet circuit into Tosa, where he damaged his wing, lost a lap, but miraculously was able to escape a huge sand trap and rejoin the fold. Moments later, a red flag was brought out for a massive Bottas/Russell clash, and by the letter of the law, Lewis was able to get back on the lead lap, repair his car, and restart 9th. Hamilton being Hamilton, he finished 2nd to Max.
Monaco – Heartbreak for Leclerc. After stunning the paddock with a lap good enough for pole, Leclerc went for one more flyer that came to an abrupt end with the car waded up against the armco at the exit of the swimming pool complex. This brought out the red flag, thus ending the session and handing pole to the Monegasque Ferrari driver. The pressure was on the Scuderia mechanics to salvage the gearbox and rebuild the car piece by piece overnight, but their work was all for naught as the SF21 failed to complete the installation lap the next day.
Baku – Max looked set for a well deserved win until his left rear blew out at 200mph on the front straight with 5 laps to go. The race was red flagged and restarted with Perez on pole and Lewis in second. Uncharacteristically, Lewis selected the wrong brake mode button on the grid before the lights went out and had no brakes when he made his move to pass Perez into T1. Out of the chaos emerged Perez for a well deserved win. (Interesting fact- Baku and Monza were the only races that neither Lewis or Max scored points)
Silverstone – A wild first lap between our two rivals ended with Max sliding backwards into the barriers at Copse at a high rate of speed. Right from the start, Lewis looked to be on a mission in front of the home fans and when Max attempted to close the door into Copse, Hamilton kept his nose in it and punted the Red Bull. Fortunately for Lewis, there was no significant damage to the car. Race Control handed down a 10 second penalty for causing a collision, setting the stage for another Hamilton classic, as he clawed into a large Leclerc lead, passing the Ferrari a few laps from the checkered for the win.
Hungary – A week later, Bottas played the role of villain as he caused a first lap crash on the rain soaked track that took both Red Bulls and Norris out of contention. Mercedes then completely botched Hamilton’s tire strategy, restarting him on slicks by himself while the rest of the field queued up in the pitlane on inters. Unbelievably, once Hamilton boxed for tires, Ocon was the leader followed by Vettel. Hamilton was carving massive amounts of time on the leaders and looked like a win was in the cards until he encountered Ocon’s teammate, one Fernando Alonso, who heroically kept the Mercedes at bay for 12 laps thus gifting the win to Ocon. Alonso’s enthusiasm in parc ferme after the race for the team win was possibly my feel good moment of the year.
Spa – Extreme wet weather led to a farcical 2 lap GP behind the pace car, awarding ½ points to the field. Noteworthy was George Russell, who put in a blinding lap in the wet on Sat to qualify P2 behind Max. This was the moment when you knew Russell was getting the Mercedes drive.
Zandvoort – The first annual Max, Max, Supermax GP didn’t disappoint with the Dutch army roaring through a haze of orange smoke while techno was blaring over the PA. Max was unbeatable on the roller coaster circuit in the dunes and cemented his place in Dutch sporting history.
Monza – More fireworks between our rivals after Max made an over optimistic lunge around the outside of Hamilton into the T1-2 chicane and Lewis closed the door, leading to a frightening looking tangle with Red Bull coming to a rest on top of the Mercedes. Danny Ric was unexpectedly on form in the McLaren and took the win, giving us yet another incredible feel good moment.
Russia – Lando Norris was on pole and looked like he was going to treat us to another improbable win until the skies opened up with a few laps to go. Lando made the incredibly bold move to override the McLaren management’s call to box for inters and attempted to bring the car home on slicks. Sadly, the gamble failed miserably. Had he pulled it off, it would have been a drive for the ages so good on Lando for having a go.
Austin – Max pulled out an impressive win on a track that Lewis has dominated, but what blew me away was the crowd size and rabid support on US soil. This Netflix effect is a real thing! As a lifelong junky who once basically shared a grandstand with my dad, his buddy, and five other dudes for the Friday morning free practice at the ‘90 Phoenix GP, this is still hard to adjust to. Think about that for a second: Senna, Prost, Piquet, Mansell, V12’s, V10’s, V8’s, Jean Alesi in the Tyrrell. Jesus these poor people have no idea what they missed. Have you ever seen those reaction YouTube clips where a guy listens to a song for the first time and goes a little nuts with excitement? My dream is to park a few new fans in the seats next to me at the last corner of the Phoenix circuit and film their reactions the first time Senna nails the V12 Honda or Prost drops the hammer on the V12 Ferrari. You may have cardiac arrest or a group hug or spontaneous breakdancing. (Yes I’m still living in the past!)
Brazil – After looking like Max had a firm grasp on the championship by virtue of sweeping the USA-Mexico doubleheader, Mercedes rolled out a secret weapon that suddenly made Lewis unbeatable for the rest of the year. What the hell did they discover? After an assortment of penalties incurred throughout the weekend, Lewis started 10th but was still able to overhaul the Red Bull and take the victory after a spirited dice (and controversial no-call from race control) with Max. The whole weekend was a Hamilton masterclass.
Saudi Arabia – The new street track constructed just days before the event was scheduled to take place looked wild on paper, but “wild” was replaced with straight up madness once they took to the track. TV doesn’t do speed justice, but seeing 165mph corners against concrete walls with sparks showering behind the car was a spectacle that had me cringing more than a few times. And then they raced and sure enough, it was part rugby scrum, part wonder as Hamilton and Max pushed their cars into another zone. (Here is another Nexflix Doc – Jeddah, The Night Lewis and Max Left The Conscious World and Drove With The Gods).
Abu Dhabi – We know how this story ends. Early no call favors Lewis, Max catches a huge break with the Latifi crash when it seemed that all hope was lost, leading to The Decision, followed by The Pass (and defense – don’t forget, Lewis had a big run into 10) and finally, Pandemonium.
Damn, I’m exhausted just replaying all of this in my head. Forget Netflix, I need to sit down to a proper 4 hour Duke vhs videotape review of the season narrated by the one and only Sir Peter Ustinov. This is just too good!
And finally, as they like to do in the Nascar and Indycar broadcasts, let’s do a Sunoco run through the field and heap praise or spew insults as I see fit. (BTW, I still cringe every time I hear a pit announcer say, “And so and so has 4 new tires and is full of Sunoco fuel.)
Mercedes – Toto’s team is still undefeated as a constructor since the hybrid rules were introduced in 2014, so well done getting to 8 straight. I think it’s safe to say this run makes them the best team in the sport’s 71 year history. I felt that the Verstappen-Red Bull was probably the best combo over the full 22 races, but the car that Mercedes brought to Brazil and the subsequent final races was unbeatable. Hamilton was amazing as always, and even though he lost the title, I almost feel like seeing how he performed under pressure against Max gives him even more respect. Bottas showed his usual qualifying pace, but was not very productive on Sundays and was also cursed with the standard #2 driver bad luck. (interesting fact – In their five seasons as teammates, Lewis had 50 wins and 42 poles to Bottas’s 10 wins and 20 poles)
Red Bull – RBR gave Max a car to fight the Mercedes and he delivered. I wasn’t sure how he would handle the pressures of a title fight, but he now seems poised to add many more trophies to the family case. (In case you are wondering, father Jos had 2 podiums in his career). It’s scary to think that he’s only 24 and is already this complete. That said, he certainly made it difficult for race control this season with his forceful driving when Hamilton was involved. The instances where he forces himself up the inside to the apex and misses the racing line by a mile are a gray zone that will need to get sorted out. But I can’t take anything away from Super Max, he’s amazing in that high rake Red Bull chassis. Checo was the latest driver tossed into the RBR fire and while he won a race and won hearts with his awesome defense of Hamilton in the finale, let’s be honest here, he’s not in the same game as Max. Maybe a year in the sim and new regulations will help close the gap, but I don’t think so. (Is there a text chain with Perez, Albon, Gasly and Kvyat bitching about RBR?)
Ferrari – The Scuderia rebounded from a dismal 6th last year to finish a respectable 3rd this year. Leclerc showed his speed with poles in Monaco and Baku, and nearly held on to win at Silverstone, but he was somewhat overshadowed by his newcomer teammate, Carlos Sainz, who ended up finishing 5th in the championship. I think on their best days Leclerc is the quicker driver, but Sainz is rock solid and Leclerc may have lost some of his Max-like stature within the team. Both drivers really pushed the car to the limit (and then some) and if Ferrari can get the new regs right, they have a formidable lineup.
McLaren – Lando Norris continues to grow by leaps and bounds and this year he staked his claim as the teams number 1 driver for the future. Danny Ric had his moment in the sun with the fabulous drive in Italy, but was often alarmingly slow in qualifying compared to his younger teammate. If this form continues into next year, Zak Brown may have to take a look who is available. (How about an Aussie swap to Piastri, and Danny Ric joins O’Ward and Rosenqvist in the McLaren Indycar team? D Ric is made for America!)
Alpine – Ocon got a win, Alonso got a podium, but it still has to be disheartening for the French factory squad not to be able to fight with McLaren and Ferrari. Alonso took a little time getting back up to speed, but showed that he still has amazing race craft and that never say die attitude. Ocon had days where he looks like he belongs in that young elite group of drivers, but the Frenchman suffered a bizarre early summer slump where he suddenly found himself at the back of the mid-pack for four consecutive races. A chassis change seemed to rectify the issue and he finished strongly. (Interesting fact, Alonso and Ocon tied 11-11 in qualifying, and 9-9 in classified finishes.)
AlphaTauri – Our little friends formally named Minardi continued to impress in ‘21. Gasly was mighty impressive, especially in qualifying, with a 6.36 average grid position, but often struggled to keep the Ferrari’s and McLaren’s at bay in the race. Yuki Tsonuda came out of the gate looking like the next Senna with a P2 in the first qualifying session of the year, and then sadly, resorted to looking like a rookie out of his depth for the next 20 races. But never fear, he did finish an impressive 4th in the season finale so look out ‘22. (That P2 in Q1 really did give me a moment where I thought the Japanese Senna had arrived. I have text messages out there to prove it. Damn!!)
Aston Martin – There was a slight change to the aerodynamic regs for the start of ‘21 that hampered the lower rake cars such as the Mercedes and it’s clone, the Aston. While we know how Merc quickly recovered, Team Stroll really struggled and dropped from 4th in ‘20 to 7th in ‘21. Vettel is a great guy but his time as a top flight driver is over. Sadly, his one moment in the sun, finishing 2nd in Hungary, was taken away after the car was found to have an insufficient fuel level to provide a sample. (I’d like to see that explained after a race to a young AJ Foyt). Lance Stroll was all but MIA in ‘21, finishing just ahead of Tsunoda in 13th.
Williams – In the year that Sir Frank Williams passed, it was nice to see George Russell, aka Mr. Saturday, put in some stellar qualifying efforts to keep the Williams name in the news. Qualifying 2nd at Spa and 3rd at Sochi in the wet were reminders that George will be a force in a Mercedes. Latifi, to his credit, seemed to close the gap to Russell and managed to outqualify him in Brazil. More importantly, Latifi will now forever be known as the guy who crashed in the closing stages of Abu Dhabi, igniting a controversy that may lead to the modern equivalent of the 18th century Anglo-Dutch wars. (I’m predicting the term “Getting Latified” becomes part of the racing lexicon in the years to come. Example- Oscar Piastri post race interview in 2026: “Yeah it’s a tough break. I mean it looked like the win was ours until we got Latified there at the end.”)
Alfa Romeo – I feel like this team is almost invisible. Kimi cruised around and called it quits. Giovanazzi was driving for his F1 life and put in some really impressive qualifying performances in the second half of the season, but was often screwed over by the team due to poor strategy calls.
Haas – And then there was Haas. The US owned, Russian funded team eschewed development in ‘21 in the name of survival for ‘22. To complicate matters, they brought in two rookie drivers intent on showing the world their worth. This resulted in Mick Schumacher leading the field with a season long crash damage bill reported to be $5.4m while Mazepin was aptly nicknamed, Mazespin. Schumacher did outqualify Mazespin 20-2 and was likely given a pass within the paddock knowing the caliber of equipment he was working with. Better luck next year. (Top 5 crash bill leaders: Schumi Jr, Leclerc, Verstappen, Latifi, Bottas)
Well there you have it. I can’t wait for it to all start again in two short months.