• Chris Kato

Who is F1's 2021 Rookie of the Year?

Schumacher, Tsunoda, or Mazepin? It might be harder than you think to pick 2021's rookie of the year

Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool

The 2021 Formula 1 grid saw the entry of three rookies into the sport for this season. Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin all made their F1 debuts in 2021. All three drivers were highly talked about heading into the year (each for their own reasons) and expectations were mixed for Yuki, Mick and Nikita. Now that we've completed the 22 race calendar and we have some time to reflect on this record season, we thought it would be an interesting idea to look at the numbers behind their rookie seasons and use that information to hand out a rookie of the year award for 2021. We'll go through each driver's season individually and then make a pick at the end of this article which we'd love to hear your thoughts on in the comment section down below! Let's start by looking at Yuki Tsunoda's rookie season at Alpha Tauri.

#22 - Yuki Tsunoda - Scuderia Alpha Tauri

Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool

Expectations on the young Japanese driver were high heading into 2021. Helmut Marko fast tracked Tsunoda into Formula 1 after just one season of F2 in which he took 3 wins and 7 podiums. The question many asked prior to the start of testing was, is Tsunoda ready for the challenges of Formula 1 being so inexperienced? As testing got underway in Japan, it looked like Alpha Tauri had an instant star on their hands. Tsunoda greatly impressed during the 3 days of running in Bahrain and his F1 debut a few weeks later confirmed the hype of the young Japanese star. Ross Brawn went as far as to call Tsunoda “the best rookie F1 has had for years” but unfortunately for Yuki, this early success would greatly backfire on him for the majority of the season. After his P9 in Bahrain, Tsunoda would only finish in the points in twice in the next 10 races as he went through quite a few growing pains in both qualifying and the races. Taking a look at his season stats, Yuki's average finishing position was 13th while showing a little bit better one lap pace as his average qualifying position was 12th. He was able to reach Q3 in 9 out of 22 races with his best qualifying result being 7th which came in Baku and Austria. Tsunoda's race craft improved toward the tail end of the year as he picked up his career best finish of 4th at the final race of the season. But it was quite a difficult debut year for Tsunoda as he showed plenty of speed throughout the year but nowhere near the consistency needed at this level. He was out raced by his teammate 16-6 in 2021 and his 7 points finishes didn't do enough to help Alpha Tauri in the Constructor's standings. After teaming up with Alex Albon to help him as a driver coach, Tsunoda finished 2021 with a lot more confidence ahead of the 2022 season. "I think it was a long journey to improve my confidence, from especially Imola. I really struggled, and it was a long journey, but I'm feeling pretty good and pretty prepared for the next year to have this confidence."

#47 - Mick Schumacher - Uralkali Haas F1 Team

Courtesy - Haas F1 Media

One of the feel good stories of 2021 was the Formula 1 debut of Mick Schumacher. The reigning F2 champion marked the return of the Schumacher name to the sport since his Father retired back in 2012. A very highly touted driver with a big name to look up to, 2021 was an interesting year for the young Schumacher in a team that had their worst season since their F1 debut back in 2016. Judging the two Haas rookies' seasons in comparison to the rest of the grid is quite difficult as Haas did not develop the car all year long. But nonetheless, we get a good comparison between the teammates who had the same machinery. Despite fledgling at the back of the grid for most of the season, Schumacher actually had some decent standout performances in particular at Portimao and Hungary. His 12th place finish in Budapest was the highest of his season and it bumped up his average finishing position to 17th. His average qualifying performance in 2021 was 18th place but he did drive the wheels off the Hass VF21 on a few occasions, reaching Q2 in France and Turkey. Schumacher had quite a few shunts and crashes in 2021 as it can be expected at times from F1 rookies but the crashes were a little too frequent and costly for a team struggling with resources. In fairness to both Haas drivers, the VF-21 was a very tricky car to drive so getting a handle on it's characteristics was a tough task, especially for a rookie. Haas wasn't able to score any points in 2021 but Schumacher is looking at the positives of his rookie campaign.

#9 - Nikita Mazepin - Uralkali Haas F1 Team

Courtesy - Haas F1 Media

Nikita Mazepin made plenty of headlines for the wrong reasons heading into the 2021 season, so it has been a turbulent start to his Formula 1 career. He along with his rookie teammate had a lot of challenges in 2021 having to wrestle with a car that would be difficult to drive for even the best drivers. Mazepin's 2021 season stats won't help his rookie of the year bid as he finishes the 2021 standings officially in 21st place. How is that even possible you ask? Well, Mazepin retired from both races that featured Alfa Romeo reserve driver Robert Kubica when he was subbing for Kimi Raikkonen. Kubica's 15th and 14th place finishes at Zandvoort and Monza meant that he finished the standings in 20th. Besides that, Mazepin did manage his best season finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with a 14th place. His average finishing position in 2021 was 18th while his average qualifying spot was 19th. Mazepin was the only driver in 2021 to have not reached Q2. The deficit in qualifying to his teammate is what Mazepin will look to work on the most for next season. Through 22 races, Mick Schumacher out-qualified the Russian by an average of 7 tenths of a second. Mazepin did make some solid steps forward throughout the year and he kept the car in one piece more times than his German teammate. Mazepin showcased his potential during his F2 career so 2022 will be a big year for him to prove that on the track, granted that he has the car able to provide him the results. But Mazepin has learned a lot from his first season from Formula 1 and has taken away many valuable lessons on and off the track.

So Who Gets the Rookie of the Year Award for 2021?

Courtesy - Haas F1 Media

Deciding on F1's 2021 rookie of the year was not an easy pick to make as all three rookies had their fair share of struggles. Before we render our verdict, let's see what the fans had to say on our YouTube and Twitter polls. 71% of fans on YouTube would pick Yuki Tsunoda as their rookie of the year while 64.5% on Twitter would also pick Tsunoda. When looking at all three of their seasons, it would be fair to hand the rookie of the year award to Yuki Tsunoda for 2021. Although he had his crashes and low points, Tsunoda's 2021 results were far greater than any of the two Haas drivers. Tsunoda's rookie season was a mix really big highs and really low low's which led to plenty of inconsistency. Schumacher was arguably the most consistent out of all the rookies and you could say he maximized the performance of his car far more than Tsunoda did at Alpha Tauri. It really is a difficult call to make as neither of the three rookies had standout debut seasons in Formula 1. Out of the 3, Tsunoda and Schumacher showed the most potential for future success in Formula 1 but their is much work to be done before they begin fighting for wins and podiums. 2022 will be an interesting year for Nikita Mazepin to try and further silence the haters and prove his worth in Formula 1. Step one will always be to defeat your teammate who is in the same car but with Schumacher alongside him, it certainly won't be easy.

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