2021 was an exhausting year, and an equally exhausting season for F1. Exciting, yes. Drama-filled, yes. Perfect, absolutely not. In fact, with drama almost inevitably comes rejectdom, and 2021 at times felt it was mocking the modern viewers of F1 with all sorts of brand-new rejectful forms and way that have never been seen, even in the pioneering days of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In fact, 2021 was such an exhausting season that it took us months to even get around to stomaching writing a year-in-review with our final Reject of the Year podium. So without further ado, let’s start with the dishonourable mentions.
The Dishonourable Mentions
Many of these options bleed into the podium, we’ll try our best not to mention people twice if we can help it. However, let’s start with an easy candidate in Yuki Tsunoda.
Yuki was a bit of a disaster for much of the year. He was the only rookie who came into 2021 with any degree of hype; as he was Japan’s first F1 driver since Kamui Kobayashi, there was a lot of goodwill and enthusiasm for him to succeed. He also came into the sport in a fallow period for Red Bull’s junior programme, giving him some extra security in the meantime to show off his racecraft. The hype got so outrageous that there was even talk of an imminent promotion to the sister team if Sergio Pérez couldn’t cut it.
However, aside from a very decent debut in Bahrain, things unravelled quickly for Yuki. He made various valuable mistakes throughout sessions and was a very unreliable qualifier. Pierre Gasly, who in retrospect had arguably the best season of his career, completely dominated the Alpha Tauri garage and achieved all of their major results. For Yuki, being outqualified 1-21 by his teammate and only being classified ahead of him thrice, it was a surprisingly sad turn of events compared to what most F1 fans were expecting from the Japanese driver.
This was all coupled with a very poor attitude. Tsunoda is young, yes, but his age does not excuse his lack of respect in and out of the cockpit towards his race engineer and his fellow drivers. Comments made in the heat of the moment are regrettable, but Yuki has a season-long record of a bad temper, and it will get him nowhere. A last-minute unrejectification brought about by the infamous circumstances of the season’s final laps saved him from an easy place on this year’s reject podium.
Another driver we cannot put on the podium for the reason of their inexplicable victory at Monza, is Daniel Ricciardo. If anyone had Reject of the Year sewn up by mid-season it was him, and we even said he had one hand on the trophy by the summer break on our podcast. However, while a very slight upturn in form in the second half wasn’t enough to save his year, the win at the Italian Grand Prix, where he was somehow perfectly on pace all weekend, meant that we couldn’t in our heart of hearts put him on that podium. Whether or not the victory counts as redemption for Daniel, there is absolutely no excuse for him in 2022.
Just before the Italian Grand Prix, F1 fans were treated to a race worse than 2011 Valencia or 2005 Indianapolis, largely because they didn’t even get a race. Spa-Francorchamps was a washout, and every hidden glimpse of the uselessness of sport’s authorities bubbled up to the surface like a volcano in Hawaii. It was a weekend so farcical that the FIA somehow managed to not host a race, but still keep the money of the fans who turned up, a series of decisions leaving a very bitter aftertaste.
One wonders whether all that aforementioned uselessness all intertwined with the attempts of the organisers to build up The Show™. While we will delve into this in more depth later, 2021 illustrated to the the people watching at home that the sport doesn’t seem to have any kind of management or authority going on. With team-to-FIA radio communication broadcast live and worldwide, fans were treated to Toto Wolff and Christian Horner constantly whining and trying to get the other penalised. Any essence of professionalism was sacrificed, seemingly by all other parties involved, by FOM in an attempt to boost ratings. When it wasn’t the team bosses mouthing off, it was the governing body delaying decision-making until the last possible moment for maximum drama. While Netflix hasn’t destroyed the sport – the giant pile of money turning up at Stefano Domenicali’s door is proof of that – the emphasis on The Show™ tired out everyone, and we all wished the season would have ended many races earlier.
Some other outside contenders for Reject of the Year would include folks like Valtteri Bottas, whose bad weekends saw him putting in some of the worst drives of his career. His victory at Istanbul, conveniently completing a redemption arc that began with his horrid performance the previous year, was the only real high point for the Finn, if you discount the fact that he secured a three year deal at Alfa Romeo. While Pérez didn’t perform much better, expectations for the second Red Bull were lower given previous seasons of struggle. Bottas probably escaped any major nomination due to Mercedes’ late-season dominance that allowed them to take their eighth straight constructors’ title.
A team with delusions of success was Aston Martin. Much touted for 2021 on the wake of their late 2020 victory at Bahrain in the guise of Racing Point, AM went into the new seasons with high hopes, a big budget, and a classic green livery. Unfortunately, the comparisons with Jaguar were quite accurate. Two podiums (on the road) were the only results of note, and that was at the hands of an inconsistent Sebastian Vettel. It seemed to depend on the weekend whether Vettel was on it, while Stroll was at the very least more consistent in his averageness.
The final candidate is a Haas driver. Yes, Mick Schumacher was at the very least better than his teammate, and yes, expectations weren’t perhaps so high. After all, he could only try to be better than his teammate at a team which had put all their focus on 2022. However, in spite of a little humility, Mick never showed even a burst of pace that any up and coming driver needs to show. There was little to inspire in his performances, and while his teammate earned a reputation for spinning, Mick earned a reputation for destroying chassis, often during the very few moments in 2021 where the Haas looked borderline competitive.
Haas did abandon 2021 before the season had truly begun, but their total disaster of a year was classic GP Rejects in its complete hopelessness. If the rules had allowed it, we’re that the team would have volunteered to save the petrol and parts and take a sabbatical for 2022.
Of course, what you’re all waiting for is the segue to the other member of the Haas team, and the first of our runner-ups.
Runner-Up: Nikita Mazepin
Nikita hardly endeared himself to the world of F1, with Entering the 2021 season with such a reputation to precede him, he had an uphill climb. There was little in the way of a redemption arc for Nikita however, as his debut was Andrea Moda levels of catastrophe – he barely made it further than the first corner at Bahrain.
He would regularly finish a race a minute behind Mick Schumacher, apparently unable to stay on pace. For the entire first half of the season, the only time he was on pace was when Schumacher had issues and they were told to hold station. However, there was improvement as the season progressed, Nikita looking borderline competent at times.
However, there was no upward progression as the season wore on. There were multiple, notable and public dips in performance all round, such as when he and his teammate almost took each other and Sebastian Vettel out late in Q1 due to a botched qualifying strategy. Both drivers were furious at each other, and the bad vibes continued for multiple races, making the Haas garage seem like the second most toxic place in the paddock to be behind Michael Masi’s office.
So in many ways it was like the reject stints of old. Mazepin looked totally out of his depth and unfit for Formula 1, trundling around every weekend in a car that couldn’t crack P18, and generally being a nuisance. Sometimes it proved hilarious, but other times genuinely unsettling, such as the pièce de résistance of Nikita’s year: his inability to follow blue flags. His dangerous swipe in front of Lewis Hamilton at Istanbul (for which Nikita refused to apologise for) very much summed up his season.
Runner-Up: Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo are both easier and harder to talk about than Mazepin. On one hand, they have had such a long list of wasted or missed opportunities all throughout the season, that it seems pointless to bring them all up, and it makes this nomination rather short.
To summarise, it seemed that the Italian marque had maybe a worse line-up than their backmarker rivals at Haas. Kimi Raikkonen arguably should have retired from F1 at the end of 2018. Often when he did appear in the limelight, it was through dangerous driving, such as when he hit his own teammate clumsily in Portugal. Kimi was slow and uninspiring, and his retirement announcement was something of a relief to all but the diehard fans, that his seat is no longer being occupied unnecessarily.
Antonio Giovinazzi, likewise, has been in F1 for too long. Apparently riding off of his excellent 2017 cameo performances, as well as the fact that he is the only recently marketable Italian hovering on the edge of Formula 1, mean that he has been able to necromance his career for about two seasons too many. He was hardly able to live with Raikkonen’s truly appalling race pace, and that was perhaps most damning of all. For a driver with a lot of experience behind him, and one sixth place away from being a reject, there was absolutely no excuse for his pedestrian performances throughout the year. The one difference between him and his teammate was that he had better qualifying performances – but in the end, this just damns him further, because he threw away more opportunities for Alfa to score points and beat their 2021 rivals Williams.
While it is possible (yet far-fetched) to blame the unconscionable “Belgian Grand Prix” for Williams’ points advantage and final 8th place in the constructors championship, it is this author’s opinion that Alfa Romeo buried their own chances at almost every race. Take Monza, where Antonio decided to drive into a Ferrari rather than keep his well-earned 7th place off the line. Take the same race, where a COVID-struck Kimi was replaced by Robert Kubica, a 36-year-old Pole who had barely tested the car. While not on the Finn’s pace, Robert hardly embarrassed himself or left the F1 audience begging for his predecessor’s swift return.
This combined driver performance was coupled with a litany of pitstop failures and incompetencies by the personnel and race strategy, the former occurring multiple times in Barcelona, and the latter demoting Antonio from a surefire points finish in Mexico City into the midfield never to be seen again. The team finished behind Williams, despite having a better car, and all due to their own failures. All in all, a dreadful season for Alfa Romeo not worth remembering.
Reject of the Year: The FIA, Michael Masi, Race Control and Liberty Media
Again, where to start with our winner, so bereft in rejectdom that their actions and inactions over the course of an entire 22-race calendar render them the solid winner of the 2021 Reject of the Year Award. In a more nebulous decision than usual, this award does not go to one person in particular, but all the people who have won this award know who they are.
Michael Masi would be the easiest and most obvious person to start with. Since Charlie Whiting’s unexpected death, Masi was brought in on very short notice from V8 Supercars to be Formula 1’s race director. There were teething problems at first, and starting in 2020 there began to be growing signs that the new race director wasn’t up to snuff.
Under Masi’s observation, the drivers have been put in more risk than they have in many years hence. The decisions mid-race have allowed green-flag racing to occur with machinery still on the track. Decisions which require the solid initiative of a competent director have been sorely lacking, as shown when Max Verstappen’s high-speed tyre blowout at Baku took an eternity for the safety car to be deployed. At the altar of The Show™, Masi had seemingly been asked by the authorities to commit any action that will cause controversy and drama come Monday morning, and ultimately cost him his own job after the contentious finish to the Abu Dhabi race.
We had the decisions to restart at Baku under incredibly contentious settings. We had the live FIA-to-team radio which exposed Michael as kowtowing to the whims of various team principals at Silverstone and Abu Dhabi. We saw incompetence that showed the race director up for literally not knowing his own rulebook as in Spa. Rules were ignored, rewritten, and as in the season finale, many terrible precedents were set. Other rules, like track limits, were so unclear that the same discussion was brought up time and again in an attempt to “clarify” them each racing weekend.
However, it would be truly wrong to solely blame Masi. The overall conglomerate of the FIA and the sport’s governing bodies have come together with a very cynical outlook on the sport’s continued direction toward the territory of Netflix: lenient penalties for frontrunners, bending the rules to make for as much on-track action for Verstappen and Hamilton together at once, and a general watering down of content for the fans.
They were willing to send F1 to yet another despotic theocracy, to an unfinished track dangerous enough to severely injure drivers in the feeder series. They were willing to cheat their closest fans in Belgium out of their race ticket fees, plain for all to see, without apology. But their greatest crime of all was to take away Nikita Mazepin’s fastest lap.
And after that behemoth season, what next? It would be futile to predict who will be fastest in 2022, but this author has a sinking feeling that Mercedes will yet again have the upper hand and pursue yet another period of unrivalled dominance. It is good to hope for better, but domination is a part and parcel of Formula 1, and Mercedes have been a juggernaut which more often than not is only defeated by their own mistakes.
The grimness of the FIA’s actions extends further into 2022 as well. In their wisdom (read: having taken millions of dollars from the Bahrainis) they have blocked any and all information coming from the upcoming Barcelona test in order to further develop hype for the Bahrain test that follows it. It’s not the end of the world, but it is daylight corruption that fans hoped the early years of Liberty Media would have stamped out.
Overall, 2022 could be yet another fun year with a genuine inter-team rivalry, if Red Bull or one of the other teams gets their act together. What this author is not looking forward to is learning how the FIA and Liberty Media will attempt to push for the show, and just where they draw the line in sacrificing racing standards, the drivers’ safety, and the fans’ wallets.