The most dramatic season in a decade - maybe the most dramatic of the modern era - has come to a conclusion and, here at Balls, we decided it was time for some awards to be handed out to mark the year of 2021 in F1.
You'll find long read after long read about the dynamics of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton's epic title fight - including one right here on this site - but we decided to take a look at the more under-the-radar moments.
We present to you the Balls.ie Alternative F1 Awards For 2021, where we pay tribute to the cult heroes, memeworthy moments, and the downright outrageous scenes we were treated to over the course of an incredible season.
2021 Balls.ie Alternative F1 awards
"Other" driver of the year - Winner: Pierre Gasly
Honourable mentions: Lando Norris (McLaren), Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Max Verstappen had a season for the ages and there has seldom been a more worthy world champion. You're unlikely to read many end-of-season pieces that will have anyone other than him or his counterpart Lewis Hamilton at the top of the "driver of the year" stakes.
So, when you exclude the two of them, who would take home the crown? For us there's only one winner: AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly. The manner in which the Frenchman has turned his career around after being unceremoniously dumped by Red Bull in 2019 has been remarkable and 2021 was his best year yet.
Gasly is a Grand Prix winner, we mustn't forget. His form shouldn't be a surprise but he took his driving to another level in 2021. The highlight of the year was his late charge to a podium in June's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 6, 2021
The AlphaTauri car had solid pace all year, but Gasly made it seem like the frontrunner of the midfield cars. His form was simply staggeringly consistent, with 15 points finishes and nine of those in the top six. He has solidified his place as one of the strongest drivers on the grid.
"Hometown hero" award - Winner: Sergio Perez (Mexican GP)
Honourable mentions: Charles Leclerc's pole in Monaco, Lewis Hamilton's Silverstone win, and Max Verstappen's Dutch GP win.
This award had a surprising amount of contenders. Charles Leclerc's pole position on home soil in Monaco was ruined by the fact he then crashed and failed to start the race, while Lewis Hamilton's emotional win at Silverstone was marred by controversy.
It came down to two strong contenders - Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Though Verstappen's win at the Dutch Grand Prix sparked an enormous celebration, we just can't see past the antics of Perez and his father after the Mexican sealed his first ever podium at his home Grand Prix.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 7, 2021
In all honesty, this award should likely be going to Checo's father rather than Perez himself. You know what, change that header - this award goes to Antonio Perez.
Heartbreak of the year award - Winner: Lando Norris (Russian GP)
Honourable mentions: Max Verstappen's tyre blowout in Baku and Sebastian Vettel's disqualification from P2 in Hungary
Lando Norris was one of 2021's breakout drivers. The young Brit has shown glimpses of brilliance in the past, but he was a regular contender for podiums this year, and even fought hard for two wins in Italy and Russia.
It was at the second of those races that we saw the worst heartbreak of the year.
Lando claimed a brilliant pole position in slippery conditions and led from the front for almost the entire race. With only five laps to go, the rain returned. Second-placed man Lewis Hamilton decided to stop for intermediate weather tyres, with Norris deciding to brave it out in front.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2021
The decision came back to bite him, as he slid off the track with just two laps to go and handed the lead to Hamilton. By the time he made it back to the pits to change onto the inter tyres himself, he had dropped to P7. A distraught Norris was consoled by Hamilton afterwards, but his form took a dip for the rest of the year. A first win is surely only just around the corner for the youngster.
Team radio message of the year - Winner: Lance Stroll (Dutch GP)
Honourable mentions: Max Verstappen's white noise at the French GP, Kimi Raikkonen's "can you hear me" at the Bahrain GP
The team radio snippets played on the race broadcast are always one of the true highlights of an F1 season. It's an insight into an athlete and team's mindset that we don't quite get in any other sport, and it can give a really fascinating angle on a race outcome.
That said, they can also be hilarious from time to time. There were so many contenders this season, but I've plumped for Lance Stroll's sassy reply to his race engineer Brad Joyce when asked to press the "OK" button on his steering wheel during the Dutch GP.
The "Nobody Saw That Coming" award - Winner: Esteban Ocon (Hungarian GP)
Honourable mentions: Ferrari's back-to-back pole positions, George Russell's front row start in Belgium
It was hard to go against George Russell for this one. Russell's P2 in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, in a Williams car that had only recorded two top ten race finishes in the previous two years, was a mind-boggling feat.
But, for a very different reason, Esteban Ocon's win at July's Hungarian Grand Prix is the winner here. I mean no disrespect to Ocon when I say this, but there were several other drivers who might have sprung to mind as potential outsider winners before the Frenchman.
Ocon only took his first ever podium in the penultimate race of last year and was completely outperformed by teammate Daniel Ricciardo in 2020, leaving question marks over him coming into '21. Full credit to him, when he was gifted the lead in Budapest he put in arguably the drive of the year to hold off Sebastian Vettel for the race win.
The win for @OconEsteban on Sunday was a win for all French sports fans 🇫🇷
And here's how French broadcaster @CanalplusF1 called him home for a famous victory! 🎧#HungarianGP 🇭🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/LE7u6hZ5uy
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 3, 2021
Ocon quietly had the best season of his career as he helped Alpine to fifth place in the championship. Speaking of Alpine...
"Golden Oldie" award - Winner: Fernando Alonso
Taking a two-year career break at the highest level of sport is a tough enough task to comprehend at any age but, for Fernando Alonso to pull it off and return to Formula 1 with gusto at 40 deserves a salute.
The Spaniard rejoined his old team of Renault (now racing under the 'Alpine' brand) and displayed some excellent consistency over the course of the year, sealing a top ten finish in the drivers' championship.
Though he took his first podium in seven years in Qatar, his highlight of the year was arguably his incredible defensive drive in Hungary, as he played a pivotal role in teammate Ocon's win. He held off a fast-charging Lewis Hamilton for over 10 laps, and ultimately prevented the Briton from closing up to Ocon at the race's conclusion.
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 1, 2021
"We Race As One" award - Winner: Saudi Arabian GP
Formula 1 made a bit of a mockery of its "We Race As One" campaign in 2021. Having positioned themselves as champions of equality when the campaign launched amid last year's Black Lives Matter protests, the sport quickly forgot about the core values of the movement.
The sport visited several countries with questionable past and present human rights records over the course of the season, including grands prix in Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brazil, Hungary, Qatar, and Russia.
🏎️ @F1 champion Sebastian Vettel was reprimanded for not removing a 'Same Love' t-shirt in support of LGBT+ rights ahead of the national anthem at the #HungarianGP on Sunday. @LewisHamilton had also spoken up against Hungary's anti-LGBT+ legislation ahead of the Grand Prix 🏆 pic.twitter.com/2n5B78WLBo
— Openly 🏳️🌈 (@Openly) August 2, 2021
The specially commissioned "We Race As One" award can only go to one grand prix, however: December's Saudi Arabian GP. The country's horrifying stance towards the LGBTQ+ community is so much that Lewis Hamilton openly spoke about being uncomfortable racing in the country while in Jeddah. Dire stuff.
The TV direction of the year award - Winner: LANCE STROLL (Monaco GP)
The Monaco Grand Prix is infamous for its lack of action. Though the glitz and glamour of the day is often enough to carry the event, the race itself can often be pretty short of any form of action.
This year's race was one of those events, with limited action and no form of battle for the lead. The only excitement we got was, in all fairness, pretty thrilling - or, rather, it would have been if we had seen it.
When Sebastian Vettel managed to jump Lewis Hamilton at his pitstop, he came out wheel to wheel with Pierre Gasly - at which point the TV director inexplicably cut to a slow-motion replay of Vettel's teammate Lance Stroll sliding all on his own on the other side of the track.
The moment led to some pretty excellent meme edits.
Race of the year - Winner: British Grand Prix at Silverstone
Honourable mentions: Sao Paulo GP, Emilia-Romagna GP, Hungarian GP
It's rare for a season to have more than two or three classic races. It's the nature of a sport where the best cars will win the majority of the races, in an era where cars struggle to follow each other. 2021 was different, though, with at least eight genuine contenders for the title of "race of the year".
There was only one choice for this, though. I know that when I look back at the 2021 season in future, the moment that comes to mind first will always be the opening lap at Silverstone.
The electrifying racing between Hamilton and Verstappen ran the entire way around the first part of the lap, before the terrifying impact with the barriers for the Red Bull in the flashpoint moment of the season.
Luckily, Verstappen was okay, and the crash will not be remembered for anything other than the drama it caused on the day. With Hamilton handed a 10-second penalty, he charged from fourth after his pit stop to close down leader Charles Leclerc and, with two laps to go, made a thrilling pass on the Ferrari to claim an infamous eighth win at his home Grand Prix.
The opening lap was pure drama, the conclusion was one of the best in recent memory, there was action up and down the field, and a healthy dose of controversy for weeks and months in the race's aftermath. There was just no beating Silverstone in 2021.
The "Made For Netflix moment" award - Final lap at Abu Dhabi
The last of the F1 awards needs no explanation. The Latifi crash. The bending of the rules. Toto moaning on the radio. The best wheel-to-wheel racing we saw all season. The graciousness from Hamilton in the face of a sporting injustice. And a deserving world champion crowned in controversial circumstances.
Watch the full two minutes here and try to tell us Netflix won't be eating this up.
MAX VERSTAPPEN SNATCHES THE WIN ON THE LAST LAP!! 😰
A FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE RED BULL DRIVER 🏆
📺 Sky Sports F1
#️⃣ #SkyF1 | #F1 | #AbuDhabiGP pic.twitter.com/XyGs0ENZA6
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) December 12, 2021
So, that's it. The Balls.ie Alternative F1 Awards For 2021. We hope that we'll have as many to choose from in 2022, but something tells us that this was simply a special season quite unlike any other.
We're sure Max will forgive us for not giving him any awards - he's got a slightly more important one tucked away in his trophy cabinet now.