Formula 2 ran a new weekend format – and a very spread calendar, dominated by street circuits – for 2021.
Every driver in the highest level of junior series is looking to stand out, in the hope of a graduation to Formula 1 or beyond, but with huge breaks between rounds and a punishing amount of reverse-grid races, it was a tough year for the junior crop.
By the end of the season in Abu Dhabi, Oscar Piastri was crowned champion in his very first season in the series while Prema comfortably claimed the teams’ title. But who made the strongest impression of the 29 drivers who entered at least one round of this year’s Formula 2 championship?
10. Felipe Drugovich – UNI-Virtuosi
The only driver to make this list without a race win, Drugovich’s second year in F2 was technically more successful than his first, finishing one place higher in the championship to come eighth, but with fewer stand-out moments than 2020.
He performed particularly well in Monaco, taking a second place finish in the first sprint race and third in the feature – a pattern Drugovich repeated for his final podium finish of the year, in Abu Dhabi.
9. Liam Lawson – Hitech
Lawson had a bizarre 2021 campaign, competing full time both in DTM and Formula 2. He nearly took the title in the former – thanks to a controversial finale – but was considerably less outstanding in F2.
Winning the first race of the season seemed like a statement, but it was not one Lawson ever really backed up for the rest of the year. His form saw him mired in the midfield for most of the season, a second-place finish in Jeddah the only other standout.
8. Jehan Daruvala – Carlin
Daruvala’s 2020 season was heavily affected by a lack of spare parts and waiting most of the year for a replacement engine. His 2021 campaign could have been an opportunity to make good on the promise he showed at the final rounds of last year, but things never quite came together for the Carlin driver.
He started the year with a podium in Bahrain and finished it with victory in Abu Dhabi but struggled for both qualifying pace and feature race performance over the bulk of the season.
7. Dan Ticktum – Carlin
As with any year, 2021 could have been Ticktum’s. A switch to Carlin and a dose of maturity seemed to put the brakes on his tendency towards emotive radio messages and Ticktum came out of the blocks looking considerably more developed as a driver than he had finished 2020.
Victory in a sprint race around Monaco bodes well for his upcoming stint in Formula E but Ticktum’s form faded in the latter half of the season. One of the drivers that the large calendar gaps seemed to prove a distraction too far for.
6. Jüri Vips – Hitech
Red Bull’s somewhat forgotten junior, Vips finally got the chance for a full-time F2 campaign in 2021, after scoring a podium during his three-round deputisation at DAMS last year.
Vips’ performances in Monaco – when he took third place – and Baku – where he won the second sprint race and the feature back-to-back – were exceptionally good and he looked to be gaining momentum as the championship headed to Silverstone, taking another podium. Then, a late season run of bad luck, taking four retirements in the final eleven races, was the unfortunate nix to any contention for a top-three finish.
5. Richard Verschoor – MP Motorsport
It might seem weird to have a driver who didn’t actually finish the 2021 season so high up, but Verschoor’s performance was definitely not the reason for him losing his seat. Despite running out of funding to continue at MP Motorsport before the final two rounds in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi, Verschoor scored 56 of the team’s 75 points and their only victory, in the Silverstone sprint race.
Formula 2 is a spec series but undoubtedly, especially with the current chassis, some teams are better equipped to set up the cars than others. Given the relative performance of MP’s other drivers, Verschoor stands out as a casualty of rising costs in junior series racing who deserved a better chance than what he got.
4. Robert Shwartzman – Prema
For a driver who finished second in the points, Shwartzman had an oddly anonymous year. He took two sprint race victories in Baku and Silverstone and a further three podiums, but was consistently bested by Prema team mate Piastri.
Shwartzman is graduating from F2 this season, after two slightly baffling years for the 2019 F3 champion. Although the double-reverse-grid format this year definitely didn’t do Shwartzman any favours and retirements in Bahrain and Monaco seemed to knock his confidence, on days when he could find the pace he was often the only driver challenging Piastri for poles and showed particularly gutsy performances on street circuits.
3. Guanyu Zhou – UNI-Virtuosi
Although Zhou missed out on becoming vice-champion during the rushed, final rounds of the year, they also came after it had already been announced he would step up to Formula 1 with Alfa Romeo and so not likely to affect his career. The UNI-Virtuosi driver started the year strong, taking the Bahrain pole and feature race wins and then making it back-to-back victories in Monaco’s first sprint race.
Sprint races were not especially kind to Zhou over the rest of the season, however, with Zhou unable to make the most of reverse-grid starts. Two decisive feature race victories and a further two second places kept him in play for the top finishing spots.
2. Theo Pourchaire – ART
Formula 2’s youngest-ever race winner is an easy pick for runner-up this season. Although Pourchaire did not find the pace fellow rookie Piastri did at the tail end of the season, it’s not difficult to imagine that without breaking his hand in Baku he could have had an even more impressive year.
Pourchaire’s ART had more of an attraction to accidents than some cars on the grid, mostly not his fault but when he got an opportunity for a clean race showed maturity and race craft that belied just how young he is, at only 17. Already signed up for the 2022 season, if Pourchaire can continue the form he showed this year then he would be a shoe-in for title contention.
1. Oscar Piastri – Prema
Piastri came into F2 as the Formula 3 champion and, as such, carried some significant expectations on him. Especially driving for Prema, there wasn’t likely to be anywhere to hide. But many a F3 champion has arrived in Formula 2 in recent years without immediately being on the pace in the turbocharged, more strategy-dependent championship. Shwartzman, after all, was in the same position last season and was not able to make it work completely from the off.
Piastri, however, has had a truly incredible rookie season. In a long, disjointed year when drivers struggled to find a rhythm between races and the three-race weekends put immense pressure on results, Piastri took every pole position from July onwards. Despite the reverse-grid format, Piastri won five out of eleven races across the final four rounds Even if his title lead isn’t quite as crushing as, say, Stoffel Vandoorne’s in GP2 back in 2015, then it was nonetheless completely decisive. Of his wins, all of them were confident – Piastri excelled on tyre and race management, avoided collisions and undoubtedly had the edge of speed over any other driver.
His only failing, strategically, was doing it in his rookie year without an Alpine seat for him to make that final step up into F1.
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