In a season when the finest of margins split Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the Red Bull driver is given the nod for the number one slot by virtue of the fact he became world champion and won 10 races to the Briton's eight, even if the last of those in Abu Dhabi was in highly controversial circumstances.
10 best F1 drivers of 2021
You could also argue Verstappen was by far the more aggressive driver compared to Hamilton, who was forced to back out of wheel-to-wheel moments that would almost certainly have led to crashes with a lesser rival.
But the 24-year-old stood his ground, went toe-to-toe with a seven-time champion and delivered across the entire year, finishing in the top two in 18 of 22 races, with three crashes – two not of his making – and a tyre blowout the only instances when he missed out.
Hamstrung by a late winter rule change that affected the aerodynamics of his Mercedes, Hamilton still started the year brilliantly with three wins and a second in the first four races as he became engaged in a battle royale with Verstappen.
Mercedes then struggled across the middle part of the campaign and it was only Hamilton's brilliance that kept him in the hunt as he pulled results out of the bag before his team managed to drag additional pace out of the W12 over the closing stages that resulted in a hat-trick of wins to haul himself level with Verstappen going into the final grand prix.
But for a twist of fate – Nicholas Latifi's late crash in the race in Abu Dhabi – then we would be talking of Hamilton as an eight-time champion but again this is where fine margins come into play and just as he finished second in the standings, so he sits second in this ranking.
The Spanish driver's decision to switch from an on-the-rise McLaren to a Ferrari team that was so bitterly disappointing in 2020 was always a fascinating one. In his own words, he couldn't resist the lure of joining the Scuderia, and he did not disappoint.
There was an adjustment period, quite naturally, and there were moments of consternation, in particular, around the mid-point of the season when he was involved in non-race crashes in Hungary, Zandvoort and Monza.
But Sainz has otherwise delivered a sensationally consistent campaign that included four podiums and a remarkable 19 top-10 finishes, good enough to see him sit ahead of his more venerated teammate at the Scuderia in Charles Leclerc.
An impeccable campaign from Norris who started the season with a new contract with McLaren, with a platform from which he delivered a string of stellar performances across a race weekend.
There were deserved podiums in Imola, Monaco, Austria and Italy, the latter tinged with envy after finishing runner-up to team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who claimed the team's first victory for nine years.
After threatening Valtteri Bottas for third in the standings for so long, the season sadly petered out as the car's performance waned, while the team came under attack from Ferrari that relegated it to fourth in the constructors' championship. In only his third year in F1, Norris can rightly be proud, though, of what he delivered.
Another superb season from Leclerc who again underlined on numerous occasions across the 22 races why he is considered a champion-in-waiting.
Assured and steady, with dashes of the spectacular thrown in for good measure. The Ferrari excelled in Monaco and Baku, where the Monégasque driver qualified on pole on both occasions.
For a period just after the summer break, Leclerc was constantly on the fringes of the Mercedes/Red Bull battle and finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races to help elevate Ferrari up to third in the constructors' standings.
For the second successive F1 season, the campaign ends with a major question mark hanging over Gasly – why has he not been given another opportunity with Red Bull, or snapped up by one of its major rivals?
On this occasion, quite simply, the answer is there is nothing available, so another season beckons with Red Bull's 'sister' team with whom the Frenchman must again bide his time in the hope something materialises at the end of 2022.
Gasly is smooth, unruffled, consistent, and has clearly learned the lessons from his ill-fated half-season with Red Bull in 2019. The 25-year-old's strong run of results underlined his improving ability, and so he worthily finds himself high on this list.
Another exemplary campaign from Russell who has deservedly earned his promotion to Mercedes after three years of learning his craft at the back-marker team.
At least he leaves with relief after he and team-mate Nicholas Latifi finally ended Williams' two-year wait for points with their eighth and seventh places respectively in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The podium in the following race in Belgium was fortuitous given the circumstances, but there was nothing lucky about Russell's 'Mr Saturday' consistency in clinching a place in Q2 in 18 of the 22 races – even reaching Q3 on four occasions – with a car that was badly affected by windy conditions, which is why he earns his place in these rankings.
After being ditched by Racing Point towards the end of 2020 to make way for Sebastian Vettel, Perez was rescued by Red Bull, with the onus to serve as the perfect foil to Verstappen.
Ultimately, the season proved to be a rollercoaster ride for the Mexican. There were deep lows as he initially failed to understand a car far removed from what he had moulded to his style over his years with Force India/Racing Point, and fine highs, some spectacular such as in Baku when he was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of Verstappen's tyre blowout.
Given the car he had beneath him overall, however, and you see what Verstappen achieved with it, there perhaps should have been more from Perez.
Another season in the shadow of Hamilton, and certainly for the first half of the campaign it appeared as if Bottas stood no chance of making this top 10.
But once his future was confirmed just after the summer break, in particular signing a long-term contract with Alfa Romeo to offer him stability rather than the rolling one-year deals with Mercedes that thrust him into a mid-campaign mindset of 'Will I be here next year?' he became a changed driver.
With a weight lifted from his shoulders, Bottas was a free man and he started delivering qualifying performances and Sunday drives that will have reminded Mercedes of why they originally signed him from Williams five years ago. For that reason, the Finn just scrapes onto this list.
After two years away, Alonso returned to great expectations and he did not disappoint, particularly in a car he knew when he joined would have its moments but for the most part, would hover around the fringes of the top 10.
The two-time champion may not have won a race, as team-mate Esteban Ocon achieved in Hungary in taking advantage of the lap-one, turn-one carnage that unfolded at that event, but his consistency shone through.
Alonso was strong in attack and stout in defence when he had the car beneath him, delivering solid points, and with his podium in Qatar – his first for seven years – a welcome and fitting success for one of the best drivers of the last 20 years.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images
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