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Top 200 Drivers of 2021 (Part II)

by Sean Wrona

Here are the 50 drivers I consider to have had very good but not quite elite seasons, in the C+ tier, starting with the 100th ranked driver and going down to 51st. I decided the ranking well before I had written anything and haven't really touched the ranking since I started writing, but I can already say that there are a few drivers I think I overrated and others that I think I underrated, mostly in rally racing, which I don't know too much about because it is difficult to watch in the United States. I think in retrospect Kalle Rovanperä should be ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen because I underestimated how prestigious the WRC-2 and ERC tours are compared to the overall WRC. However, I think for most of the series for which I was able to obtain some kind of lap data or detailed speed information (such as open wheel, stock cars, sports cars, and touring cars) I did a much better job.

100. Kurt Busch


Even before I had most of the other drivers ranked, I decided nearly at the outset that I wanted to place Kurt in the last slot on my top 100 list because I considered him to be the absolute most borderline selection on the list. The highs and lows of his season seemed to somehow balance out perfectly. He was perhaps surprisingly the sixth-highest rated NASCAR driver in my model (just barely ranking behind his brother by a mere .001 in the ratings). Although he only beat his teammate Ross Chastain 17 races to 12, Chastain is highly rated enough that this is more impressive than you think. On the other hand, this was Chastain's first full season in a competitive car while Kurt was well-established, which may have slightly overrated his performance. Astonishingly, despite his equipment disadvantage, Kurt was second to Kyle Larson in races with the fastest average speed in four. However, since I was using NASCAR's Green Flag Speed statistic in the loop data for that, drivers who crash early somewhat frequently top the list because the track tends to be faster at the start of NASCAR races than it is at the end. Two of his "fastest races" were the first Atlanta race (not the one he won) and the second Richmond race because he benefited from early crashes. Although finishing 11th in points and 12th in full-season points would be questionable for a list like this, he did about that well in all categories as he was 10th in lead shares, essentially tied with Alex Bowman in 11th in average percent led, and while he didn't factor too much outside his win at Atlanta, that probably was one of the more impressive wins of the year. See what I mean? Every strength in Kurt Busch's 2021 profile was linked with a corresponding weakness, which essentially made him the most bubble of bubble drivers when compared to anyone on this list. Why did I choose to list him and leave Alex Bowman off? First off, Bowman only significantly outperformed Busch in wins, while Busch outperformed Bowman (or at least matched him) in almost all other categories. Second, Busch clearly had a slower car than Bowman since Kyle Larson and Hendrick generally dominated the season. Third, Busch had a significantly better teammate rating, since he ranked 6th to Bowman's 16th. Finally, as Chip Ganassi was in the process of selling his team to Trackhouse Racing and Kurt announced his move to 23XI Racing for 2022, I believe there was likely a significant loss of team morale late in the season and for him to perform like he did in spite of that (and posting his probably most impressive Ganassi win to boot in 2021 as well) is worthy of some praise.

99. Alessio Rovera

WEC LMGTE Am16411.53012018.077.23N/A

I initially had Daniel Rowbottom on the list, but a poster on an auto racing Discord I frequent talked me out of it, so Rovera ended up being my last-minute addition to the list, but he is certainly a worthy one. He won the GTE Am title in the World Endurance Championship co-driving with teammates Nicklas Nielsen and François Perrodo. The trio dominated the class with four wins in six races. Rovera was arguably the best passer in the entire WEC this year, as he was the only driver to make an on-track pass for the lead in 4 different races, posted a lead change record of 4-1, had the most lead shares in the class with 1.53, and was the most dominant driver with 18.0% average percent led, just nosing out Nielsen's 17.0% APL. His best performance came at the season-opener at Spa, where he was the TNL, led the most laps, and set the fastest lap en route to victory. I did end up taking Nielsen over him because he had a faster average speed than Rovera did, he was better at Le Mans, and also because he had some significant accomplishments outside of WEC while Rovera did not, but regardless, Rovera was certainly one of the most dominant drivers in international sports car racing this year, even if he did so in a class that is often ignored.

98. Renger van der Zande

IMSA DPi410100.4501239.073.02N/A

van der Zande had great speed in the IMSA DPi prototype class in 2021 as he had the second-fastest average speed among regulars behind only the champion Felipe Nasr, and he was the only driver all season to post the fastest average speed in three different races, including two of the marquee ones (the 12 Hours of Sebring and 6 Hours of Watkins Glen.) With his win in Detroit alongside rookie teammate Kevin Magnussen, he collected a third fastest race. He didn't dominate Magnussen quite as badly as Nasr dominated Pipo Derani, but he was still faster in 6 of 9 races and he averaged 9.04% average percent led to Magnussen's 6.95%. van der Zande was better at raw speed than dominance in 2021 as he ranked only 5th in average percent led, also behind Ricky Taylor, Dane Cameron, and Harry Tincknell, and he is clearly a borderline selection as a result (particularly because his WEC season was rather forgettable), but in my opinion, he still did enough in IMSA this year to make the list, albeit barely.

97. Guanyu Zhou

The Alfa Romeo-bound Formula One driver had a banner year in the F1 feeder series, winning four races in the Formula 2 Championship and finishing third, while he also won the F3 Asian Championship and collected four wins there as well. I don't really expect him to be a great talent in F1 because usually most of the great F1 drivers are the drivers who spend only a single year in Formula 1 before advancing, much like the "one-and-done" players in college basketball who immediately enter the NBA draft after their freshman season, while Zhou spent three years in F2 and still didn't win the title. Additionally, the champion Oscar Piastri is two years younger than him. While he badly beat Felipe Drugovich in the races by a 12-6 margin, Drugovich surprisingly had a faster average speed, but I decided not to include those data here, because I think Timing71's average speeds for Formula 2 are often wildly inaccurate: not only do a few races not have any data, several others only include lap times for a few laps, which could radically skew things, so I feel uncomfortable using lap times to rank F2 drivers as much as I do for other series, particularly since the FIA does not allow fans to have access to accurate lap times itself. Ultimately, I listed him just on the basis of his wins, even though he clearly was not the best F2 driver of the year nor likely the driver with the most F1 potential, and even though he only narrowly edged out Pierre-Louis Chovet for the F3 Asian Championship, and Chovet himself won 6 races to Zhou's 4. I don't really expect greatness from him in the future, but I do think this particular year was worthy enough to justify a top 100 placement.

96. Romain Grosjean


When I was first working on this list, I was going to include Graham Rahal as my last IndyCar selection because I was truly impressed by his high driver rating in my open-wheel teammate model this year; Rahal rated 17th overall among open wheel drivers in 2021 and 5th in IndyCar. But ultimately, another member of the aforementioned auto racing Discord suggested I choose Grosjean instead, and after I looked at the numbers more closely, I was forced to agree. No one would have been surprised to see Grosjean call it quits and retire from competition after his fiery crash in Bahrain. Because of this, I admit I was kind of flabbergasted when he made his next move and switched to IndyCar, which is historically even more dangerous than F1 (I would have expected him to switch to sports cars instead.) But clearly I was wrong. Because of COVID, the 2020 Indy Lights championship was canceled, which meant this year's IndyCar rookie class consisted of three drivers well-known for their accomplishments in other series: Grosjean in F1, Scott McLaughlin in Supercars, and Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR Cup. Since Grosjean was the only one of those three drivers with any significant open-wheel experience prior to 2021, it's no surprising he was the best (even though he narrowly lost ROTY to McLaughlin because he ran the whole season and Grosjean did not.) But I wasn't expecting him to be this good, mainly because he was driving a car co-owned by Dale Coyne and NASCAR laughingstock Rick Ware. Replacing the eventual champion Álex Palou at Coyne, Grosjean managed to place 15th in points as a rookie, one spot better than Palou did in his rookie season despite not even running full-time (although granted, I also think Palou jumped several levels between 2020 and 2021.) Unlike Sébastien Bourdais, Justin Wilson, Mike Conway, and odd man out Carlos Huertas, Grosjean failed to win but I'm not sure any of his Coyne predecessors ever matched Grosjean's speed. Much to my utter amazement, Grosjean was the 6th fastest driver in 2021 with a speed percentile of 70.49% putting him snugly between Scott Dixon at 70.64% and Marcus Ericsson at 70.10%. Essentially matching both Ganassi winners in speed as a rookie recovering from a fiery crash is unbelievably astonishing. He also posted the fastest average speed in a race twice at the end of the season, doing so at both Portland and Laguna Seca. Only four other drivers this year: Josef Newgarden, Pato O'Ward, Colton Herta, and (surprisingly) Rinus VeeKay, who outdueled Grosjean for the win in the Indy GP also were the fastest drivers in multiple races this year. Why is he not higher? Lack of consistency. Although he was the first driver to score three podiums for Coyne since Wilson in 2013, and the first driver to win a pole for the team since Conway that same year, he also had a couple of dumb crashes from overdriving too hard and some of his predecessors like Sébastien Bourdais and Santino Ferrucci seemed to have better consistency than he did. But the flashes of speed he had in suboptimal equipment definitely make him one of IndyCar's standouts this year regardless, and he seems to be almost a lock to win his first IndyCar race and open-wheel race in general since 2011 when he replaces Ryan Hunter-Reay at the Andretti team for 2022.

95. Joey Logano


In what was generally a lackluster season for both Penske's NASCAR and IndyCar teams this year, Logano was the clear standout on the NASCAR side for the first half of the season, having head-to-head records of 11-4 against Brad Keselowski and 10-5 against Ryan Blaney through the first Pocono race. He quietly won the Bristol pseudo-dirt race when nobody expected him to due to his lack of dirt experience and although he didn't really factor much elsewhere, he quietly and invisibly led the team most weeks. However, he fell into a long, mediocre malaise especially during the second half where he never made an on-track pass for the lead except during the plate races while his teammate Blaney was battling for the lead quite a bit more often. Although Blaney was clearly the best Penske driver in terms of winning, passing, and dueling this year, much to my surprise, Logano was better at almost everything else. Logano ranked 7th in speed, higher than any driver outside Hendrick and Gibbs, led Cup in lead shares with 1.71, races with the most laps led with 3 (while his teammates only combined to do so once), narrowly earning a winning record against both teammates (15-14 against Keselowski and 17-12 against Blaney), and placing the highest in my teammate model. For a while, I couldn't decide which way I was going to go, but I ended up opting for Blaney because of his greater passing, dueling, and fighting for the lead, and despite all that, he actually did outscore Logano in overall points in 2021 even though Logano was more consistent. Granted, I'll acknowledge that since the advent of stage racing, dueling ability has become more important since drivers do now have to fight for the lead earlier in the race to collect stage points. I suspect because Logano became a fully mature NASCAR driver before stage racing was introduced, he has struggled to adapt to it and is driving with a more old-school style, much like how Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, and Jeff Burton all suddenly declined when double-file restarts were introduced, because none of those three drivers were especially strong duelists relative to most of the other drivers who were as successful as them. Something similar may be happening to Logano right now, but the explanation may be simpler. Logano has always seemed to do better with a dominant car than a second-rate one, while Keselowski and maybe now also Blaney do better at elevating a weaker car to the front. Penske did not have strong cars this year and maybe that was the only issue.

94. Marco Wittmann

The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters series underwent a radical transformation in 2021 after Audi and BMW withdrew their factory backing. Many people argue it isn't even really a touring series anymore and its name has become a misnomer. The majority of the field was replaced with an onslaught of newcomers as only six of the sixteen full-time drivers from 2020 remained in the series in 2021, replaced by thirteen new series regulars from other disciplines of motorsport, most of whom had no prior experience in the series. With René Rast switching to Formula E after dominating the last four seasons, Wittmann entered the year as the only multiple champion in the series and definitely its biggest name. However, two younger drivers in Liam Lawson and Kelvin van der Linde stole most of the headlines while Wittmann, one of the long-time factory drivers in the series was forced to compete for Walkenhorst Motorsport, a single-car team that had no DTM experience. He performed admirably, winning two races and finishing fourth in points making him and to a lesser degree Lucas Auer the only two drivers able to successfully bridge the gap between the two eras of DTM, but I'm not going to rate him too highly because he was clearly bested by much less experienced drivers like Lawson and van der Linde this season. I was unable to collect as detailed stats for DTM this year as I was for most of the other major league series because not only were many of the races not available on YouTube, that series provided much less in the way of timing and scoring documents as well, so my entries for the DTM drivers on this list probably won't be as detailed in general.

93. Logan Seavey

I wanted to have at least one USAC regular on my top 100 list this year but it took me a while to decide who I should choose. While I know the Silver Crown championship is considered more prestigious than the Sprint and Midget championships, Kody Swanson has been dominating Silver Crown for years while not doing much in the other two divisions, as again proved to be the case this year. The other two champions Brady Bacon in sprint cars and Michael Kofoid in midget cars didn't cross over into the other two divisions much either. Essentially, I was forced to choose between Tanner Thorson, who won 12 races combined in the midget and sprint divisions but did not win in Silver Crown, Justin Grant, who tied Thorson with 12 wins across all three series but did win in Silver Crown, or the driver I eventually chose, who was Logan Seavey. Seavey finished 2nd in the Silver Crown championship with two wins and nearly matched the champion Swanson in dominance, as Swanson's average percent led was 29.1% to Seavey's 25.0%. Like Grant, he also won in the other two divisions, winning four times in sprint cars in a part-time schedule and twice in midget cars. Although he failed to win the USAC Sprint Car championship because he competed only part time, he did have a higher average percent led than any of the top four title contenders in that series. He was least impressive in midget cars, but even there he was more dominant than Grant even though Grant won more races. In a year it seemed like a bunch of drivers had similar and relatively even accomplishments, Seavey's combined dominance and versatility across different series stood out more than any of the USAC regulars, although as it turns out, he's not the only sprint car driver I included in the top 100.

92. Nirei Fukuzumi

Super Formula27222.00100N/A9.2N/A-.018

Although Super Formula is considered one of the four top-tier, major league open wheel series in the world along with Formula One, IndyCar, and Formula E, its driving talent has usually been shallower than the other three series and its competitive depth plummeted markedly this year probably as a result of COVID. While the series historically had a mixture between the best of Japan and hot open-wheel prospects from the rest of the world, spawning the likes of Álex Palou, Pierre Gasly, Nick Cassidy, and Felix Rosenqvist in recent years, most of the European drivers stayed home this time probably due to COVID restrictions and the series was almost entirely Japanese this year and felt a little second-rate. However, that doesn't mean Fukuzumi himself was second rate. Although he lost the Super Formula championship to Tomoki Nojiri quite badly by the margin of 86 points to 55, it was a significant breakout year for him as he collected his first two wins in the series after failing to win in his first 21 starts. He also co-drove with Nojiri in the Super GT sports car series where Super Formula drivers also compete and collected two wins there, finishing second in points in that series as well. Impressively, Nojiri and Fukuzumi were not only the only drivers to win multiple races in both series, but they were also the only drivers to win more than one race combined across both series. They were clearly the class of Japan this year and no one else was even close. Having said that, because the fields there are significantly shallower than in F1, Formula E, and IndyCar, he still only posted a teammate rating of -.018, rating only 54th among open wheel drivers this year and three other drivers who finished below him in points (Yuhi Sekiguchi, Hiroki Otsu, and Jean Alesi's son Giuliano, the one major European crossover this year) had a higher average percent led. Regardless, I think Fukuzumi's objective stats and his versatility across both Japanese series are enough to overcome his slight weaknesses in my advanced statistics.

91. Sergio Pérez


It was hard for me to decide whether I should list Pérez or Valtteri Bottas higher because the stats tend to favor Bottas while the eye test of the fans tends to favor Pérez because he is more exciting to watch and much more of a duelist. Bottas entered this year rated .215 in my model to Pérez's .134. Both of them underachieved relative to their usual performance, which is why I have them both barely in the top 100. I could see fans arguing that they were both overrated (because they might think some of the drivers I placed in lower tiers were better than Bottas and Pérez this year since they often did not make top ten lists in F1 polls while they barely made mine) or underrated (because many people argue that most F1 drivers are better than drivers in all other disciplines; I do not think this since there were plenty of IndyCar and Formula E drivers interspersed among the F1 drivers in my open wheel models both historically and currently, not to mention the drivers in all the other series.) Pérez was certainly a good teammate to Max Verstappen as his defenses of Lewis Hamilton at Istanbul and Abu Dhabi proved, and probably cost Hamilton enough time to help Verstappen in the championship. However, Verstappen finished higher than him in every single race (just as he did to Alex Albon in the previous season) and that is an extremely rare occurrence in any series so long anywhere. At least Bottas did beat Hamilton a few times. Pérez was the 3rd fastest driver in F1 this season and did beat Bottas in speed. The question is whether the Mercedes or the Red Bull was faster overall and that seems debatable. While Verstappen had a faster average speed than Hamilton and Pérez had a faster average speed than Bottas in races, Mercedes scored more points and seemed faster in qualifying, where Bottas was often stout and Pérez usually wasn't. Additionally, Bottas made a pass for the lead at Istanbul while Pérez did not, but Bottas was also passed four times while Pérez was not involved in any lead changes. Basically they seem just about even to me and I defaulted to my model. Even though I acknowledge Pérez was certainly more fun to watch, that doesn't necessarily make him better.

90. Dries Vanthoor

WEC LMGTE ProNR1000.0010000.017.39N/A

Vanthoor won the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup championship (which used to be known as the Blancpain Sprint Series) alongside his teammate Charles Weerts and was clearly the team leader there. The pair also won the overall GT World Challenge Europe Cup considering both sprint and endurance races. This series has hard to evaluate because I don't think it has ever provided timing documents, but according to DriverDB, Vanthoor and Weerts seem to have been somewhat evenly matched in pace with both drivers setting one fastest lap and Weerts winning two poles (as I write this, perhaps I realize Weerts is a driver I needed to consider more strongly.) Vanthoor also won the pole for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Pro class, but as you will see above, he was pretty slow in the race itself. Because he made Autosport's Top 50 list this year and won a major championship (although granted, a championship I believe is less prestigious than either the WEC or IMSA championships) I thought he should be included, but with minimal timing data available except a rather slow Le Mans entry and seeing that he was apparently more evenly matched with Weerts than I thought, this is one entry I'm particularly unsure about. All I can say is I think his brother Laurents was better.

89. Will Brown


The Supercars rookie finished 8th in points and claimed his first win at Sydney after undercutting Jamie Whincup on the pit cycle. It was a difficult situation for Brown to come into because both he and his teammate Brodie Kostecki were rookies replacing two veterans who left the Erebus Motorsport team, David Reynolds and Anton de Pasquale. However, Brown's performances were certainly impressive as in his first season, he matched de Pasquale's 1 win, 8th place season from 2020, and de Pasquale went on to become a major star in 2021 as he was the second most dominant driver in Supercars, which potentially indicates great things for Brown if he lands a faster car. He clearly had more speed than most rookies do, with one pole, two fastest laps, and three fastest races, the latter of which was more than any driver in the series had except for the champion Shane van Gisbergen. However, his speed was generally unreliable as while he was extremely fast in some races, he was slow in others, although he was much faster towards the end of the season than the start. Considering that, Brown seems poised to be likely to become one of the most improved drivers in Supercars over the next few years.

88. Ryan Blaney


As I mentioned in the Joey Logano section, I couldn't decide for quite some time whether I was going to rate Logano or Blaney higher. Even though Logano rated slightly higher in speed, driver rating, and lead shares than Blaney, I ultimately opted for Blaney because Logano was more of a consistent force while Blaney was a better duelist and more of a gunslinger. Essentially, Logano was too close to Blaney in all the other categories for the win difference to not play an outsized role in Blaney's favor. Blaney was incredibly clutch this year, as he had a 3-0 record in final lead changes, and he and Bubba Wallace were the only drivers to make a pass for the win without being passed for the win in 2021. He also made an on-track pass for the lead in more races than either of his teammates (11 for Blaney to 10 for Logano and 9 for Brad Keselowski) and was the only one of the three Penske drivers to post a positive lead change record (with Blaney at 16-14, Logano at 17-23, and Keselowski at 14-18.) I realize the Penske cars were probably slower than most of the other Chase cars, which in part would explain why both Logano and Keselowski were passed more often than they passed others, but that says a lot for Blaney's ability to create passing and winning opportunities where they otherwise wouldn't seem to exist. Blaney hunting down Kyle Larson to win at Atlanta looked more and more impressive over time as Larson dominated the season, especially the intermediate tracks. Larson himself was faster in the race, so it was a great clutch performance. His win at Michigan was perhaps even more special as he was only the 8th fastest driver in the race and still outdueled William Byron, who was faster. Blaney managed to finish 9th in average speed despite never having the fastest average speed in an individual race or any fastest laps, and that's probably pretty rare. If Penske improves with the next generation cars, I wonder if Blaney will start to dominate.

87. Santiago Urrutia


Urrutia finished 5th in the World Touring Car Cup but his season was not as strong as that implies. Both of his wins were lucky as he led start-to-finish in the second Hungary race and the first Italy race despite backing into the pole both times, inheriting the lead at Hungary after Rob Huff was forced to start in the pit lane and starting on the pole because of a grid inversion in Italy. Despite driving for the champion Yann Ehrlacher's team, he was the 3rd highest points finisher on the team behind Ehrlacher and 4th place Yvan Muller and only ahead of 9th place Thed Björk, but he ran about the same as all of them in their head-to-heads, as he surprisingly lost to Ehrlacher only 6-7, was beaten worse by Ehrlacher's uncle Muller 5-7, but only beat Björk 7-5. Furthermore, despite driving for the championship team and winning two races, he never made an on-track pass for the lead. If only the races set by actual qualifying counted for points, he'd have dropped to 6th and Norbert Michelisz, who I ended up not even listing, woluld have been slotted one spot ahead of him. But I do know that even though field inversions are a dumb idea, the races where they do occur are still taken seriously. The main reason I rated him here to begin with is because he was so close to the champion, but while writing this, I'm starting to think I might have overrated him.

86. Valtteri Bottas


Bottas's final season at Mercedes was not one of his strongest, as he lost to Lewis Hamilton at 3-14 and posted stronger records against him every year except 2018, when he went 3-16. He definitely underachieved posting a driver rating of .081, only 39th among open wheel drivers and 11th among F1 drivers, although he also rated above Pierre Gasly for 2021 according to my model, which I definitely don't agree with. His only win at Istanbul came after Hamilton won the pole and had a grid penalty. Perhaps many people would say I should've left him off the top 100 list to begin with, but I think he narrowly deserved it. He still had a blistering one lap pace at times with four poles and four fastest laps, but he was definitely slower in the actual races than he was earlier in the weekend, as he was only the 5th fastest driver in 2021 behind not only Sergio Pérez but also Charles Leclerc. Having said that, what he lacked in speed he definitely gained in consistency. He was the highest-finisher among drivers other than Max Verstappen and Hamilton nine times, while Pérez only placed there four times, which is not unimpressive considering he had a slower average speed than Pérez. However, he probably didn't do enough to justify not getting replaced by George Russell, which did seem inevitable as soon as the 2020 Sakhir race where Russell on his Mercedes debut while subbing for Hamilton looked significantly faster than Bottas. While Bottas wasn't bad, he didn't do enough to make people forget that race or Russell qualifying 2nd in 2021's Williams, which Bottas himself probably wouldn't have done either.

85. Stéphane Peterhansel

I still think the Dakar Rally winner should probably always be placed somewhere on my top 100 list, although I'm not sure whether I should take it less seriously in recent years since they stopped racing to Dakar, and this probably wasn't one of Peterhansel's best performances. He only won one stage in the 2021 event, while he won multiple stages in 11 of his other 13 wins. He is now in his mid-50s since it seems that aside from the World Rally Championship, young drivers aren't really getting into this discipline as much as many others. Case in point, the drivers who finished 2nd and 3rd to him, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Carlos Sainz, Sr., both also racing legends, were also both in their fifties by the time of this event. As a result, I'm probably overrating this as an accomplishment to some degree since the WRC and to a lesser degree rallycross attract the younger rallying stars while Dakar, like the Baja 1000, has become something dominated by racing veterans with lesser youth appeal. I still think it's probably one of the prestigious races in the world though even though it's certainly not as prestigious as it was when they were actually racing to Dakar.

84. Jordan Taylor

IMSA GTLM111443.62521125.047.49N/A
WEC LMGTE ProNR1000.0000004.665.22N/A

Taylor and Antonio García won their second consecutive IMSA GTLM championship, which was the fifth championship overall for García and the fourth for Taylor. However, the GTLM class was very shallow in 2021 as there were only three full-time entries in the class: the two Corvettes and the WeatherTech Racing #79. Normally, I downgrade performances against very weak fields, but I question whether GTLM was that weak. For one thing, three of the four Corvette drivers: Taylor, García, and especially Nick Tandy would all probably rank among the top 20 sports car drivers of the last decade. Secondly, when the Corvette drivers competed in the deeper GTE Pro class at Le Mans, they were all above average in speed and Tandy was the fastest in the entire class. Clearly the Corvette drivers would have been championship-contenders in IMSA even if the fields were deeper this year, so I don't think their performances should be downgraded too much simply because the field was weak. Taylor was the slowest of the four Corvette drivers this year and the only one of them to not have multiple fastest races, which is a strike against him. However, most of his other statistics were exceptional enough indeed for me to list him anyway. He had the most TNL in the class with 4, including the 24 Hours of Daytona (no other drivers had more than two), he had the most lead shares with 3.62, the most poles with 5 (which were all consecutive), and he was only barely 2nd behind Tandy in terms of average percent led in the class with 25.0. In addition to their 24 Hours of Daytona win with Nicky Catsburg, they also won the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen en route to the championship. His main blemish was at Le Mans, where Alessandro Pier Guidi passed him mid-race for what eventually became the win, but Pier Guidi had an incredible year so that's nothing to be ashamed about, and Taylor's Corvette team still finished 2nd.

83. Brandon Overton

I admit I had never heard of him until reading this Reddit post while doing research for this list. However, when I looked him up, I was convinced. The dirt late model driver collected 31 wins in 88 starts, winning over $900,000 in competition in 2021. He didn't run any particular series full-time but instead cherry-picked races all year long. He won 4 races in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, 5 more in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, and swept all 5 of his starts in the Ultimate Super Late Model Series according to The Third Turn. But the season highlight no doubt was his win at Eldora in June where he won against Kyle Larson in the middle of Larson's hot streak where he won three Cup races and the All-Star Race in between. He proved to be one of the only drivers to intimidate Larson all season, as Larson himself quipped that he wouldn't have won the All Star Race so easily if Overton had been entered. While that certainly isn't true since he has no Cup experience, I was convinced by all this that he deserved placement on the list. However, because I still think dirt late models are an extremely niche aspect of motorsports even relative to the World of Outlaws and USAC, which also aren't held in very high esteem outside the United States, I don't think he should be ranked very high. I'm willing to admit my ignorance on this one though.

82. Kyle Kirkwood

IMSA GTD294000.0610009.072.15N/A

Normally, I find Indy Lights to be one of the shallowest open wheel series, even shallower than this year's Super Formula, and I would rarely ever list a post-CART era Indy Lights champion on my top 100 list. This year was an exception as Kirkwood was no mere Indy Lights champion. One of the hottest American open wheel prospects in decades, Kirkwood became the first driver to win all three minor-league steps of the IndyCar ladder since the Road to Indy was introduced in 2010, and on top of that, he won all three series in his rookie season, which is usually an indicator of future greatness. He also tied Greg Moore's record for the most Indy Lights wins in a season with ten. Granted, I would argue that Moore was more impressive because he won his ten races in twelve starts and was essentially uncontested while Kirkwood had twenty starts and had to fight off a pesky David Malukas who wasn't much less dominant. Additionally Moore was 20 years old while Kirkwood was 22. Having said that, Kirkwood probably would have won the championship in 2020 instead if his career hadn't got slightly derailed when the Indy Lights series was canceled due to COVID. But no matter. Kirkwood decided to bide his time by getting some practice in IMSA, which probably helped Pato O'Ward become the great driver he now is when he temporarily dropped out of Indy Lights in 2017 to race IMSA instead before dominating the series in 2018. Kirkwood seems to be on much the same pace. In addition to his Indy Lights races, Kirkwood also ran the four marquee IMSA endurance races in the GTD class and did quite well. Despite never starting the 24 Hours of Daytona or 12 Hours of Sebring before, he led a combined 99 laps in those events, led all four of those races, won the pole at Watkins Glen, and had the third-highest average percent led of all the drivers in the class, which is pretty impressive since 106 drivers competed in IMSA GTD in 2021, and even more so considering his relative inexperience. Granted, GTD isn't the most prestigious IMSA class, but he was competing against (and proving much more dominant than) a lot of past IndyCar drivers. He would have been borderline worthy of consideration for the top 100 even based on just his IMSA stuff, but his Indy Lights dominance makes it a no-brainer. It's a pity he's going to be starting out in an A.J. Foyt car while Devlin DeFrancesco, the teammate he utterly dominated in Lights, is going to be starting out in an Andretti car.

81. Nasser Al-Attiyah

You can largely cut and paste what I wrote for Stéphane Peterhansel here. As usual, he continues to be one of the perennial threats in the Dakar Rally. Although he lost the rally to Peterhansel by less than 14 minutes, he dominated in terms of stages as he won five stages in addition to winning the prologue while Peterhansel only won one. But as I said in the Peterhansel section, it's hard to evaluate how significant an accomplishment this is since I know that the rally isn't taken as seriously since it left Dakar and especially because all the top practitioners are now senior citizens. Why do I have Al-Attiyah higher than Peterhansel then? Winning substantially more stages is part of it, but the real reason is that he also won an FIA championship in 2021, the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

80. Théo Pourchaire

Considered one of the hottest Formula One prospects and probably Oscar Piastri's chief rival, Pourchaire had an impressive year in Formula 2, probably more impressive than his fifth-place points finish implies. While Piastri did win both the Formula 3 championship in 2020 and Formula 2 championship in 2021 over Pourchaire, they were still fairly closely matched. In 2020, when both were rookies in F3, Piastri beat Pourchaire by a mere 3 points with both drivers winning two races. Last year, it was not nearly as close with Piastri winning the championship and six races while Pourchaire finished 5th and won two races. However, I'm not entirely positive Piastri had the stronger performance. Both Piastri and Pourchaire beat their veteran teammates, with Piastri beat Robert Shwartzman 12-6, and Pourchaire beating Christian Lundgaard 14-2. In 2020, Shwartzman finished 4th in F2 to Lundgaard's 7th, so I think these are actually very evenly matched performances and think Pourchaire didn't keep up with Piastri solely because he had a slower car. When you consider that Lundgaard was fast enough to qualify 4th on his IndyCar debut at the second Indy GP, faster than any other Rahal driver did that season, this clearly indicates that Pourchaire has massive potential. (And also in my opinion that Lundgaard is overrated.) There aren't many F1 seats out there and even Piastri wasn't able to find one, so Pourchaire might not be able to either, but if he wins next year's F2 championship as is probably expected, he might stand a better shot as the long-standing early millennial veterans begin to age out of the series.

79. Mike Conway

WEC Hypercar16311.50022018.762.25N/A
IMSA DPi114000.0000000.641.74N/A

After years of working his way up the sports car ladder after leaving IndyCar, Conway had probably the best year of his career winning his second consecutive World Endurance Championship and topping it off by claiming his first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory alongside his teammates Kamui Kobayashi and José María López. I do believe both of his teammates were better as they were both faster than him 4 races to 2 and Kobayashi had a speed percentile of 84.50% to López's 74.87% and Conway's 62.25%. I have also rated Sébastien Buemi higher because he also had a faster speed percentile than did Conway. However, in various other statistics, he was not far off his teammates. He was only barely less dominant Kobayashi and López as Lopez averaged 19.8% led to Kobayashi's 19.1% and Conway's 18.7%. He was the only Hypercar driver to lead the most laps in two races, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and he tied Buemi as the only drivers to set two fastest laps in the class. He was also the TNL at the first Bahrain race. While unlike four of his other five teammates, he was never the fastest drivers in a race, he was a constant, steady presence that is easily worthy of this list, in spite of the fact that his IMSA outings weren't nearly as impressive.

78. Rory Butcher


The British Touring Car Championship driver failed to make Touring Car Times's top 30 touring car drivers of the year and the same member on the auto racing Discord I post on who told me that Gordon Shedden and Daniel Rowbottom didn't belong on even the top 200 list advised me to drop Butcher as well, but I will not be doing that. I suspect the reason people think lowly about Butcher's season is because he finished 7th in the championship while driving a factory/constructor car for Toyota Gazoo Racing, which elsewhere was the most dominant team in both the World Endurance Championship and World Rally Championship. Additionally, Butcher finished behind four independent drivers in the championship as well: Ashley Sutton, Josh Cook, Tom Ingram, and Shedden. However, I'm still impressed. For one thing, I think the constructor/independent distinction in BTCC doesn't seem to mean much of anything since the faster cars have to carry more success ballast weight than the slower cars do. Additionally, the same drivers tend to dominate every year and it doesn't seem to matter whether they're technically driving for an independent or constructor entry. There are many things in Butcher's favor that I do think were worthy of a low-level placement on this list. In addition to his three wins, he was the third most dominant driver in the series with an average percent led of 10.2%, even surpassing the champion Ashley Sutton's mark of 7.5%. All of his wins were straight up deserved on speed as he did not win any of the gimmicky inverted grid races, while Sutton, Turkington, and Ingram all did. Most of all, Butcher demolished his teammate Sam Smelt in what must rank as one of the biggest blowouts between two teammates in a major league series in history: Butcher scored 247 to Smelt's *5*. He had an undefeated 20-0 record against Smelt in their mutually finished races, which is also extremely rare for any kind of major league racing series. While perhaps that was more because Smelt was bad than because Butcher was good, I think such an incredible disparity like that makes the case for itself regardless.

77. Ott Tanak

The driver who ended Sébastien Ogier's streak of six consecutive World Rally Championships and in doing so became the first non-Sébastien to win a championship since 2003 fell off from his 2019 form and only finished 5th in the WRC, but that did not reflect how well he ran. He had more raw speed than anyone in the WRC this year, as he had 49 stage wins, more than any other driver including eventual champion Ogier who only had 43, but he was let down by unreliable equipment. A puncture at the season-opening Monaco rally forced him to retire, and suspension failures in the Portuguese and Italian rallies shortly thereafter eliminated him from the championship, but he made mistakes in Estonia and Spain that took him out of the points and dropped him behind his teammate Thierry Neuville who beat him 4 races to 3 even though Tanak was somewhat faster. If he can regain his consistency of the previous four years, he will probably still be a championship contender.

76. Nick Tandy

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Tandy was the fastest and most dominant IMSA GTLM driver of the year but he did so in a year when only the four Corvette Racing drivers ran full-time. Having said that, as I mentioned in the Jordan Taylor entry, the Corvette drivers are easily competitive enough with each other that they still probably would have been championship-caliber even if the fields were substantially deeper, and we'll probably see that in 2022 now that the former GTLM and GTD drivers have been grouped together in a single GT class. Tandy led every major GTLM category that Taylor did not lead in 2021. He led the most laps in six of the eleven races, set the fastest lap four times when no other driver did in the class, had the fastest average race speed twice, and averaged 28.6% of the race led - he was even substantially more dominant than Kevin Éstre in their IMSA GTLM starts. Additionally, in his one-off at Le Mans, he set the fastest average speed of all drivers in the GTE Pro class. Having said all that, I didn't rank him higher because he lost a championship where there were only either two or three competitive full-season cars and he didn't win either the 24 Hours of Le Mans or any of the four marquee IMSA races.

75. Sébastien Loeb

One of the most versatile drivers of the twenty-first century made another series switch as he competed in the new Extreme E electric off-road series, which features most of the major stars from the World Rallycross Championship in recent years. Loeb finished second in the championship to Johan Kristoffersson, claiming victory in the final race, the "Jurassic X-Prix" in Dorset. In this series, male and female stars are paired up together and Loeb and his co-driver Cristina Gutiérrez combined to win poles for all five events, although Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor usually won the races. However, the reason why I've ranked him substantially below Kristofferson and Timmy Hansen, the third-place driver in points who he also beat, is because he did not also compete in World Rallycross in 2021 while they had strong results there. Loeb's one major racing crossover came in the Dakar Rally, but he failed to finish. Nonetheless, even if he isn't the dominant force he was ten to fifteen years ago, he remains very good and quite versatile.

74. Felipe Fraga

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WEC LMGTE Am26110.5001007.277.81N/A

One of the oddities of sports car racing is that inferior drivers can back into championships if their teams hire greatly superior drivers to play clean-up hitter for them and alternate races. That happened in IMSA's LMP3 class in 2021 when Gar Robinson won a championship as an individual, even though his two teammates Scott Andrews and Fraga did all the work. Fraga, the former two-time Stock Car Brasil champion had a massive sports car breakout in 2021 in only his second full-time sports car season as he claimed six victories in three different series. Of all the drivers who made more than one start in any IMSA class, Fraga had both the highest speed percentile at 96.75% and the highest average percent led at 32.86%. Nobody dominated in any IMSA class like he did, although admittedly Andrews, who had a speed percentile of 93.80% and an average percent led of 21.78%, wasn't too far behind. Fraga was only beaten in speed three times by one driver each in his five combined starts while Robinson, the actual champion, had a speed percentile of 34.31%. However, because Robinson started all seven races while Fraga only started five and Andrews started four, Fraga didn't get proper credit. His performance was amazing regardless. He had 2 TNL, led the most laps 3 times, and had 3 fastest races in IMSA. Additionally, he also ran full-time in the GTE Am class where he and his teammates Ben Keating and Dylan Pereira finished a distant second in the championship. Fraga wasn't quite as impressive there, but he was still the TNL in his class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and won and led the most laps in the Bahrain 6 Hour. He was the fastest driver on his WEC team as well, although admittedly Pereira was very close to him in speed. However, unlike Andrews and Pereira, Fraga managed to win in both series and he also won in the GT World Challenge Europe with an entirely different set of teammates.

73. William Byron


Since 2009, I've been competing in a private fantasy league with a lot of racing ex-bloggers run by The SpeedGeek where we pick a team of drivers across Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR Cup, IMSA, WEC, and occasionally other series. A few years ago, SpeedGeek allowed us to sign prospects in one year's draft and keep them in subsequent years. While he was still in Xfinity, I figured Byron would probably advance to Cup shortly as both Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne's careers were clearly winding down so I signed Byron before he even got to Cup. However, I let him go for 2021 because I decided to keep George Russell instead, gambling that he would eventually land a Mercedes ride. While I correctly predicted that, I was still clearly wrong to give up on Byron so soon. I felt like if he only earned one win in his first three Hendrick series (on a plate track no less) that he probably wasn't going to amount to much à la Erik Jones. I was way off! Once reunited with Rudy Fugle, the crew chief from his dominant truck season, he had a significant breakout starting with his win at Homestead, which launched him on an 11-race top ten streak, the longest of the season. Although he was nowhere near as consistent in the second half thanks to four crash DNFs, he was a bigger factor in consistently fighting for the race lead and for wins in general later in the season. Although he only won one race and only ranked 12th in my stock car teammate model for 2021, I think neither of those really reflects how well he run. For one thing, he was higher in almost every other statistical category than wins: he had 2 TNL, 2.47 lead shares, 2 poles (in a season where qualifying hardly existed), 2 races where he led the most laps, 4 races where he had the fastest lap, and 3 races where he had the fastest average speed. He was the third-fastest driver in Cup this year behind only Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson. The main problem besides the crashes (most of which weren't his fault) was his conservatism. He was good at being fast, but not as good at passing (although still better than his teammate Alex Bowman who won many more races.) Apart from the Charlotte roval, where he did try really hard to win and advance, he didn't take as many chances as most of the other title contenders, leading to fewer wins than he should have had. However, I think that will likely change in 2022: qualifying is returning which helps a driver who is better at being fast than dueling, the new generation of car should benefit a younger driver like him, and he seemed to be improving at dueling as the season progressed. While I still don't expect him to be the team leader at Hendrick against Larson or Chase Elliott, I do think he'll be significantly closer in the future.

72. Jake Hill


Hill became a superstar in the British Touring Car Championship in 2021 by posting his first multi-win season in the series and scoring his first top five points finish. This is in spite of the fact that he wasn't driving a car that was particularly fast. Although he himself was the 4th fastest driver in the BTCC, all his teammates Ollie Jackson, Sam Osborne, Andy Neate, Jessica Hawkins, and Paul Rivett were below average in speed - sometimes way below average. He didn't win any poles, which can make it difficult to win in a series where the races tend to last only about a half hour. However, what he lacked in speed he gained in passing ability. Hill had a 3-1 lead change record in the BTCC this year (only Jack Ingram and eventual champion Ashley Sutton had better lead change records), and he had several remarkable drives through the field. In the 3rd race at Thruxton, he started 9th and dropped to 20th before eventually overtaking Sutton in heavy rain before Sutton passed him back five laps later - he was in fact the only driver to pass Sutton all season in a year Sutton had a 6-1 lead change record, the best in the series. He also took the lead from Sutton's teammate Aiden Moffat on the start to win at Croft in addition to his win at Silverstone in the third inverted grid race. Although the grid was inverted, he did still have to pass Daniel Lloyd to win, unlike other cases like Adam Morgan or Senna Proctor where the drivers only won because they started on the pole in an inverted grid race. Hill looks to be one of the BTCC's rising stars and perhaps a likely contender for future championships.

71. Kyle Busch


Busch's mini-slump from 2020 continued into 2021, but he definitely improved on his 2020 performance in several ways. Perhaps surprisingly, he was the fifth-highest rated driver in my teammate model. Even though it seemed like Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. dominated him all year and I did rate both of them higher, he shockingly beat Hamlin in their teammate head-to-head 18-14 and tied Truex 15-15. I do think both of them have much better seasons as Busch only looked better than them for a short period in the early summer, but he was probably closer than most NASCAR fans realized. He probably remains the most talented driver on the team, but seems to be going through another period of defeating himself: he seems miserable in interviews, consistently expects the worst as opposed to the stereotype of drivers usually predicting better than their actual results, and that probably is contributing to his current underachievement more than the lack of practice, which he himself is blaming. Having said that, his performance in all categories is better than both you and he likely think it is: he was 4th in lead shares (ahead of Hamlin), 6th in average percent led, and 5th in speed, all better than his 9th place points finish or his interviews imply. He was also 4th in races led naturally (again ahead of Hamlin) with 15 and again surprisingly, he had a better lead change record at 20-15 than any driver in Cup except for Chase Elliott and Austin Cindric (even Kyle Larson.) His main issues seem to be that he was weaker towards the end of races than at the start and that he lacked consistency, but both of those seem to primarily be more mental issues. He is clearly still capable of top-notch driving and unlike the sudden declines of Scott Dixon and Kevin Harvick, which may turn out to be permanent, I do expect Busch to bounce back from this.

70. Brad Sweet

The ex-NASCAR driver has made a name for himself as the biggest millennial star in the World of Outlaws. In 2021, Sweet won his third-consecutive championship and matched his all-time record of 16 wins in a season from 2019 (weirdly, he had exactly the same number of top fives at 47, and almost the exact same number of top tens, with 65 in 2019 and 64 in 2021; albeit his 2019 season was probably more impressive because the season was five races shorter.) Although it doesn't seem like he'll ever dominate the series as much as Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz once did and Tyler Courtney and Kyle Larson kept swooping in to win the big prizes like the Knoxville Nationals and both Kings Royals, I still think the World of Outlaws champion should always make the back half of my top 100 list (especially one who wins the most races in a season.) There are a few WoO seasons in earlier decades that I might consider for top fifty placement, but most of them will be Steve Kinser seasons from the '80s and '90s; I think nowadays the series is both much more of a niche and also more competitive, so there will probably never be another Kinser, but it'll be interesting to see how long Sweet can extend his streak. I now realize looking at this very closely that I probably should have considered David Gravel and Carson Macedo for my top 200 also since they came very close to Sweet in points and won 11 races each, but alas. I didn't think of it. Maybe I'll continue to edit this list slightly in the future.

69. Gabriel Casagrande

One of the most obscure drivers on this list, Casagrande does not even have a Wikipedia page in English yet, but he was certainly deserving regardless. This year, he claimed the Stock Car Brasil championship despite his A. Mattheis Motorsport team clearly having a significant equipment deficit to the powerhouse Eurofarma RC operation, which had won four straight championships from 2017 and 2020 and won nine races with three different drivers in 2021. Casagrande's team had won a couple championships in the distant past, most recently in 2008, but they certainly weren't favored to last year. Casagrande only won two races but he was way more consistent than Eurofarma's star Ricardo Maurício, who won seven of the nine Eurofarma races (and incidentally, Maurício was the last driver to win the championship for Casagrande's current team.) You can get some idea of how slow Casagrande's cars were relative to the rest of the field when you realize that his teammate Gustavo Lima finished 25th in points. Casagrande had a 12-3 teammate record against Lima, but probably ran better than even that implies. I don't know much about Stock Car Brasil but I know it is fairly prestigious because many notable drivers from Brazilian motorsport finish their careers there: in 2021 alone, famous international drivers like Ricardo Zonta, Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa, Nelson Piquet, Jr., and Tony Kanaan ran most if not all of the schedule, and most of them didn't even do very well. When also considering Felipe Fraga and Daniel Serra's raw speed in their sports car crossovers this year, it's clear that Casagrande is probably in all respects one of the most underrated drivers of the year. Someone get this man a Wikipedia page.

68. Maximilian Götz

While I'm not going to ignore the DTM champion, this is one instance where I'd definitely like to. Not only did the series seem to lose prestige in 2021 after the factory-backed teams withdrew to the point that even the touring car fans don't pretend to call it a touring series anymore despite the name, but Götz backed into the title in one of the cheesiest ways imaginable, one that makes the F1 finale look like a paragon of virtue in comparison. Liam Lawson was almost certainly the best DTM driver of 2021 and would have clinched with an 8th place finish in the finale at Norisring, but despite winning the pole for both Norisring races, his championship rival Kelvin van der Linde decided to try to wreck him out in both races thinking he needed to in order to win the championship, succeeding in the second race. However, like Michael Schumacher in 1997, van der Linde was also hoisted by his own petard as Lawson beat him in the first Norisring race anyway and he too was affected in the second race and failed to score points. That paved the way for Götz to win both races and back into the championship, but only after fellow Mercedes drivers Philip Ellis and Lucas Auer were ordered to let him past to ensure a Mercedes championship. Even worse, they weren't even his teammates as Götz drove for Team HRT while Ellis and Auer drove for Team Winward; a manufacturer order seems even more outrageous than a team order. Furthermore, Götz backed into his other win at the Lausitzring when van der Linde suddenly slowed. Had any of those things not happened, Götz, who had a best points finish of 20th in two previous DTM seasons and has never won a natural race, would not have backed into a freak championship. Götz had no poles and no fastest laps either, making it even more clear he didn't win on speed. Having said that, I still listed him because I do think the DTM champion should be listed, even if it was only a result of gimmick upon gimmick. Additionally, I think the car he drove in 2021 was kind of slow as his teammate Vincent Abril finished 14th in points and Götz beat him 10-1. He shouldn't have been the champion and I certainly rate van der Linde and especially Lawson much higher, but it was still a very good season regardless of the controversy.

67. Nicklas Nielsen

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The lead driver for the WEC GTE Am team that beat Fraga for the championship, Nielsen and his co-drivers François Perrodo and the aforementioned Alessio Rovera won four out of six races to romp to the championship by a massive margin of 150 to 90.5. Although Rovera was slightly more dominant with an average percent led of 18.1%, Nielsen was the second most dominant driver in the class and no one else was even close. Like Rovera, he was all over the leaderboards for most of the statistical categories I calculated, as he was the TNL at Monza, led the most laps at Monza and Le Mans, and set the fastest lap at the Bahrain 8 Hours, all of which his team won. He also competed at the 24 Hours of Daytona, where he was very fast with a speed percentile of 86.3%, and an average percent led of 8.3% although he did not win it. However, what really separates him from Rovera is the fact that he also claimed overall victory in the 24 Hours of Spa co-driving with Alessandro Pier Guidi and Côme Lodegar. The triumvirate led after 6 hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours, which (much like NASCAR stage points) all awarded points towards the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, enabling the trio to win the championship solely based on their performance in that one race. Winning multiple sports car championships will nearly always get you in the top 100. Although that's not exactly uncommon, I don't think it happens every year either. However, Nielsen wasn't the only driver to do that this year.

66. Lucas di Grassi


The first thing that comes to mind about di Grassi's Formula E season this year is that he was the beneficiary of what was probably the stupidest officiating call in all of racing this year. At the second London race, he drove through the pits under caution while not the leader and came out with the lead because the pit road had a faster speed limit than the safety car's caution flag speed. While in a normal series, you'd expect that he would have been placed behind all the other lead lap cars or at least sent back to his original position, but no. They actually let him restart in the lead! Admittedly, he was disqualified for it afterward, but this particular incident is so bizarre it overshadows his entire season to me and made me want to leave him off the list at first. Unfortunately, I realized that I couldn't justify that. Although he only finished 7th in points, he ran better than that implies, as he was tied for the most wins, TNL, and races leading the most laps with 2 apiece, was the only driver to make 4 on-track passes for the lead all season, had an undefeated 4-0 lead change record while no one else was even close to that, and led in lead shares with 1.9 in a season where all the top 15 Formula E drivers were ridiculously evenly matched. His only blemishes were that his teammate René Rast was faster than him and had a positive teammate record against him, but since Rast didn't lead at all and finished much lower in points, it's clear that di Grassi had the better season regardless. I did rate seven more Formula E drivers above him, but the main reason for that is a lot of those drivers doubled up and also had significant accomplishments in sports car racing while di Grassi, despite his past success as a sports car racer, is driving in Formula E only. Perhaps his passing numbers were great enough that maybe he should have been listed in the top 50, but I think his championship finish was too weak, not to mention that it's hard to ignore the chutzpah of attempting (and somehow getting away with) an illegal pass under caution.

65. Hélio Castroneves

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I'm going to have to eat a lot of crow on this one. After years of calling Castroneves one of the most overrated IndyCar drivers in history in previous articles, he delivered probably the most impressive win of his career in the 2021 Indy 500. I had been dreading that moment for quite some time and when he finally did win, I regretfully admit that my first emotion was annoyance. I did not think he belonged in a group with A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears, who all won at least three championships while he never did and never really had a moment where he was the undisputed best driver like the others did. Additionally, he did not make an on-track pass for the lead in either of his first two wins and both of them were controversial. While the 2002 controversy is well-known, I seem to be one of the only people who noticed that in 2001, he initially took the lead in the pits by switching lanes and cutting off Tony Stewart in a move IRL officials determined to be illegal; he was forced to restart behind Stewart but his teammate Gil de Ferran was forced to restart behind him, even though he had beaten Stewart out of the pits and committed no violation; this ended up deciding the race when Stewart pitted. Because of all that, I was not looking forward to this but I must admit he really surprised me this time with what was probably his greatest drive ever. He had a frantic late-race duel with eventual champion Álex Palou (they exchanged the lead 11 times), delivered Meyer Shank Racing its first win as a team, and set the fastest average speed in Indy 500 history. Admittedly, I don't care about that last accomplishment as much as the Indy historians do since race average speed simply has to do with how many caution laps there are and little else these days, but I will admit that races with fewer cautions are often better measures of actual on-track performance. Sure, you can argue that Meyer Shank Racing was something of an Andretti satellite and Andretti is traditionally fast at Indy, but they did not do well this year with Colton Herta leading the Andretti contingent in 16th place. I think Castroneves won without the best car, which is somewhat atypical for him historically. He also was on the winning 24 Hours of Daytona team, becoming the first driver to win both of those races in the same year, although the Wayne Taylor Racing full-time drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor certainly did most of the work with Albuquerque leading the most laps and Taylor being the TNL. It doesn't really matter that his other IndyCar starts were lackluster, that he ended up being beaten in his IndyCar starts 4-2 by Jack Harvey, thereby giving him an extremely low teammate rating. I honestly don't think Castroneves cared about any of the other IndyCar races this year and in this particular case, I don't think it matters. Honestly, I think it would have been cool if he had retired in victory lane since I'll still be pretty surprised if he ever wins a race again, but I could be wrong as I've underestimated him before. In retrospect, as gimmicky as I still find his first two Indy wins, I enjoyed the picture of the four four-time champions standing side-to-side, and since Al Unser died not long afterward, that made me reconsider the whole thing, making me glad he got one final moment in the spotlight before riding off in the sunset.

64. George Russell


Valtteri Bottas's replacement at Mercedes certainly does seem to be an improvement in my mind, but the question is how much of an improvement because Russell's career at Williams is strangely hard to evaluate. I do think Bottas jumped to F1 slightly too early by jumping to F1 immediately after his GP3 championship, while Russell followed the conventional route and developed properly with an F2 championship win, which should help him in the long run. However, his teammate comparison with Nicholas Latifi in 2021 was rather bizarre. On the surface, Russell did utterly dominate him by 12-1 in races and a staggering 20-2 in qualifying. He impressively advanced to the final round in qualifying four times, including a 3rd place start at Sochi and a 2nd place start at Spa, which turned into a freak 2nd place finish when the race ended after one lap. Russell's defeat of Latifi gave him a rating of .183, good enough for 24th best among all open-wheel drivers and 8th best among F1 drivers. Three of the drivers ranked above him were Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, and Antonio Giovinazzi, who all clearly benefited from their teammates' past greatness, even though Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Räikkönen are nowhere near as good as they once were, so you could make the case based on the raw teammate comparisons alone that Russell was as good as fifth, behind only Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Lando Norris, and Charles Leclerc. I considered him for the elite tier and the top 50 for this reason. However, Latifi was way closer to Russell in terms of his race pace than you may realize. Shockingly, Latifi actually had a higher average speed percentile at 21.57 to Russell's 20.50, largely based on a faster than average race Latifi had at Sochi, where Russell was rather slow because he dropped back from 3rd to 10th. When it came to average speed, Russell was faster than Latifi 12 times to Latifi's 6, and they were tied once. If I plugged in his speed record against Latifi instead of his race record, Russell actually had a below average season. Having said all that, I think his race record is closer to the truth, but Latifi's greater speed than expected relative to Russell caused me to downgrade Russell a bit more than I thought I was going to.

63. Sébastien Buemi

WEC Hypercar26332.00012214.071.66N/A

I had to think long and hard about whether I was going to dock Buemi for having the worst Formula E season of his career. Buemi, still the all-time winningest driver in the series (although probably not for much longer) finished in the top four in the championship each of the first six seasons, but suddenly and unexpectedly dropped to 21st in 2021. However, in sports car racing, he was still very good. In his WEC Toyota gig, he was the 3rd fastest driver and 4th most dominant driver of the six Toyota drivers, and he was far faster and more dominant than the two co-drivers of his car, Kazuki Nakajima and especially Brendon Hartley. He had the fastest average speed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as the 8 Hours of Bahrain, led the class with three TNLs (although that means hardly nothing when the Toyota drivers frequently had lead changes dictated by team orders), led the most laps at Spa, and set the fastest lap at the 6 Hours of Bahrain. He was the leader in one of the main categories I covered in five of six races, which only Kamui Kobayashi also was. Ultimately, I think the sports car performances on their own are still worthy of the top one hundred and I don't think I should dock Buemi for his weak Formula E season (i.e. penalizing him beyond just what his sports car results warrant.) However, I would still rate all his previous double-dipping Formula E/WEC seasons higher than this because his Formula E results were much better and also because he failed to win the WEC championship and Le Mans this year, even though he was clearly the leader on his team relative to Mike Conway and Kazuki Nakajima. I think he still had a very good season, but as with Scott Dixon and Kevin Harvick, it was the first time in many years I wouldn't say he had an elite one.

62. Kalle Rovanperä

In his second full-time World Rally Championship season, Rovanperä had a breakout season, winning two rallies in Estonia and Greece en route to a fourth-place finish in teh championship. However, he was still far off both of his teammates Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans, scoring 142 points to their 230 and 207, respectively. However, I admit I am probably underrating Rovanperä here both because I acknowledge I'm fairly ignorant about rally racing and also because he is far younger than his veteran teammates. His accomplishments were quite solid for a driver who just turned 21 when considering that Evans is 33 and Ogier is 38. If I were considering potential in my rankings as well as actual raw performance, he would certainly be much higher, but I tried to rank based on the objective seasonal performance without taking into account things like age curves, although I may do something like that eventually. Rovanperä's season was quite similar to Ogier's second season in 2010, when Ogier too won his first two rallies and finished 4th in the points. The difference? Ogier was six years older.

61. Kelvin van der Linde

van der Linde had explosive speed in DTM but coupled that with a consistently obnoxious display of aggression thereby making him one of the most controversial drivers of the year. Although he led DTM in both wins with 4 and poles with 5, his tendency to overdrive allowed Liam Lawson to be consistent enough to overcome van der Linde's slightly greater dominance. He entered Norisring with a 14 point deficit to Lawson. Lawson qualified on the pole in both Norisring races with van der Linde starting alongside. van der Linde tried to drive into Lawson in the first race but failed; he did the same in the second race and succeeded but also effectively took himself out paving the way for Maximilian Götz absurd title. Normally, I think I would put a season like van der Linde's in the top fifty based on his overall accomplishments, but I think the blemish he put on both Lawson's season and the DTM season in general is enough to place him slightly outside. It doesn't help that he had some major sports car wins in 2020 and didn't in 2021.

60. Frédéric Vervisch


Vervisch finished a career-best second in the World Touring Car Cup and earned his first multi-win season in the series, even though the season had many fewer races than the 2019 and 2020 seasons did. Additionally, he was tied for first in wins and TNL, tied for 2nd in lead shares, first in fastest laps by a large margin with five, tied for 2nd in average percent led, 5th in speed, and tied for first with the champion Yann Ehrlacher for the most fastest races. Additionally, if you counted only the races that had starting grids based on qualifying instead of reverse grids, he would have scored more points than any other driver. So why do I have him this low? The first main issue I have is that he didn't make a pass for the lead. He did lead both the second Spanish race and the first French race, but in both instances he started on the pole, and in the latter, he drew the pole, while none of the other championship contenders got to back into a race quite this way. I also think based on his other seasons when he finished 9th and 12th in points in seasons with a greater sample size of races that his season likely overstated his actual performance. I note that TouringCarTimes, which rated the top 30 touring car drivers of 2021, only placed him 12th and 5th among WTCR regulars. I disagree with that: I certainly rate his season over Santiago Urrutia's, but I do agree that the three WTCR drivers they rated higher were better.

59. Jake Dennis


No series on earth was weirder than Formula E this year, and the series letting Lucas di Grassi take the lead under caution is merely the tip of the iceberg. There were numerous artificial lead changes when drivers entered "attack mode", where they drove off track and gave up positions in exchange for giving their cars more power. There were an unusually high 13 disqualifications. Almost half the field ran out of energy in the first Valencia race. That's not even mentioning the gimmickry from past years like the FanBoost. The fifteen races had a staggering eleven different winners and different drivers contended in practically every race, even the tracks that held double-headers. The fastest driver René Rast failed to win a race and finished 13th in points, while the champion Nyck de Vries only ranked 11th in overall speed. It felt like the top fifteen drivers were all relatively even, so sorting this out was a mess, but here we go. Driving for Andretti's Formula E team, Dennis was the highest-finishing rookie in the championship in third and he tied de Vries, Sam Bird, and Lucas di Grassi with the most wins at two. He was also the most dominant driver in the series with an average percent led of 12.5%. So why don't I have him higher? Because like all Formula E drivers, he had a weirdly incongruous profile in a lot of other categories. For one thing, despite his success, he was only the 20th fastest driver with a speed percentile of 43.89, which is more to be expected for a rookie, and his teammate Maximilian Günther was actually faster. Secondly, his teammate record against Günther was only 5-4, giving him a negative teammate rating of -.019, while four of the five FE drivers I rated higher all had teammate ratings over .2. Finally, many of the major Formula E stars doubled up by competing in other major league racing series (usually the WEC) while he did not. He had a very good season, especially for a rookie, but I think it was a slightly overrated one.

58. Laurens Vanthoor

IMSA GTD110400.28030314.889.97N/A

While Autosport rated Laurens's brother Dries on their top 50 list and ignored Laurens, I think Laurens was clearly the better Vanthoor brother of 2021 and continues to be one of the best sports car drivers in the world. He was one of IMSA's most dominant drivers of 2021, winning the championship in the GTD class alongside his teammate Zacharie Robichon. Of all the full-time drivers in IMSA, he had a higher speed percentile than anyone except Mikkel Jensen in LMP2, but Vanthoor faced way more competition in GTD, which as I've already mentioned several times, had 106 drivers in 2021. Vanthoor averaged almost 15% led in his races while no other driver in the class even averaged 10%. He had the fastest average speed in three races, including two of the biggies, the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans. Robichon was not a major contributor; even though he did have a slightly above average speed, Vanthoor was faster than him in nine out of ten races. The sole blemish was really that Sebring was the only one of the four endurance races he won, but I think his season was still pretty electrifying considering the class was deep enough to have 13-17 entries per race, much more than most sports car classes generally. And it's a lot easier to distinguish between Laurens and Robichon than it is between Dries and Charles Weerts, who seemed to be a lot closer.

57. Fernando Alonso


Alonso returned to F1 competition for the first time after a two-year break and you could tell he was a little rusty, and it didn't help that he was injured in a cycling crash. However, he came back and did gain speed throughout the season. Nonetheless, much like Michael Schumacher's comeback in 2010, I think it was probably Alonso's worst season in his career to date. He entered as the highest-rated F1 career driver in my model and even after this season, he still is but I think Max Verstappen will likely overtake him soon at their current rates. Alonso and his teammate Esteban Ocon tied in finishes 9-9, although Alonso did slightly beat him in the championship to claim the final position in the top ten and was slightly faster, beating Ocon 12 races to 8, and having a speed percentile of 46.16 and 44.28. While normally, I don't grade by expectations, I kind of did here because I think hiatus or not, most people would have expected Alonso to beat Ocon by more. Additionally, Ocon did win and Alonso did not, although Alonso did provide great support to his teammate by keeping Lewis Hamilton behind him to keep him from passing Ocon in the end. Having said that, Alonso even being in position to support a teammate is a change of pace, when almost all Alonso's previous teammates were supporting him and this does give some indication of his decline. Ultimately, I think they were close enough in all other metrics that the win is enough to swing it in favor of Ocon. Alonso is still very good, but I think he is no longer elite.

56. Jamie Whincup


The outgoing Supercars legend had a very good season, particularly for a driver who subsequently announced their retirement. Even though his teammate Shane van Gisbergen utterly dominated him in every category, I do think Whincup was a little closer than that implies. While Triple Eight Engineering easily had the fastest cars after Penske and Scott McLaughlin's withdrawal and van Gisbergen won 14 races to Whincup's two, Whincup probably should have won more than two races based on his overall performance. He had 4 TNL, 3.5 lead shares, 3 poles, led the most laps 5 times, and 4 fastest laps, and in almost all those categories, he usually ranked 3rd behind only van Gisbergen and Anton de Pasquale. He was like the William Byron to Kyle Larson in that the comparison is extremely one-sided but Whincup, like Byron, was closer in almost all categories than that implied. Even though he had the fastest cars, he still beat all the drivers in the championship who had slower cars, so he did what he needed to do and went out in style. Having said that, I'm still more impressed by a few other Supercars drivers who nearly matched or surpassed him in weaker cars.

55. Kevin Harvick


In 2020, Harvick had the first nine-win season in NASCAR Cup since Carl Edwards in 2008, but curiously, just like Edwards the next year, Harvick had a sudden collapse in 2021 and went winless. In both cases, they were certainly let down by slower cars as their teammates admittedly also struggled. However, it was a bigger shock coming from Harvick because he was much more consistent from season-to-season than Edwards ever was, especially considering Harvick won at least three races almost every season from 2010-2020 except when he had really slow cars. I'd be hard-pressed to put many winless Cup seasons in my overall top 50 (I think Harry Gant's 1981, Mark Martin's 1996, and Kyle Larson's 2018 would be the only ones) and this season just isn't quite there. At least in the cases of Gant, Martin, and Larson, you can easily come up with races they should have won and in Harvick's case you just can't. In some ways, he didn't decline much: he was still the third-highest driver in my teammate ratings and remember one of the drivers ahead of him is the fluky Chris Buescher, so that means you could still make the case only Larson is better than he is, although it's not a case I would make. I think his teammate rating is definitely inflated this year because he had a rookie teammate in Chase Briscoe and a second-year teammate in Cole Custer who for some reason vastly underachieved compared to what I think his ability is. Although he did crush Aric Almirola also, I think Almirola's win at Loudon may be what kept him off the top 50. If none of the Stewart-Haas drivers had won, you could just say the cars weren't capable. But if Almirola, a driver who had previously only won fluky plate races, could suddenly have the drive of his life in a year when the SHR cars generally struggled, why couldn't Harvick?

54. Scott Dixon

IMSA DPi153010.9200006.166.94N/A

I placed Dixon and Kevin Harvick right alongside each other because both of their seasons weirdly feel similar to me in that the most reliably consistent drivers of the past decade in both NASCAR and IndyCar had a sudden collapse after being unambiguously the top drivers on their teams for almost an entire decade or more. Admittedly, Harvick continued to dominate his teammates and Dixon did not, but Dixon also had substantially better objective stats, so I think it's a wash. After nine consecutive seasons of leading Ganassi's IndyCar team in basically every imaginable category, he suddenly played second-fiddle to the little-known unheralded sophomore driver Álex Palou for the entire season except for the double-header at Texas, which he dominated, winning one race and leading the most laps in both. Although Palou led the points standings for almost the entire season, won three races to Dixon's one, beat him handily at Indy, they were still way closer than you think. Dixon in fact beat Palou with 2 TNL to Palou's 1, 1.87 lead shares to Palou's 1.4, they tied with 2 poles apiece, Dixon led the most laps twice while Palou only did once, and Dixon was the 3rd most dominant driver in the series with an average percent led of 12.5%. Palou did beat him in their head-to-head teammate record, but it was only 8-6. They were close enough that I am still expecting Palou to regress to the mean and Dixon to beat him next year, but there is one telltale sign that in my opinion does potentially signal Dixon's decline, and it's not his comparisons with Palou, but his comparisons with Marcus Ericsson. Palou was the fastest driver on the team with a speed percentile of 78.79%, which is no surprise, but what is a surprise is that Dixon at 70.64% only narrowly beat Ericsson at 70.10% and only beat him in 8-6 in their head-to-head teammate matchup. Even Dixon's teammate rating of 0.157 was only barely ahead of Ericsson's 0.126. To be fair, Ericsson was inflated by his two very, very dumb wins but for Dixon to suddenly be almost indistinguishable from Ericsson in speed (albeit still having way more racecraft) is way more concerning than him being eclipsed by Palou, who might eventually become a great driver in his own right, unlike Ericsson, who probably never will. Dixon does get some points for his sports car accomplishments, as he made four passes for the lead at the 24 Hours of Daytona and was the TNL at the 12 Hours of Sebring, but I don't think it's enough to justify a top 50 position this year.

53. Esteban Ocon


To be sure, his win at the Hungaroring was an absolute fluke, but it's still a big deal. His win for Alpine was the first win for the team in its many iterations since Kimi Räikkönen in 2013, and more significantly, it marks the first time where one of Fernando Alonso's teammates has won and he hasn't since Jarno Trulli in 2004. Considering Alonso was and still remains the highest-rated active F1 driver in my model, that's a major accomplishment. Sure, any driver could have been in the position to fluke into the win, but maybe Alonso would have been instead if he had outqualified Ocon instead of vice versa, so you can't say Ocon played no role in the victory. Fluke or not, it was enough for me to decide to place him over Alonso when they were so very close in all other categories, tied 9-9 in finishes, separated by one position in the championship, and with Alonso only being faster in 12 races to Ocon's 8. That's close enough that I think the win should settle it. Largely due to Alonso's past success, Ocon was the 5th highest driver in my open-wheel teammate model, and while I certainly would not say he was the 5th best open-wheel driver this year, that's certainly a far cry from Alonso ranking a mere 37th based on Ocon's rating. You could say that this is more about expectations than reality, but I think this is one case where the expectations do matter. Admittedly, you could make the case that Alonso's injury messed up the start of his season and also that Ocon was active in 2020 while Alonso was not, but I'm not sure how big a factor that is since neither of them were active in 2019. Either way, I think both of them this year were nearly but not quite elite.

52. Andreas Mikkelsen

The former factory rally driver lost his factory World Rally Championship ride a few years ago and has since dropped back to competing in the WRC-2 class as well as the European Rally Championship, which don't have quite the same prestige. However, he had a very strong season regardless as he won both of those championships, winning three out of seven rallies in WRC-2 and another two in the ERC; he was the only driver to win multiple rallies in the latter series. I was extremely torn as to whether to consider this elite performance or not, because he was never really considered a particularly elite rally driver when he was in the WRC and I wasn't sure how much he should be rewarded dominating lower classes after struggling in the higher ones. Ultimately, I decided to place this season as just barely not elite, although I'm starting to think it was a mistake to rank him here and rank Kalle Rovanperä lower.

51. Ye Yifei

WEC LMP2NR1000.3000009.198.59N/A

The rookie sports car driver made one hell of a splash in 2021 as he won both the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series championships in the LMP2 class, winning 3/6 races in the former and 2/4 in the latter. He was clearly the linchpin of his teams as he did not have the same teammates in Europe and in Asia: his ELMS teammates were Louis Delétraz and ex-F1 star Robert Kubica and his ALMS (not to be confused with the old ALMS) teammates were René Binder and Ferdinand von Habsburg. Although he chose the less prestigious European Le Mans Series over the more prestigious World Endurance Championship, he did cross over with his ELMS teammates and compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he was the 2nd fastest driver in the LMP2 class out of a staggering 72 entrants behind only Tom Blomqvist. Ye was leading the race when his car failed on the very last lap in a heartbreak for the 21-year-old. Having said that, he will undoubtedly have many, many more opportunities to win Le Mans in some class in the years to come. To be quite honest, even based on his career to date, which also includes a Euroformula Open championship with 11 wins in 18 starts and a French F4 championship with 14 wins in 23 starts, he might already be the best Chinese driver ever.

I haven't decided whether I'm going to split the remaining 50 drivers into two remaining articles, one for the Elite Minus (E-) drivers from 50th to 26th and one for the full Elite (E) drivers from 25th to 1st, or if I'm going to make a list containing the entire top 50, but either way those columns will both be coming in the next week or two, and hopefully I will finish this project before the end of next week.

Sean Wrona is the Managing Editor of racermetrics.com, the Webmaster of race-database.com, the winner of the 2010 Ultimate Typing Championship at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, and the ratings compiler and statistician for the Mensa Scrabble-by-Mail SIG. He earned a master's in applied statistics from Cornell University in 2008 and previously digitized several seasons of NBA box scores on basketball-reference.com. He is the author of the upcoming Nerds Per Minute: A History of Competitive Typing. You may contact him at sean@racermetrics.com.