Despite schedule changes including consecutive rounds at the same venue due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship was contested over a record-setting 22 rounds.
Honda had already announced its withdrawal at the end of 2021 from the series as a power unit supplier, and decided to race its last season with the new RA621H power unit originally slated for 2022. The two Red Bull Racing Honda and two Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda cars were powered by the all-new engine for Honda’s final season.
Yuki Tsunoda Ninth in F1 Debut
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Honda’s main driver, was joined by Sergio Perez (Racing Point, formerly Aston Martin) for 2021. For Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, Pierre Gasly, who won his first grand prix at the 2020 Italian round, was joined by the first Japanese Formula 1 driver in seven years, Yuki Tsunoda who raced in FIA-F2 the previous season.
The Honda teams were equipped with the new power units, mainly trouble-free in pre-season tests, for the season-opener at Bahrain. Verstappen, who had only one pole position in 2021, took pole. Although he let Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) by during the race, the Honda driver did not give up easily, fighting until the very end for second place, giving Honda its 200th podium. Tsunoda was ninth in his debut race, becoming the first Japanese driver to score championship points on his debut.
In Round 2, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, held at the Imola circuit, Verstappen took the lead from third on the grid, and dominated the gradually drying conditions for his first win of the season. In the following two rounds, he was second behind Hamilton, but nonetheless set the fastest lap in Round 4. The early rounds hinted at the real chances that Honda had in winning the championship.
Five Straight Wins, First for Honda since 1988
Round 5 was one of the three great races, Monaco which is held on a street circuit. Verstappen qualified second, in this race where qualifying well is vital as overtaking is close to impossible. Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) was unable to start due to a crash, giving Verstappen a de facto pole and comfortable second win of the season. It was the first win at Monaco for the Belgiuan-Dutch Honda driver.
In Round 6, Azerbaijan Grand Prix raced on a high speed street circuit, Verstappen led the race until he ran into tire issues. The race was red-flagged and Verstappen retired, but teammate Perez took over the lead to finish the two-lap sprint for his first victory since joining the team. Gasly, fourth on the grid, won his battle with Leclerc to cross the line in third, while Tsunoda finished seventh, his best result to date.
In Round 7, France, Verstappen secured his first pole position since the opening round. With Hamilton on his tail, Verstappen’s tires paid the price, prompting the Honda driver to switch to a 2-stop strategy. With 21 laps remaining, Verstappen charged from fourth place to not only catch Hamilton, but took back the lead with two laps to go. Victorious, he shared the podium with Perez, third.
Seemingly unstoppable, Verstappen was on pole, and won, both rounds 8 and 9 in Austria. In the latter round, he achieved a grand slam by taking pole position, winning, and leading every lap.
Accident Stops Winning Streak
In Round 10, the British grand Prix, Verstappen took the first ever 100km Sprint Qualifying. The team looked forward to its sixth consecutive win, but contact with Hamilton pushed Verstappen into the barriers at high speed, ending his race. The Honda driver was fortunately uninjured, but Red Bull Racing Honda’s consecutive wins stopped at five. In Round 11, Hungary, both Red Bull Racing Honda cars were involved in incidents, Verstappen lucky to finish ninth. Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda fared better, with Gasly fifth and Tsunoda sixth, his best result to date.
Title Fight Heating Up
In Round 12 following the summer break, pole-sitter Verstappen won the Belgium round which was marred by rain and completed behind the safety car. The 50th race for the Red Bull Racing and Honda partnership finished with a win, albeit half points. Round 13 was special for Verstappen, who would race for the first time at home in the first Dutch GP since 1985. Cheered on by Orange Army supporters, Verstappen took pole, and went on to win and take back the championship lead. Gasly, fourth on the grid, fended off the Ferraris to finish fourth.
Tragedy struck Honda in Round 14, Italy. Coming out of the pits, Verstappen was alongside Hamilton at Turn 1, but contact between the two sent both cars into the gravel and out of the race. Both Scuderia AlphaTauri Hondas retired due to technical issues, ending the team’s home race tragically.
In Round 15, Russia, Verstappen’s replaced power unit sent him to the back of the grid, but he managed to move up to seventh by mid-race. As rain began to fall in the closing stages, a quick switch to intermediate tires paid off, moving him up to second by the end of the race. Although Hamilton once again led the championship points, Verstappen had minimized the penalty due to an engine change.
In Round 16, Turkey, all four Honda-powered cars featured special livery planned for the Japanese GP. Driving their Red Bull Racing cars with “ありがとう(Thank you)” written on the rear wings for the Japanese fans, Verstappen and Perez crossed the finish line second and third respectively. Verstappen retook the championship lead, as Hamilton finished fifth.
The Formula 1 series moved across the Atlantic for Round 17, the Grand Prix of the Americas. Verstappen won from pole position, and Perez was third. Red Bull Racing invited the managing director, Masashi Yamamoto on to the podium to share the moment.
Round 18 was held in Mexico, Perez’s home race. All four Honda-powered cars made it through to Q3, resulting in the Red Bull Racing Hondas on Row 2, and Gasly on P5. Verstappen’s magnificent start took him to the lead and a comfortable victory. Perez was third, for his third podium in a row, a special podium in front on his home crowd.
Chasing Hamilton into the Final Round
Although two straight wins gave Verstappen a 19 point lead, Hamilton fought back from Round 19, San Paulo, where he overtook race leader Verstappen on Lap 59 to win, starting his winning streak in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Mercedes driver was on equal points with Verstappen at 369.5 as they went into the final round in Abu Dhabi.
The 22 Race Season Decided on the Final Lap
Whoever scored more points in the final round was the champion. The math was simple. Verstappen had the drivers’ title on the line for Honda’s last race in Formula 1. For the final race, Verstappen took his tenth pole position of the season, with some assistance from Perez providing a slipstream.
Verstappen was not as fast as Hamilton off the mark, relinquishing the lead. The race was chaotic, with a virtual safety car slowing down proceedings. Verstappen took the opportunity to pit for new tires, but is unable to close the gap. With a 10-second deficit and not many laps to go, all seemed hopeless. With six laps remaining, however, Nicholas Latifi (Williams) crashed, bringing on the safety car. Verstappen pits for soft tires while Hamilton opted to stay out on track to maintain the lead.
The 10 second gap was effectively reset, and the race restarted with one lap remaining. The championship on the line, Verstappen overtakes Hamilton at Turn 5, and successfully keeps the Mercedes behind him until the checkered flag. Verstappen won his first championship title, giving Honda its sixth title for the first time in 30 years since Ayrton Senna won in 1991.
On this final lap, Tsunoda also managed to overtake Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) to finish fourth, his personal best, and with Gasly fifth, the last race was a successful close for Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda‘s 2021 season.
Red Bull Racing Honda fought a hard battle with Mercedes throughout the season, ending with Verstappen’s championship victory. For Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda, Gasly was in the top 6 nine times including his podium in Round 6, and Tsunoda scored points in seven rounds, setting a new record for the team with 142 constructors’ points.
Honda had returned to Formula 1 in 2015 as a power unit supplier. The 2021 season was the most challenging, but most rewarding for Honda as Verstappen won the drivers’ title, bringing Honda’s era in Formula 1 racing to a close.
|1||Max VERSTAPPEN||33||Red Bull Racing Honda||Red Bull Racing||395.5|
|4||Sergio PEREZ||11||Red Bull Racing Honda||Red Bull Racing||190|
|6||Lando NORRIS||4||McLaren||McLaren Mercedes||160|
|8||Daniel RICCIARDO||3||McLaren||McLaren Mercedes||115|
|9||Pierre GASLY||10||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||110|
|10||Fernando ALONSO||14||Alpine||Alpine Renault||81|
|11||Esteban OCON||31||Alpine||Alpine Renault||74|
|12||Sebastian VETTEL||5||Aston Martin||Aston Martin Mercedes||43|
|13||Lance STROLL||18||Aston Martin||Aston Martin Mercedes||34|
|14||Yuki TSUNODA||22||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||32|
|15||George RUSSELL||63||Williams||Williams Mercedes||16|
|16||Kimi RAIKKONEN||7||Alfa Romeo Racing||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||10|
|17||Nicholas LATIFI||6||Williams||Williams Mercedes||7|
|18||Antonio GIOVINAZZI||99||Alfa Romeo Racing||Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari||3|