F1 enjoyed “best season for 40 years” in 2021 – Horner

2021 F1 season

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The controversial conclusion to the 2021 Formula 1 season should not detract from the close championship fight the series enjoyed, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.

For the first time in nine years, two drivers from rival teams arrived at the final race with a chance to win the title. The pair went into the season finale tied on points which has only previously happened once in F1 history, in 1974.

Mercedes and their drivers had swept both titles in the seven years preceding last season. Lewis Hamilton took six drivers’ titles during that time.

However he faced stiff competition from Max Verstappen throughout 2021. The Red Bull driver eventually prevailed in a title fight which went down to the final lap.

“I think sport is all about competition and when you’ve got serial winners it becomes less attractive,” Horner told WION. “So I think the fact that there was a big rivalry between the teams, between the two drivers, every grand prix there was very little to choose between the two of them, it was a fantastic year. The best year I think Formula 1 has had as a sport for probably 30 or 40 years.”

The final laps of the season sparked controversy when the race was hurriedly restarted as Hamilton led Verstappen behind the Safety Car. FIA Formula 1 race director Michael Masi took the unprecedented decision to only allow the lapped cars between Hamilton and Verstappen to rejoin the lead lap, while leaving the others in place.

Horner said it was inevitable Masi would try to restart the race and Mercedes left Hamilton vulnerable by not pitting him to change tyres when the Safety Car period began – a move which would have dropped him behind Verstappen and, had the race not been restarted, cost him victory and the championship.

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“If you look at the season as a whole, we’ve had a lot of bad luck,” said Horner. “We got a little bit fortunate with the incident at the end of the race.

“The Safety Car was the inevitable response to that and I think tactically we made the right call. We pitted Max, Mercedes left Lewis out, and he was then going to be very exposed at the restart.

“And of course when the race did get restarted, which is always going to be the intention of the race director, Max had to go for it, had one lap to make the pass, he did it and managed to convert the championship. So it was an amazing feeling, and an amazing end to an incredible year.”

The handling of the final restart prompted a furious response from Mercedes, who launched two protests immediately after the race, both of which were unsuccessful. The team considered submitting a further appeal, but backed away from the move after the FIA agreed to examine the disputed conclusion to the championship.

Hamilton has not spoken publicly since the race took place over six weeks ago. This has led some to speculate over whether the seven-times champion will honour his contract to drive for Mercedes in F1 again this year.

“We certainly hope that Lewis will be around this year,” said Horner. “He’s still driving at an incredible level. The two drivers last year were in a league of their own.

“But ultimately it’s his choice. It’s his career, it’s his is his decision. I’m sure he will decide to do what’s best for him, what he wants to do, and that’s none of our business.”

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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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85 comments on “F1 enjoyed “best season for 40 years” in 2021 – Horner”

  1. RandomMallard
    27th January 2022, 7:02

    Personally, I would divide 40 by 4, and then subtract one, leaving us with 2012. A very difficult season to beat in my opinion.

    1. 2012 is the best season ever

    2. 2012 was the only season in my lifetime that I would rate comparably to 2021. There were exciting championship battles in the refuelling era like 2006 and 2008 but the individual races weren’t as good, unlike 2021 when almost every race was thrilling (which is why it always surprises me when fans vote for refuelling in surveys). I think I would have ranked 2021 higher if it weren’t for the controversial final lap, but because of that I think I will agree with you and say it was the best season since 2012. A great championship battle, multiple drivers with a chance of winning every time, and one of the most impressive ever season performances by Alonso.

      1. José Lopes da Silva
        27th January 2022, 9:26

        Take this lesson about understanding people: a good chunk or % always thinks “those were the days”, “things were really good and better before, when I was young”. It applies to politics, everywhere. People voting for refuelling are older people similar to people in Lithuania missing the Soviet period.

      2. Why do people want refuelling, @f1frog?
        Because it adds another layer of depth. Because it adds more team involvement and interaction – particularly where we can see it. Because it increases jeopardy, forces teams to be more reactive and, equally, take more (calculated/educated) risks. Because it can further allow cars that don’t have outright pace to compete for higher positions using alternate strategies. Because each team may have less understanding of their competitor’s strategy prior to race start and during the race.
        And, best of all, because it means that we will less likely know who will win until the end – unlike the current setup where the results are largely finalised before half distance.

        For every time I hear someone say “refuelling ruined the racing” all I can say is “BS – aero effects killed it long before that, but hardly anyone makes the same fuss about aero because it makes the cars go faster. Simple pleasures…”

        The thing that made them close last year was that 2 teams built similarly performing cars, not that they couldn’t stop for fuel.
        I wonder if any F1 viewers who watch Indycar wish they would get rid of refuelling too?

        1. +1, very well put.

          > Because each team may have less understanding of their competitor’s strategy prior to race start and during the race.

          I am not 100% sure of that one. With all the data crunching that teams do nowadays, I would expect them to quickly develop metrics that tell them how much fuel each other car carries +- 1 lap.

          1. Of course data mining consistently ruins F1 – there’s far too much of that going on in what’s suppose to be a sport – but certainly adding an extra performance and strategic variable wouldn’t take anything away from F1 in that sense.

        2. José Lopes da Silva
          27th January 2022, 12:34

          “because it means that we will less likely know who will win until the end”
          @f1frog, Mr S is completely oblivious to the 2002 and 2004 seasons. Ask him about the race when Schumacher refuelled 4 times and he will remember. He forgot all the others.
          Regarding races “further allow cars that don’t have outright pace to compete for higher positions using alternate strategies”, I’d like to have a list of races won by strategy alone without a major blunder ahead.
          “it increases jeopardy”? Oh, so now we want jeopardy? Tell that to the millionof commenteurs crying for the ruining and americanization of the sport. Ecclestone proposed water sprinklers, there you have jeopardy.

          Mr S might or might now that refuelling is not a major factor for unpredictability; having a balanced front of the field is. But the point is that he aims a return to a magic Golden Age in the past, just like Plato and the Classic Greeks did.

          1. Mr S watched both of those seasons, all of them since and also many before.
            Yes, I do remember the French GP where Ferrari changed strategy mid-race to put Schumacher on a 4-stopper, and I also remember that since refuelling was banned it hasn’t and won’t ever happen again. 1 stops are the norm. 2 is a rare treat. Any more than that requires weather changes and/or red flags and everyone knows that before every race starts.

            No race is won on strategy alone. But nor is it won on pace alone, or driver skill alone, or even on luck alone. It is always a combination of factors.
            Yes, we absolutely do want jeopardy. We want teams to know that if they don’t put in their best performance possible they could lose. We want teams to know that if they take a gamble, they could end up on the podium instead of 8th place. We want teams to know that if they fluff the pit stops or underfuel for the next stint, they will almost certainly cost themselves positions.
            We do not want predictability, and right now we have too much of it.

            Bernie’s sprinklers… Yes. Funny how many times I’ve heard people say in recent years that they weren’t such a bad idea after all – even if they were joking when they said it. F1 goes stale very easily, and it’s important to remember that it exists first and foremost to make money, not champions. It does need to be entertaining and interesting.

            Refuelling may not induce a lot of unpredictability, but it’s another option the teams have at their disposal, and something we (as viewers) don’t know prior to race start either.
            Refuelling can not make up for an uncompetitive field of cars, of course – but it can’t take anything away from that either. Every racing series requires good racing cars, not just fast ones. It also requires that there be at least a decent chance that ‘someone else’ can win occasionally – for whatever reason.

        3. Because each team may have less understanding of their competitor’s strategy prior to race start and during the race.

          We have quite different memories of the refueling era. Back then, each team knew exactly when their competitors were going to stop plus/minus one lap since fuel weights were published before the race. And races were mostly a procesion, because why bother attacking the car in front if you know you have 4 laps of fuel more than your rival and will easily overcut him once he has to stop, refuel and go back out on track with a car that’s 40 kg heavier? Plus, whoever stops last has the added advantage of knowing how much fuel his rival has put in the stop.

          Nope, no refueling, thank you very much.

          1. Maybe we were watching F1 for different things, @warheart. Each of us has our individual preferences.
            Problems from publishing start weights? Then don’t – keep them secret until the race is finished. Simple.
            Races were mostly a procession because the cars are garbage at racing each other. Aero – as I said. Why bother attacking the car ahead when you know you can’t get past? F1 is the same with and without refuelling.
            Whoever stops last now for tyres knows exactly the same things about their rivals – but the one who stops last for fuel also has the shortest stationary time (fastest pit stop).

        4. Thanks for your detailed reasoning in favour of refuelling, but this is why I disagree.

          I think it is difficult to really know what refuelling would be like today, given that the tyres were better then than they are now. At the time, refuelling played a big part in the sport and the tyres were less relevant, while now the tyres are the central part of the sport and refuelling obviously doesn’t play a part at all. I suspect if refuelling was brought back, the teams would just base their strategy around the refuelling and the drivers would just have to adjust their tyre-saving to that, so if it were reintroduced it would be a similar story to before. So I have simply compared F1 which is ‘all about the tyres’ with F1 which is ‘all about the fuel.’

          Firstly, I believe the strategies are more exciting when it is about tyres. With fuel, the key thing that is used is the overcut, because the driver who has just pitted is slower than the driver about to pit. With tyres it is the undercut, as the driver who has just pitted has new tyres and is faster. And as drivers only have a set amount of fuel in the car at any one time, that means they are effectively forced into pitting on the lap they are (or earlier, which is slower), whereas with tyres an early pitstop can be made out of choice. This means that strategy is far more likely to be changed at short notice with tyres as the main thing instead of fuel, so I prefer this. Another thing is that a driver on maximum attack would wear out their tyres a lot more quickly than a driver driving conservatively so would pit much earlier, but probably would only use enough fuel for a handful fewer laps. This also means that strategy can change more during the race, which I like. I think with tyres, strategy is far more likely to have to be made up on the spot than with refuelling, which I think is more exciting and forces teams to be more reactive.

          And you say that it is more difficult to know who will win with refuelling, but I disagree. At the end of a race, every driver will have approximately the same amount of fuel, whereas their tyres can be in very varied condition. So I think the chance of late drama is more with tyre F1 than with fuel F1. You also say that teams have less understanding of their opponents’ strategies, teams would generally know approximately what lap the pitstop would happen based on how long the refuelling rig was in (something that you cannot really stop them knowing), with the exception being when there was a problem. And as computers become more advanced, this would be even more accurate than it had been before. So I don’t think this is the case. With tyres, on the other hand, drivers can eke out a strategy far longer than a rival team was expecting. And sometimes the track conditions are just different to what was expected, with doesn’t apply to refuelling.

          And I also just generally think that the individual races in the 10s were more exciting than in the 00s. So there is my reasoning for thinking F1 is better off without refuelling.

          1. It’s impossible to compare refuelling/no refuelling in F1 directly because the cars have changed, and the tyres have also changed along with those refuelling regulations, @f1frog. There is no apples vs apples, it’s always apples vs oranges in F1.

            I think if nothing else changed except for the reintroduction of refuelling, then you are probably right – it wouldn’t add much for most viewers. But that’s why there are sporting regulations, and they can be changed to better take advantage of refuelling, and get more variability from it.
            F1 is indeed about tyres now, but then it has to be because there is nothing else to make it interesting a different from event to event, or to give different teams/drivers a fairer chance at better results.

            Ultimately, the only way anyone will ever know how refuelling would work in modern F1 is to actually reintroduce it. We are probably both right, some races would be the same as they are now, some would be fundamentally different for some competitors.
            F1 fans and teams should be more open to trying things, rather than rejecting them purely on preference or feeling. It would only take the swipe of a pen to remove it the following year.

    3. The first half of 2012 was great – multiple teams and drivers fighting it out for victory each weekend, literally F1 as it should be (but almost never has been). The second half, not so much – Alonso was fighting with one arm tied behind his back given the superiority of the cars around him, and we were robbed of a thrilling battle for the championship thanks to McLaren dropping the ball repeatedly in terms of reliability and driver errors. I remember feeling a bit deflated after the 2012 finale, in a sense of ‘what could have been.’

      1. That’s a more accurate description of 2012.
        The teams were struggling to get on top of the new tyres at the beginning of the year.
        But once they did, F1 went back to normal.

    4. RandomMallard
      27th January 2022, 10:21

      I’ll follow this up with saying this season had all the ingredients to be a classic on par with 2012, but there were a few bits of it that just don’t sit well with me. I can watch everything up until Mexico with a “good conscience” (in want of a better phrase), as well as Qatar, but still can’t bring myself to watch Brazil (I mean, I’ll probably get round to watching the Sprint for Lewis’ fightback, but not the main race), Jeddah (this isn’t really about Verstappen’s driving, but just that I feel the whole weekend was poorly prepared, poorly managed and poorly run, resulting in a series of entirely predictable incidents), and Abu Dhabi. I’m fine with Silverstone and Monza (especislpy as a McLaren fan), but the final few races just don’t convince me yet. Give that some time and it might change, it might not.

      The other thing that’s puts me off last season a little bit is just how long it was. Not just because of the controversy towards the end, but it just felt like we were getting too much of a good thing, and it became a long slog. After many years as an advocate for longer calendars, my opinions on this have now changed.

      1. if you want a precious product, you do not inflate it, right

    5. 40/4=10
      huh! It worked ;)

  2. I would agree if not for some of the decisions that have been made which, in my mind, have deliberately manipulated the points. It’s certainly been memorable but not for the right reasons

  3. Season was good apart from manipulated championship. But I guess it would have been the worst season of the last 40 yrs in Horners opinion, if it wasnt manipulated.

  4. Best since 2006 I would say. 2 teams, 2 drivers, a cut above the other 18. Best kind of battle to see.

  5. Last season would’ve been even better without the manipulative end for entertainment’s sake.
    Other controversial things also happened, so not the only one.
    Hopefully, the next one can avoid similar controversies.

  6. Horner really is a classless hypocrite

    1. Imagine being so classless that you end up saying things like this:
      “We certainly hope that Lewis will be around this year,” said Horner. “He’s still driving at an incredible level. The two drivers last year were in a league of their own.

      “But ultimately it’s his choice. It’s his career, it’s his is his decision. I’m sure he will decide to do what’s best for him, what he wants to do, and that’s none of our business.”

      THE ABSOLUTE NERVE of this man, I can’t believe it. If the entire world was full of people saying things like this we’d be in the absolute gutter.

      1. Davethechicken
        27th January 2022, 9:39

        Remind me of the classy comments he made after Silverstone, Spain, Brazil, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Monza, Baku?

  7. 2007 would like a word.

    Intra-team rivalry between a reigning double word champion and a very fast rookie. A three-way battle for the championship going into the last race, with the championship being decided by a single point. Add in a little controversy for good measure (Spygate).

    Others have already mentioned 2012.

    “Best season in 15 years” is not even guaranteed, let along best in 40.

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      27th January 2022, 9:28

      See? People like controversy.

    2. @davids Good title fight, generally not as exciting when looking at individual races. How many true battles for the lead did we have for any race? USA, Germany, and China are the only races where there was a wheel-to-wheel battle for the lead, while there were pit-stop battles in France and Britain. The rest of the time, it was clear who was gonna win the race early on.

  8. It was a great season, the only one to remember in the turbo-hybrid era imho. And that’s the point. We were so unused to real championship battles that 2021 was a shocker.
    But in the past there have been equally great seasons. I am surprised nobody mentioned 2010, which saw 4 contenders at the last race of the season. The late 90s were also great. Looking further back doesn’t make sense to me…

    1. I believe 2018 was fairly interesting too!

  9. Best season? Not by a long way.

    It was the worst season I can remember watching and has definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the sport, which is fast descending into a farce of an entertainment spectacle.

    1. Davethechicken
      27th January 2022, 9:43

      Agreed. Forgetting the farcical last race, the whole fair play thing with unequal application of rules, red flags IMHO for the show and reinforcement of bad behaviour by failing to penalise it.
      When the drivers and teams don’t understand the rules; either they are so vague or deliberately ignored for certain. drivers, how can anyone enjoy a sport.

  10. I would disagree with Horner on that one, there were far too many controverises dragging down this championship even before Abu Dhabi. I would happily take the likes of 2016, 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2008 over 2021.

  11. More nonsense from CH.
    He should work in Westminster.

  12. It was a good season during the hybride era but not the best over 40 years as there are much better ones (2007,2012 and several before 2000 if i remember which year that was.

    @Laz, Not the 2016 that was only 1 team so that reduce it.

  13. This season should have been one of the all time greats. Two incredible drivers from different teams, both with outstanding talent and both with cars of very similar performance, matching each other throughout the season and leading to a title-deciding final race. These are all the ingredients of a classic, amazing season.

    Unfortunately, the standard of the officiating really let it down for me. The Abu Dhabi safety car farce was only the most blatant, ridiculous example of this. There were few, if any, races which weren’t influenced by the decisions of the officials in one way or another, and there was even less consistency than any other season I can recall. Personally, I would take a season dominated by one driver (which ever driver that is) with consistent and understandable decisions, over this season.

    1. Davethechicken
      27th January 2022, 9:45

      For me the deliberate bad driving that was effectively unpunished in Saudi and Brazil was the pinnacle.

    2. Sorry that was for @drmouse

      1. Then it came out correctly, as in it was already in reply to him, though I 100% disagree.

  14. A lot of bias in the comments again, but 2021 should be a contender in the discussion about best F1 seasons ever.
    Every single race a titanic struggle between 2 generational talents, with zero room for errors and offdays.
    See-saw superiority between the two top teams.
    Uncertainty about who would be the favourite in the coming race.
    More than a handful of races where either pretendent could have won if they had played a better hand.
    On track battles.
    A tight midfield.
    Many different podium finishers.

    There are only two arguments against
    Only two top teams
    Show-inspired decision-making in the referee department

  15. My memory doesn’t quite go back 40 years, but thinking about the championship battles I do remember, there are a few that are potentially comparable.

    1998 and 2000 for example. Although the latter didn’t end up going down to the wire, both were characterised by a battle between two greats of the sport, in (relatively) closely-matched cars, each pushing the other to higher levels in order to stay competitive. So very similar to 2021.

    I can see 2010 and 2012 have already been mentioned, but I think they are a little different as they were characterised by multiple teams and drivers being in with a shout over the course of the season, rather than a couple of drivers who were head and shoulders above the rest. Definitely entertaining, but the ‘best,’ in terms of showcasing the talents of the sport’s biggest stars? Probably not. I’d put the likes of 1999 and 2003 into the same bracket.

    Then you have the seasons where the championship battles were close but only because different teams were competitive on different weekends, so none of the races ended up being particularly memorable. The 2005-2007 period goes here.

    I also think the suggestion that the 2021 season was uniquely controversial off the track is pure nonsense. Yes, the outcome of the Abu Dhabi safety car upset some people, the stewarding was inconsistent in places, and Jeddah was an embarrassing farce, but this sort of thing has always gone on. I’m old enough to remember extra brake pedals, bargeboard tolerances, electronic traction control, mass dampers, ‘impeding’ the car 300m behind, industrial espionage, lying to the stewards and multiple mid-season changes to tyres, and there’s surely plenty more I’ve forgotten. For better or worse, it’s part of the sport and always has been.

    1. I’m old enough to remember extra brake pedals, bargeboard tolerances, electronic traction control, mass dampers

      These, in particular, were technical issues rather than sporting ones. In these cases, I think you are right that it is part of the sport: Teams will always try to innovate and push everything to the wire, and some of those will turn out to be against the rules. Most of the others you list have been about the actions of the teams, too, not the officials.

      That’s very different to the massive variability of stewards decisions on similar incidents this year, IMHO, and certainly completely different to the race director ignoring the existing procedures and making up a brand new rule in the title decider.

      1. @drmouse Technical issues, yes, but the way the technical rules were interpreted were often questionable in a sporting context. For example, the Ferrari bargeboard issue at Malaysia 1999 was ruled in their favour in order to set up a championship finale at Suzuka, by introducing an unwritten 5mm ‘tolerance’ into the regulations that had never previously existed. And the mass damper was banned as a ‘moveable aerodynamic device’ despite having no contact with the airflow over the car, helping to close up Renault’s advantage over the rest of the field.

  16. José Lopes da Silva
    27th January 2022, 9:36

    Seems pretty obvious that it’s among the very very best in some decisive criteria, namely the very high level demonstrated by the championship contenders. The Grand Prix of Europe 1999 was hugely entertaining, but also loaded with errors from many drivers, especially championship contenders. Including Heinz-Harald Frentzen, which remained a secret until last year.

  17. If Abu Dhabi had been at the start or middle of the season and not the final race, I doubt there would be as much of a fuss as Max only gained 1 place. Say Bahrain was the final race and the change in track limits allowed Lewis to win it, there would probably be similar arguments.
    I wasn’t a fan of Max until the Silverstone incident. I thought that was completely unfair how the points swung there and that Lewis was able to fix his car under the red flag he caused and then go on to win with a minimal penalty. Overall you can’t argue Max didn’t deserve it, he was more consistent and made less errors, it was only good fortune that let Lewis in with a shout and take it to the final race.

    1. If Abu Dhabi had been at the start or middle of the season and not the final race… Lewis Hamilton would’ve won under the SC as there would’ve been no pressure (by Horner or anyone else) to artificially induce a final ‘racing’ lap.

      1. @effwon, i am sure there was a change in how they wanted to end races for some years that if possible the race doesn’t end behind a safetycar. I don’t know when the said it but after a race ended behind a safetycar (not Spa this year) several years ago 2017 or 2018 i think.
        And it seems they didn’t update the rules thinking that the rule that the RC can jump in to handle that.

        1. That’s great, but I’m pretty certain cherry-picking some cars to unlap and others not wasn’t on anyone’s to-do list, until it mysteriously happened on the penultimate lap of the final race.

          It’s a noble and understandable aim to finish under racing conditions, but if there is an accident within a few laps of the end then the protocols that would stand for a crash earlier in the race, or earlier in the season, cannot and should not be thrown out of the window.

          The ‘rule’ that the RC can change things ad hoc without consequence simply does not exist – Masi disadvantaged several drivers, most notably Hamilton – and brought the sport into disrepute.

    2. Absolutely unfair at silverstone, yes, not only against verstappen but also against leclerc.

      1. 100%
        Also the lack of class shown with the celebrations at Silverstone really made me want Max to win. Lewis should have crept out of there like with his head down after getting away with so many points.

        1. It’s funny how some people attack Hamilton for ‘celebrating’ when he’d been informed Vestappen was alright but taken for checks, but Vestappen crashing into Hamilton with the former’s car landing on the latter and walking off without a care in the world is absolutely fine. If anything’s a lack of class, it’s making a big deal over nothing then staying quiet over the same thing you made a big deal out of.

          1. ^ This. Hypocrisy and double standards. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking Silverstone was the only incident of note in 2021 given the agendas pushed around here, but Max causing a crash that landed his car on Lewis’ head at Monza and pointedly refusing to check if his rival was ok is some kind of free pass.

            It’s also conveniently forgotten that during the British GP Lewis specifically asked his race engineer if Max was ok, wasn’t told he had been taken to hospital until the post-race interviews, and until then had been celebrating a win for/with his home fans on home turf.

          2. but Max causing a crash that landed his car on Lewis’ head at Monza and pointedly refusing to check if his rival was ok is some kind of free pass.

            The impaired vision works on both Hamilton’s fan base and Verstappen’s, quite clearly