Racermetrics race-database.com

Top 200 Drivers of 2021 (Part III)

by Sean Wrona

In this column, I complete my ranking of the top 200 drivers of 2021 by listing my final top fifty in reverse order. There are some places I definitely wish I could have done some additional research, particularly rally racing, because I don't know much about it. It's not really accessible to Americans like me because like most FIA series there aren't many YouTube clips of it and it doesn't appear on traditional cable channels in the US anymore, so I admit that my explanations of the rally drivers' seasons are definitely a little wanting, although I tried my best to find the proper placements for them. Admittedly, placing rally drivers (and one drag racer) on the same list as circuit drivers may be asking for trouble in and of itself because rally racing and circuit racing are entirely different disciplines, but I know that all the other people who attempt to do international ranking lists like Autosport do include rally drivers so I knew I had to as well. I am generally much more confident in my ranking tiers for the drivers from major league oval and road racing series, although I suspect maybe I placed a few of them (especially Larry ten Voorde) a tad too high.

50. Steve Torrence

I've never really understood how to properly evaluate drag racing in an overall racing context. While it is definitely one of the most popular forms of racing in the United States and it has generally always been featured prominently in American general racing publications, I think very few people outside the US have any interest in it. I find it fairly strange that the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) is the professional series while IHRA (International Hot Rod Association) is the niche one. Many people I suspect would say that both rally racing and especially drag racing are entirely different disciplines and drivers in those disciplines shouldn't be listed alongside circuit racing drivers, although I tend to usually see rally racers on overall lists frequently, including Autosport's each year. There's also a question of how difficult a skill drag racing is. When you consider that drivers in their sixties like Greg Anderson are still winning championships and drivers in their seventies like John Force are still winning races, it seems clear to me that the NHRA does not require as much athleticism as most other series do; while I would without hesitation call drivers in most other forms of motorsports athletes, it's harder to make that case in drag racing since it's simply about reaction time over a few seconds. Having said that, I did want to cover every discipline and I ultimately feel entirely excluding drag racers would be wrong as it is historically linked to other forms of racing. Kenny Bernstein owned NASCAR and IndyCar teams. Joe Gibbs and Jack Roush owned NHRA teams. Doug Kalitta won a USAC Sprint title. Gary Scelzi dabbled in midget cars. Tanner Gray (so far unsuccessfully) switched to NASCAR. And more to the point, in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of the top racing drivers in the world like Victor Hémery, René Thomas, Malcolm Campbell, Henry Segrave, and Ray Keech and also set world land speed records, which seem to be a direct antecedent to drag racing. In my opinion, this means drag racers belong however since I do believe it is less challenging than most other disciplines, I won't be listing a lot of them. Torrence is a major exception. He won his fourth consecutive NHRA Top Fuel championship in dominant fashion, winning eleven races, matching his own win record from 2018, although he won every race in NHRA's Chase-knockoff Countdown that year and didn't quite manage that in 2021. Regardless, that's pretty historic when you consider that no other driver in any of the top three NHRA car divisions has won 10 or more races in a season since Larry Dixon won 12 in 2010.

49. Tyler Courtney

After Bryan Clauson's death in a sprint car crash in 2016, Courtney, who now drives for Clauson's old team, became the most dominant driver in USAC racing as he won the most races across the three main USAC divisions (Silver Crown, Sprint, and Midget) every year from 2017 to 2020. However, in 2021, he switched from USAC to primarily compete in the All Star Circuit of Champions. He did win the championship and eight races, but I do consider sprint car racing to be something of a minor league so that wouldn't be nearly enough for such a high placement. However, Courtney had a banner year in terms of his versatility: despite competing as a part-timer in the World of Outlaws and the three USAC divisions, only starting a combined 27 of 170 races in those four series, he became only the second driver in history to win in all three USAC divisions and WoO in the same year after Kyle Larson in 2011. Crossing over between the winged sprints of WoO and the more traditional sprint cars of USAC is a rarer feat than you likely realize, as I believe only around ten drivers have won in all four series, so winning in all of them in one season is kind of mind-boggling, especially when you consider that he was primarily racing in another series! Besides the ASCoC championship, Courtney's highlight was his win in the first Kings Royal of 2021. Because of COVID, the prestigious sprint car race was delayed from 2020 and was for the first time held twice in one year. Not only was it Courtney's first WoO win, but he won the Kings Royal in his first attempt. He won the pole and led fourteen laps in the second Kings Royal, but ended up finishing fourth (Larson won that one.) Much like Gabriel Casagrande and Torrence, Courtney is one of the strongest drivers at the moment who does not have a Wikipedia page. Hopefully, that will change soon.

48. Oscar Piastri

The twenty-year-old dominated Formula 2 in his rookie season by winning 6 of 23 races, beating his teammate Robert Shwartzman by a fairly substantial points margin of 252.5-192. His championship compares nicely to that of George Russell in 2018, who also won the F2 championship as a 20-year-old rookie by a slightly larger points margin with a similar winning percentage, although I doubt any of Piastri's opponents are going to end up as strong as Lando Norris has become. He has now won three consecutive championships after winning the Formula Renault Eurocup championship in 2019 and the F3 championship (by a much narrower margin) in 2020. However, he was unable to find a Formula One ride for 2022 while Guanyu Zhou, one of the drivers Piastri beat, did make it, along with Alex Albon, whose return seems rather puzzling since he did not have a particularly good year in DTM. Piastri did sign a deal as a reserve driver for Alpine, paving the way for him to likely replace Fernando Alonso upon Alonso's retirement, but Alonso is not expected to retire that soon. Through no fault of his own, he may end up in Formula E like other F2 champions such as Nyck de Vries who never found a full-time F1 ride, but it may still be possible for him to make it back to F1 that way. After de Vries's FE championship, there's a chance Mercedes could move him to F1 if Lewis Hamilton retires, which he's hinted he might, even though I don't expect it. It would be a pity if Piastri only takes this reserve drive and ends up not being full-time anywhere though.

47. Tom Ingram


The BTCC veteran left the factory Toyota operation to join Excelr8 Motorsport, a fledgling Hyundai independent team with one of the worst names in history that had never scored a top five finish in a non-reverse grid race. However, Ingram performed about as well as he always does, winning three or more races for the fifth consecutive year and reprising his 4th place finish in the championship, while Rory Butcher, the driver who replaced him in the ostensibly faster car only finished 7th in points. However, I do say "ostensibly" for a reason, because I'm not sure how much team strength actually matters in the BTCC, as faster cars are required to be weighed down with success ballast as an attempt to equalize the cars. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn't seem that any of the BTCC drivers are really affected by team switches the way you'd see in most other series, so I'm not going to rate this as highly as I would a driver who won their first race for a historically weak team in a series that did not attempt such equalizations (or should I spell it equalisations for this entry?) Admittedly, I do think Ingram still had something of a speed deficit as two of his three wins came in reverse-grid races and the other came in a race where he bumped-and-ran against Tom Oliphant, the 16th place points finisher. Ultimately I think this was a pretty great season, but definitely closer to very good than full elite.

46. Martin Truex, Jr.


After his crew chief Cole Pearn departed at the end of 2019, I honestly expected Truex to start struggling again because Pearn had been with him for the vast majority of his previous NASCAR Cup success. However, after a slight decline in 2020, Truex bounced back to something approaching his usual Pearn-era form in 2021. He and Alex Bowman tied for the most wins that year, but Truex ran far more consistently than Bowman did, with Truex winning almost as many races as his three teammates Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell combined. He ranked 7th in my NASCAR driver rating which was behind both Hamlin and Busch, but he wasn't really far behind either, and you could make a case for the first third of the year or so that he was about as good as anyone else, since he claimed three wins in the first twelve races before Kyle Larson's hot streak had began and before even Chase Elliott and Hamlin had won yet. He cooled off somewhat in the second two-thirds of the season, making me suspicious that this was probably one of Truex's last prime seasons, but since his new crew chief James Small came from Supercars and the next generation NASCAR cars are based on Supercars body templates, he might actually still improve from here. Truex finished second in the championship and I think that's a little inflated since I do think Elliott and Hamlin both outperformed him, but definitely not by that much. Truex was 2nd in TNL, 2nd in lead shares, 4th in average percent led, and 3rd in races led naturally behind only Elliott and Larson (and his lead change percentage was actually ahead of Larson's). He definitely deserved to make the final four and I do think the final four in NASCAR Cup this year did overwhelmingly have the best four seasons, even though I'd rank them a little differently. However, while Truex still has great racecraft in terms of passing, he does seem to be diminishing somewhat in terms of raw speed. While his fellow Final Four drivers all had at least 4 fastest laps in 2021, Truex had none. Truex was also the slowest of the four finalists in speed generally in 2021, ranking only 6th in the series also behind William Byron and Busch. Truex was kind of the opposite of Byron in a way, as Byron's speed was greater than his passing while Truex's passing was greater than his speed. I think Truex has started his decline a little, but it definitely seems to be a very slow one, and his longevity continues to impress and surprise me considering how few wins he had in his first decade in Cup. Truex, Elliott, and Hamlin in my opinion were all pretty close and the distinctions weren't massive, but I do think both of them were better than him in 2021.

45. Mattias Ekström

One of the most versatile drivers of the 21st century abruptly switched to racing electric cars in 2021 and he won the first touring car championship in an all-electric series, Pure ETCR. The field wasn't as stellar or as large as most other major league touring car series, but it still had a couple big names, including Jean-Karl Vernay and Mikel Azcona, who were absolutely two of the best touring car drivers this year. While Azcona, who was Ekström's teammate at Zengő Motorsport, won two overall rounds to Ekströ's one, Ekström won the championship because he was more consistent, placing on the podium four times to Azcona's three. Ekström also crossed over to compete in the inaugural Extreme E off-road series for electric cars, but he was nowhere near as successful, placing sixth in the championship and failing to win. While he remains a top touring car driver, I still think the Pure ETCR series had a fairly shallow field and I was ultimately more impressed with both Vernay and Azcona because they had major achievements in multiple touring car series this year while Ekström only had the one.

44. Edoardo Mortara


The former DTM legend had a significant breakout in Formula E in 2021, finishing second in the championship after three seasons where he failed to break into the top ten. He beat his teammate Norman Nato 6-2, a larger margin than any other FE driver beat his teammate in 2021, which was enough to give him a fairly high rating in my teammate model, ranking 20th among open wheel drivers in 2021, but still behind six other Formula E drivers in that simultaneously bizarre and competitive season. However, I downgraded him somewhat for a couple of reasons. First off, his only win at Puebla came down to the strategy of when each driver activated his attack mode, which gives drivers an additional boost in exchange for going off the track and usually giving up positions. Too many FE races this year came down to the timing of attack mode lead changes, which are somehow even gimmickier than the Fanboost. Mortara made only one pass for the lead all year and didn't win, and he only ranked 14th in lead shares in 2021, which is fairly consistent with his points positions in previous seasons. I think he got fairly lucky on consistency in a year a lot of drivers weren't consistent and he didn't lead in any major category, although he was slightly faster than the eventual champion Nyck de Vries. Additionally, unlike many of the other FE stars, he did not simultaneously compete in sports cars, which ended up explaining why I took several FE drivers who Mortara beat in points over him. Versatility matters and he only competed in one series. I think I may have overrated him slightly to be honest, but second place is second place and FE remains very prestigious.

43. Liam Lawson

One of the world's hottest juniors had an extremely busy year. The 19-year-old DTM rookie nearly broke Pascal Wehrlein's record for the youngest champion and would have had his championship rival Kelvin van der Linde not wrecked him twice on the final race weekend at Norisring and Maximilian Götz's pseudo-teammates not pulled over him in both races to give him the win. You can certainly make the case that van der Linde was a faster and more exciting driver, but it would be wrong for me to take the dirty driver over the clean one, especially considering van der Linde's attempts backfired and Lawson still beat him in the championship. What impresses me most however is that Lawson beat his teammate Alex Albon 8-2 in DTM this year despite Albon being a racing veteran while Lawson was marking his debut as a professional major league driver. Now that Albon is returning to F1 for some reason, this makes Lawson look even better. While simultaneously competing in DTM, Lawson also competed in the F2 championship, where he finished 9th in the championship with one win in the season-opening race. Although Lawson's teammate Jüri Vips narrowly beat him in the championship, Lawson was faster in the individual races beating him 8-6 in race finishes and ranked approximately third in average speed (according to Timing71's data, which I think for F2 is somewhat inaccurate, although admittedly Vips was right behind him.) I could easily see Lawson winning the F2 championship in 2022 and the DTM championship if he enters it, although I would guess Théo Pourchaire will beat him for the former. Regardless, Lawson was clearly one of the biggest breakouts among junior drivers in 2021 and it shouldn't matter that he got screwed out of the DTM championship in a situation that seemed almost completely out of his control.

42. Pierre Gasly


Even though Gasly's AlphaTauri was not fast enough to win a race or even lead a lap in 2021 except in a left-field fluke, which didn't happen for him in 2021 like it did at Monza in 2020, he had a very impressive F1 season regardless. He beat his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda 13-2 in race finishes in 2021, giving him a larger winning percentage against his teammate in races both drivers finished than any driver except Max Verstappen and George Russell. He and Russell are kind of similar cases as they both beat their teammates by similar margins in speed as well with Russell beating Nicholas Latifi 12.5-6.5 and Gasly beating Tsunoda 12-7, but I took Gasly higher because Tsunoda is certainly much better regarded than Latifi, with Ross Brawn probably incorrectly calling Tsunoda "the best rookie... for years" and all. I was skeptical about Tsunoda because he entered the season with an extremely low rating in my teammate model at -.415; he was even substantially behind Nikita Mazepin at that point. Even as badly as Gasly beat Tsunoda, he only ended up barely positive at .061, making him only the 40th ranked open wheel driver in my model this year. How you evaluate Gasly essentially comes down to how good you think Tsunoda is. If you think my model is closer to correct and Tsunoda actually was a historically weak F1 rookie, maybe Gasly should be barely in the top 100 and around where the likes of Sergio Pérez and Valtteri Bottas are. However, I do think Tsunoda is better than that and he seemed to be getting better as the season progressed, so while I think the F1 establishment is overrating Gasly, it probably is by nowhere near as much as I am underrating him. Gasly is one driver I could adjust markedly in future years if I ever redo this list at some point as we figure out how good Tsunoda is.

41. James Calado

WEC LMGTE Pro16322.40000016.774.41N/A

Calado won the championship in the World Endurance Championship's GTE Pro class alongside his full-season teammate Alessandro Pier Guidi. The duo won three out of six races including Le Mans for the AF Corse Ferrari team, while Kévin Estre and Neel Jani's Porsche operation won the other three. Estre was by far the best driver in the class but was robbed of the championship (more than Lewis Hamilton but less than Liam Lawson) when Pier Guidi spun out Estre's co-driver Michael Christensen to win the final event. Howevre, Estre, Pier Guidi, and Calado were freakishly evenly matched in speed with Pier Guidi having a sped percentile of 74.74% to Estre's 74.57% and Calado's 74.41%. Calado was however the best passer in the class has he made an on-track pass for the lead in three races, while Estre and Pier Guidi only did so once and Calado ranked second in lead shares; Calado was also slightly more dominant than his teammate. Why did I take Pier Guidi over Calado then when Calado seemed to outperform him in their WEC championship battle and Calado at least drove cleaner? As much as I would have rather taken Calado higher, Pier Guidi also had a bunch of other major accomplishments outside the WEC and I couldn't justify taking Calado higher when considering how much more versatile Pier Guidi was. This is not the only time a situation like that occurred in sports cars this year, but more on that later.

40. Timmy Hansen

The World Rallycross Championship veteran who once won the 2019 championship on a tiebreaker against Andreas Bakkerud this time lost to Johan Kristofferson in another tiebreaker in 2021, with Kristofferson winning three races to Hansen's two. Kristofferson is clearly and unquestionably better as he has won four of the last five championships dating back to 2017 and Hansen only won his championship in 2019 because Kristofferson did not compete as he had switched to the World Touring Car Cup last year. But considering how highly I rated Kristofferson, I can't rate the guy who tied him in the championship too much lower than this even if I think Kristofferson is objectively much more talented. For one thing, the WRX championship battle wasn't his only major highlight in 2021 as he and most of the other WRX stars also competed in the electric off-road series Extreme E, where Hansen finished third in the championship, again losing out to Kristofferson but this time also losing out to Sébastien Loeb, but beating the aforementioned Mattias Ekström. Neither of those series is extremely deep: they're quite shallow in fact when you consider the number of cars entered and the number of competitive drivers, but admittedly, the regular drivers are all fairly top-notch and there's little in the way of journeymen among the full-time drivers at least. Considering I listed Kristofferson as one of my top ten drivers, it's clear that a driver who was his closest rival in both series should at least be in the top fifty.

39. Chase Elliott


On the surface, Elliott's season looks like something of a disappointment. After winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup championship with his main rivals that year Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin both aging, not to mention his four straight road course wins in 2019 and 2020 the year before NASCAR abruptly decided to expand from their usual 2-3 road courses to 7, it seemed like Elliott was wildly expected to dominate. I know in my All-Racing Fantasy League draft (the aforementioned draft where I stupidly let Elliott's teammate William Byron go in exchange for keeping George Russell) I took Elliott first and by that standard, he was a disappointment. He only won twice while his teammate Kyle Larson won ten times, Elliott failed to win on any ovals while Larson actually won more road course races than Elliott did, and Elliott finished behind his other teammates Byron and Alex Bowman in some categories as well. Elliott only ranked 8th in my teammate model because Larson did so well. Initially it seems like I should take Elliott much lower than this, right? Wrong. His season was much better than you probably think and he actually was the leader in several important categories. He remains the best duelist and passer in NASCAR as he led the series with 18 races with an on-track pass for the lead, while Larson only had 17. He also had the best lead change record in 2021 for the second consecutive year making 35 passes for the lead and being passed only 22 times. Even head-to-head against Larson, Elliott was a better duelist as Elliott passed Larson for the lead on-track ten times while Larson passed Elliott only six. Elliott also had the most fastest laps in NASCAR this year with eight to Larson's seven. In short, Larson was certainly better than Elliott in 2021 - substantially better even - but it wasn't nearly as big a blowout if you look in the advanced statistics as it was in the basic numbers. By all rights, he certainly deserved to be in the Final Four and I definitely think my 8th place rating for him is underrating him. He was tied for 3rd in TNL, 3rd in lead shares, tied for 3rd in races where he led the most laps, 3rd in average percent led, and 4th in speed. Since he was 3rd in most categories in Cup, that is where I placed him, although I don't think the gap between Elliott and Denny Hamlin was as huge as it looked either, although I did put Elliott slightly closer to Martin Truex, Jr. than I did to Hamlin. The big issue with Elliott's season seems to be that his passes happened earlier in the race while Larson's tended to happen later. Elliott had a TNL record of 3-2 while Larson's was 11-3. Larson was substantially more clutch in races than Elliott was, which was reflected in the results, but some of that obviously was as a result of bad luck, especially the fall Martinsville race which Elliott dominated and I suspect probably would have won had Brad Keselowski not spun him out. I think based on the data this year, Larson had a well above average season for him while Elliott had a below average season for him (since he became great), but given that Elliott remains a better passer and duelist in general, one would expect that both Elliott and Larson will regress to the mean and be way closer in performance in the future than they were this year. As great as Larson's 2021 was, Elliott is still (barely) ahead of him in my teammate model. I think Elliott's "decline" was more an unlucky fluke than something for real. Elliott also won an SRX race and was (shockingly) the slowest among all IMSA DPi drivers in his 24 Hours of Daytona debut, which I did not expect given his Cup road course prowess. I don't think either of those things do anything to affect my rating for him though.

38. Chaz Mostert


Mostert finished 3rd in the Supercars Championship, giving his team Walkinshaw Racing its best championship finish since Holden withdrew its factory backing for the team and Michael Andretti joined the team as a co-owner. His season highlight no doubt was his win in the Bathurst 1000, the marquee race which ended the season. Co-driving with Lee Holdsworth, Mostert won the race, won the pole, led the most laps, set the fastest lap, and had the fastest average speed. No driver managed to do all those things in the same Bathurst since at least 1998, before the Supercars championship was even formed. Considering Bathurst is the most prestigious race in the series and probably the most prestigious race in touring cars in general, that's a big deal and worthy of elite status. However, I do think touring car fans overrated his overall season a little bit. In TouringCarTimes's top 30 of 2021, they ranked Mostert 5th and 2nd highest among Supercars drivers when I do not think Mostert had the 2nd best Supercars season. Bathurst is a big deal for sure but the season has 30 races and I think Anton de Pasquale and Cameron Waters were definitely more impressive overall. While I don't think Mostert's equipment was as strong as that of Triple Eight Engineering by any means, I think you could make the case that his cars were about as fast as anyone else's, especially when you consider that Holdsworth, a career Supercars journeyman with three wins in fifteen full-time seasons, was nearly as fast and as dominant as Mostert in that race. Mostert did dominate his teammate Bryce Fullwood 25-3, but I'm not sure how good Fullwood is when it seems like both Will Brown and Brodie Kostecki achieved a lot more quickly in their rookie seasons than Fullwood has managed even in two. I definitely think Mostert was great but others in the series were better.

37. Ricky Taylor

IMSA DPi210354.15200213.164.43N/A

Of all the IMSA regulars in 2021, Taylor was clearly without question the second best. Although in earlier years I tended to think he was carried by his teammates and thought his brother Jordan was significantly better, Ricky took a significant step up from his typical performance in 2021 and had an electrifying season. He narrowly lost the championship to Felipe Nasr after his divebomb on Nasr on the last lap at the Petit Le Mans gave him the position but sent him off track and forced him to give the position back, but his performance was really close. Nasr won four races to Taylor's three and both of them were largely operating single-handedly as Nasr utterly dominated his teammate Pipo Derani while Taylor utterly dominated his teammate Filipe Albuquerque. Taylor led all IMSA classes with 5 TNL, including the 24 Hours of Daytona and 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, and also led all classes with 4.15 lead shares. He won his second 24 Hours of Daytona although Albuquerque and Hélio Castroneves were faster in that race. He was second among IMSA DPi regulars in average percent led behind only Nasr and did so despite probably having a significantly slower car, as Nasr had a speed percentile of 85.7% to Taylor's 64.4% while Derani had a speed percentile of 49.4% to Albuquerque's 39.6%. While I don't think Derani was good this year, I do think Albuquerque was as he was the most dominant and second-fastest regular in the WEC LMP2 class, so you could make a strong case that Taylor was actually better than Nasr. I did not end up making that case: Nasr did beat Taylor for the championship, did win 4 races to Taylor's 3, did win their clutch duel for the championship because Taylor made a mistake in his dive-bomb, and did sweep Derani 10-0 while Taylor only beat Albuquerque 7-3. I think Nasr overall was better, but Taylor was certainly the most electrifying passer: Taylor's lead change record in 2021 was 4-1 while Nasr's was 3-6. Having said that, I think in endurance sports car racing, speed and consistency and good strategy are more important than passing because passes are so rare. I think Nasr is still the correct choice, but if you disagree with me, I can't blame you. Even though Taylor did outperform Albuquerque by a large margin, I did end up having to rate Albuquerque higher just because he had major accomplishments in both WEC and IMSA while Taylor was IMSA-exclusive.

36. Jean-Karl Vernay


Vernay was the most dominant driver in the World Touring Car Cup in 2021. In addition to tying Yann Ehrlacher, Frédéric Vervisch, and Santiago Urrutia for the most wins with two, he led in average percent led with 16.5%, led in lead shares with 2.33, and led the most laps in the most races with three. The former TCR International Champion was the only driver to make an on-track pass for the lead in three different races, and two of them came in races that did not have field inversions. If you counted only the races that started based on speed instead of field inversions, Vernay would have finished 2nd in the championship behind Vervisch but ahead of the eventual champion Ehrlacher. Vernay posted an 11-3 record against Luca Engstler, the largest difference between a driver and the next highest ranked driver on his team. Vernay also crossed over to compete in the Pure ETCR championship for electric touring cars and won one race, finishing second in the championship only four points behind Mattias Ekström. While a solid case could be made that he was the best WTCR driver of the year, I have still rated two of the others higher.

35. Filipe Albuquerque

WEC LMP255211.00221017.985.86N/A
IMSA DPi210300.0911006.739.62N/A

Albuquerque was more difficult to rate than most other sports car drivers in 2021, as he simultaneously had an exceptional WEC season and a disappointing IMSA season. I already discussed how badly he was beaten by Ricky Taylor in most IMSA categories, although to be fair he did lead the most laps and set the fastest average speed on the winning team at the 24 Hours of Daytona, so he and Taylor (the TNL for that race) clearly both played important roles. However, Taylor was clearly superior for most of the rest of the season. On the other hand, in WEC he was truly electrifying. Although he only finished 5th in the LMP2 championship and also failed to start the race at Portimão because he had a conflict with the IMSA race at Belle Isle, he did win two races alongside his teammates Philip Hanson and Fabio Scherer, was the second fastest driver among the LMP2 regulars behind only Tom Blomqvist with a speed percentile of 85.86%, and he was the most dominant driver in the class with an average percent led of 17.92%. Clearly he was fast in Europe despite being surprisingly slow in America. I don't know what to make of that because almost all drivers who were faster than their teammates and leaders of their team on one side of the Atlantic (for example, Kamui Kobayashi and Kévin Estre) were equally dominant relative to their teammates on the other side, but Albuquerque was not. I really struggled to decide whether to rate Taylor higher because he blew out Albuquerque in their IMSA performances or to rate Albuquerque higher because he was more versatile in winning in multiple series against multiple sets of teammates. I ultimately opted in favor of Albuquerque because I prefer versatility to racing in one series alone, and also because one could argue the 24 Hours of Daytona is in fact more important than the entire rest of the IMSA season, and he probably outperformed Taylor there, even though Taylor tended to outperform him in the less important races.

34. Cameron Waters


Although he was inexplicably excluded from TouringCarTimes's top 30 list, I rate Waters as the 3rd best Supercars driver of 2021, and a case could be made that he was better for Anton de Pasquale for 2nd. Although he only finished fifth in the championship, that did not reflect how well Waters ran as he usually ranked 3rd or 4th in most statistical categories. He was either tied for third or third outright in wins with 3, lead shares with 3.5, poles with 4, and races having led the most laps with 5. Jamie Whincup beat him in a few categories like TNL, fastest laps, and average percent led for 3rd, but all of those were only barely and Whincup was driving for the championship Triple Eight Engineering team having been blown out by his team Shane van Gisbergen, while Waters himself utterly obliterated his own teammates beating James Courtney 22-5 and Jack Le Brocq 25-4. Driving for Tickford Racing, a once-great team that did win a championship in 2015 when it was known as Prodrive Racing Australia, the team has more recently fallen on hard times as no driver managed for them to win multiple races in a season until Waters in 2021. Although de Pasquale was a lot more dominant, some people rated Waters higher because his accomplishments were spread across a number of different tracks while de Pasquale kept dominating at Sydney Motorsport Park, a track which atypically held thirteen consecutive races on the thirty-race schedule, but didn't do as much in the other part of the season. Ultimately, even though Waters had his first multi-win season, his season still seems like a disappointment in some ways because he faded in the tail end of the season and also because he finished 2nd in points to Scott McLaughlin in 2020 even though he only won one race. With McLaughlin defecting to IndyCar after 2020, that might have put Waters in the best position to be the 2021 Supercars favorite and it didn't happen, but he still did very well, especially when you consider the fact that he only rated 6th in speed but beat that in every single category.

33. José María López

WEC Hypercar16322.33110119.874.87N/A

The former three-time World Touring Car Champion won his second straight World Endurance Champion alongside teammates Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway, and the trio won their first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans overall together in 2021. When looking at their speed percentiles with Kobayashi at 84.50, López at 74.87%, and Conway at 62.25%, it is obvious that all three were good but they should be ranked in that order. The triumvirate was very evenly matched in terms of dominance, as López was the most dominant driver with an average percent led of 19.8% in the Hypercar class to Kobayashi's 19.1% and Conway's 18.7%, and that is almost indistinguishable really. They were all important players in the Hypercar championship and the Le Mans win and I wouldn't really say any of the teammates were straggling (although Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley definitely were in the other car.) López was the fastest driver at Spa and also the fastest of the winning team at Le Mans (although Sébastien Buemi in the other Toyota was faster than any of them.) López also led in lead shares (although that's hard to evaluate since the Toyotas had many orchestrated passes for the lead) and was the TNL twice including overall at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he ultimately passed Hartley for the win. However, I have to rank Kobayashi much higher. Not only was he faster, but he also was the fastest driver in IMSA's DPi class while López didn't compete much in other racing series other than the WEC in 2021.

32. Thierry Neuville

Although the general consensus among WRC fans is that Kalle Rovanperä had a better season than Thierry Neuville probably given his much younger age and relative inexperience, I decided to follow the points standings and rate Neuville over Rovanperä because I tend to prefer rating based on actual results without judging based on potential as much as possible, although I can't avoid considering results from previous seasons, and I imagine when I go back and do previous years, I'll also consider the context of future seasons. Ultimately, I thought Neuville should be rated over Rovanperä because he was the top driver on his team (while Rovanperä was only the third best driver on his team) and because he generally outperformed Ott Tanak, beating him in both the championship, finishing 3rd to Tanak's 5th and their head-to-head teammate record (4-3.) However, I admit I do not know much about rally racing at all and I suspect the differences between WRC drivers in my ranking were likely much too large. Neuville was definitely a little unlucky like his teammate Tanak, as he had 45 stage wins, more than eventual champion Sébastien Ogier's 43. The biggest heartbreak which basically eliminated him from the championship was his retirement at the Safari Rally due to a damper failure after he had dominated the rally, but he bounced back to win at his Belgian homeland and Spain. Besides Ogier, Neuville was the only full-time driver to have a .500 or better record in shared finishes against his WRC teammates, also finishing 3-1 vs. Craig Breen, 3-3 vs. Dani Sordo, and 1-0 vs. Teemi Suninen. He probably won't ever win a championship, but since neither Ogier nor his predecessor Sébastien Ogier were ever beaten by a teammate in the championship after they broke through to win their first championship, Neuville did become the first driver since Jari-Matti Latvala beat Petter Solberg in 2012 to beat a past championship winning teammate, and that's a pretty big deal.

31. Tomoki Nojiri

Super Formula17322.00233N/A34.6N/A.130

Although I mentioned earlier that this was an extremely disappointing year for Super Formula as most of the European drivers who provided strong competition for the domestic Japanese drivers did not compete probably due to COVID, this doesn't mean all the drivers were without merit. Despite the lack of competition, Nojiri had an amazingly dominant season in Super Formula in pretty much every category. In addition to winning the championship by a staggering margin of 86 points to Nirei Fukuzumi's 55, he also led in almost every single statistical category, winning 3 out of 7 races, tying Fukuzumi for the most TNL and lead shares with 2, as well as leading in poles, fastest laps, races leading the most laps, and average percent led (with a staggering 34.6%.) I was unable to find lap times for Super Formula in 2021, but he presumably also led in average speed and the number of fastest races. He beat his rookie teammate Hiroki Otsu 6 races to 1, although admittedly Otsu did win the other race in dominating fashion in his own right. Nojiri also finished 2nd in Super GT co-driving with Fukuzumi and collected two wins there as well, proving his versatility in a season where Nojiri and Fukuzumi were the only drivers to win more than one race in both series combined in 2021. While Super Formula was so weak this year that most of the championship contenders and even winners had ratings below 0, Nojiri had the 30th highest open wheel driver rating overall and 4th highest in the series at .130 and he certainly had a better season than the three drivers who ranked over him in the ratings: Sena Sakaguchi, Toshiki Oyu, and Kenta Yamashita - he even beat the likes of Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Pierre Gasly, while also winning races while they did not. Therefore, even though the series was weak, placing him in this position is not outrageous at all. Because very few people care about the series outside Japan, he might've been the most underrated driver in motorsports this year.

30. Sam Bird


Even though Bird is now the only driver who has won a race in every Formula E season to date and one of only three drivers along with Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Éric Vergne to finish in the top ten every season, he still has yet to win the championship. Bird has led the points standings at least once in FE every year since the 2017-18 season and 2021 might have been his best chance as he led the standings on two separate occasions for two races each, but the parity this year was so insane that Bird ranked 13th after the first Brooklyn race on July 10 before taking the points lead the following day. In a year that was such a crapshoot, he easily could have backed into it but he had a few too many consecutive DNFs at the end of the season. Regardless, I think a case can be made that he was still the best driver. He was tied for the most wins and TNL with 2 each, 2nd in lead shares at 1.83, was the 3rd most dominant driver with a 9.2% average percent led, and he was also second fastest in average speed, much faster than all the other main championship contenders. He even rated 8th overall among all open-wheel drivers and 1st among FE drivers in my teammate model, by delivering a 3-2 upset the heavily favored Mitch Evans, who entered 2021 as the highest-rated FE driver in my model but failed to win and ranked only 15th in average percent led, even though he beat Bird in points. Nobody was more consistent across all categories than Bird, and he did better in most categories than his 6th place championship finish would imply. I probably would take his season over any other FE driver's if you didn't consider any other series, but I ended up rating three drivers ahead of him because those drivers crossed over and had accomplishments in sports car racing while Bird did not compete in any other series.

29. Mikel Azcona


Azcona may well have been the greatest underdog of the year in all of motorsports in 2021. TouringCarTimes rated him the 4th best touring car driver of the year despite only ranking 7th in the WTCR championship, and while I wouldn't go that high, I see where they're coming from. While driving for Zengő Motorsport, a historically underpowered team, he utterly dominated all three of his teammates, sweeping Jordi Gene 9-0, Bence Boldizs 12-0, and beating the past champion Rob Huff 5-3. Even more amazingly, those three drivers were the three lowest-ranked full-time drivers in the WTCR champion, ranking 18th through 20th. Azcona scored 158 points singlehandedly, while his three teammates - including a past champion who won a race - combined for 92. Although his cars were not fast enough to compete with the championship contenders in the dry, rain proved the great equalizer for him as he had probably his all-time career highlight when he passed lead share leader Jean-Karl Vernay for the win on the last lap of the first race at Sochi. The next day, it also rained and he passed polesitter Yvan Muller for the lead before Muller accidentally wrecked him in heavy rain on the next restart. But Azcona's exploits were not merely limited to one series as he also won the minor league TCR Europe Touring Car Series, winning six races and taking a commanding 79-point lead in the championship despite skipping three races, and he also won the most races in the inaugural Pure ETCR Series for electric touring cars, as he was the only driver to win two out of five races even though he finished 3rd in points. Clearly, given his performances in a wide variety of different touring car series, he was one of the world's best touring car drivers in 2021. Having said that, I do kind of downgrade his WTCR win a little because the parity in that series was absurd with 12 winners in 16 races, and his teammate Huff did win the other Sochi race after Azcona was wrecked - I kind of think maybe equipment strength wasn't super important in that series in 2021. Additionally, the two series where he was more dominant did seem to have kind of shallow fields (the Pure ETCR Series did have several other big names, but it had very few cars in general, while the TCR Europe Series was a minor league.) There's also the element of how strong drivers in weaker cars are difficult to evaluate, particularly because there teammates are usually awful. Considering all this I'm a little hesitant to place him higher and instead opted for some touring car drivers who only competed in one series but were much more dominant like Josh Cook, Colin Turkington, and Anton de Pasquale. I can see why many people would say this would be wrong but I did so because I think WTCR was (much like Formula E) way too messy to evaluate this year and the other series clearly don't rank in the same tier with BTCC and Supercars.

28. António Félix da Costa

WEC LMP236110.5010002.180.83N/A

Although the 2019-2020 Formula E champion da Costa only finished 8th in the Formula E championship, he clearly ran better in every respect than that implied, much like Sam Bird. Clearly his Techeetah team had struggles in 2021 as after winning the last three championships (one with da Costa and the previous two with Jean-Éric Vergne) both drivers plummeted down the standings in 2021, with da Costa only finishing 8th in points to Vergne's 10th; clearly there was some kind of team issue independent of the drivers. But da Costa himself was way better than that implied and clearly substantially better than Vergne. da Costa beat Vergne 5-3 in their shared finishes, which was enough to rank da Costa 12th among all open wheel drivers in my model and 3rd in FE behind only the fluke Oliver Turvey and Sam Bird, and slightly ahead of the champion Nyck de Vries. Although he only won one race while other drivers won two, da Costa ranked highly in many other categories, as he was tied for first in TNL, 3rd in lead shares, 2nd in poles, 4th in average percent led (just nosing out de Vries), and 6th in speed. da Costa's one win was arguably the season highlight as he passed Mitch Evans on the last lap and had a frantic back-and-forth tripartite duel with Evans and Robin Frijns over the whole second half of the race. Although basically no one did well in every single category because there was so much parity, I would say Bird, da Costa, and de Vries were the most consistent drivers across each category and it wasn't remotely obvious to me which of these drivers I should rank first. Helping da Costa's case is that he also won races in two other series. Like several of his Formula E peers, he competed in the LMP2 class of the World Endurance Championship, where he won at Portimão and ranked 6th among the regulars in speed, but he only had a relatively paltry average percent led of 2.15%. da Costa even threw in another win in Stock Car Brasil as a guest driver, but he did clearly have the fastest car as he drove the car that Ricardo Maurício used to collect seven victories (even though da Costa is clearly better than Maurício, it's still a dick move to pull out one of your star drivers for a superior guest driver.) Bizarrely, da Costa's only three wins across three different series were all consecutive in a one-month stretch from May to June, and then he was winless the rest of the year. I ended up deciding to take de Vries and also Frijns over him (even though Frijns had a clearly worse Formula E season even though he beat da Costa in points) because de Vries was the fastest driver who made multiple starts in the LMP2 class while Frijns won the championship and was significantly more dominant than da Costa was in their shared sports car starts, but all these drivers are close.

27. Robin Frijns

WEC LMP216300.50021016.381.88N/A

Frijns was sort of the opposite of Sam Bird and António Félix da Costa in Formula E as he finished ahead of both of them in points in 5th, but clearly had a worse season in that series as he went winless and ranked only 11th in lead shares in 2021, but it's worth noting that one of the times Frijns was passed was by da Costa in Monaco when da Costa activated his Fanboost while Frijns did not have Fanboost all season; one could argue without this gimmick that Frijns might have won that race (he did finish second) and that by itself is one good reason to consider ultimately rating him over da Costa, but that's not why I did. The most awkward thing about Frijns's season in Formula E is that he rated only 65th in my teammate model with a quite bad rating of -.099 because he lost to his teammate Nick Cassidy 6-7 in mutual finishes, which is fairly embarrassing since Frijns was a veteran and Cassidy was a rookie, although Frijns did beat him significantly in the championship (finishing 5th to Cassidy's 15th) and I do think my model is underrating Cassidy somewhat (he did win the Super Formula championship against Álex Palou in 2019 before they switched to Formula E and IndyCar respectively.) Frijns was in the top five in a few other categories besides the championship, being tied for the most races with the most laps led at 2 and being tied for second in fastest laps, and he was at least in the same league as Bird, da Costa, and champion Nyck de Vries in average percent led, although they all narrowly beat him. But the real reason I ranked Frijns up with these guys is because he also won the LMP2 championship in the WEC against many of the same drivers. Frijns and his teammates Ferdinand von Habsburg and Charles Milesi won the last three races of the 2021 WEC season in the LMP2 class including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Frijns inherited the lead on the final lap when Ye Yifei's car broke. As a sports car driver, he was the most dominant driver on his team although Milesi was a little faster. I suspect despite finishing 5th in points Frijns's car in FE wasn't as fast as most of the other title contenders, but he was still narrowly faster than da Costa and much more dominant. Add in the fact that Frijns might have been able to win the FE race at Monaco if he and da Costa had had equal Fanboost, which would have made da Costa winless instead of Frijns, and I think I have to take Frijns higher even though da Costa had the better Formula E season. Don't get me wrong though; it's extremely close.

26. Anton de Pasquale


Although de Pasquale only finished 6th in the 2021 Supercars championship, he was easily the 2nd most dominant driver of the season in every regard. Although the champion Shane van Gisbergen won 14 races to de Pasquale's 6, de Pasquale was closer than that implies as he had 8 TNL, 8.67 lead shares, a mind-boggling 11 poles (the one category where he did eclipse van Gisbergen), and 7 races where he led the most laps. His 18.0% average percent led would be enough to win the title in most series, but not in a year when van Gisbergen himself had an average percent led of 30.7%. Somehow de Pasquale actually finished behind his teammate Will Davison in points because Davison was more consistent, but despite the latter's 4th place points finish and also somehow having a higher average speed than de Pasquale, he went winless and had an average percent led of 2.1%. Regardless of what the points standings say, they weren't even close, as de Pasquale beat Davison 17-7, pretty much equivalent to van Gisbergen beating his teammate Jamie Whincup 20-10. Granted, Whincup was (and I believe remained in 2021) a way better driver than Davison was, so the same should be reflected here. The down side to de Pasquale's season is that he was pretty mediocre in the first half before he kept dominating at the same track over and over again in the second half of the season. As I earlier mentioned, the Sydney Motorsport Park held four rounds of a combined ten races consecutively on the tail end of the schedule, and de Pasquale utterly dominated this stretch with seven poles and five wins, but only won once at any of the other tracks. Normally I'd say a season like this is fully elite, but the fact that it was so wildly unbalanced across circuit types is the reason I have placed him just outside the top 25, and only barely ahead of the likes of Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert. TouringCarTimes actually ranked both Mostert and Whincup over de Pasquale, but I don't think that's really justifiable. He was clearly the second-best driver in the series despite his weak points position, but it's also clear that the others aforementioned weren't far behind.

25. Carlos Sainz, Jr.


Sainz was probably the most overrated F1 driver of the year in my book, which is not to say he was bad (in my opinion, you're not overrated unless you're rated highly to begin with, which excludes most drivers from the running all along.) Having said that, F1 fans tend to automatically assume that whichever teammate finishes higher in points is better without taking luck or any other circumstances into account, particularly when a driver is with their first year at a team, because drivers are assumed to do worse when they switch teams than when they are established at a team to begin with. I'm not actually convinced that last point is true though: while certainly drivers in their first or second season in a series will usually struggle relative to veterans as well as washed-up drivers on the tail end of their careers, it seems wrong to me that a driver like Sainz in his prime right now would suddenly become worse just because he switched teams from McLaren to Ferrari, especially because Ferrari seemed to let them race more than usual by not giving Charles Leclerc number one status even though he's clearly (still) the better driver. Even though neither driver had #1 status, Leclerc still drove like a #1 as he beat Sainz pretty substantially in everything except for the championship. Although neither driver won a race or had a fastest lap, Leclerc beat Sainz at everything else: 2 poles to 0, 1 TNL to 0, 1 lead share to 0.33, 1 race leading the most laps to 0, 2 fastest races to 0, 5.4% average percent led to 1.0%, a 14-8 teammate record in qualifying, 14-6 teammate record in races and an even more extreme record in terms of race speed at 15-4. Leclerc's speed percentile of 74.03% actually ranked higher than Valtteri Bottas, while Sainz at 66.84% was much lower (the difference between Leclerc and Sainz in speed percentile was about the same as Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda!) If you actually do think that drivers substantially struggle more in their first year at a team than in subsequent years, you could argue that means they'll be closer in future years and that's probably true, but regardless, they still weren't close this year. Leclerc's 2021 teammate rating of .318 ranked 11th among all open-wheel drivers, while Sainz's rating of .118 ranked 33rd (behind even the likes of Lance Stroll, Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alexander Sims, Nick Cassidy, and Sébastien Bourdais among other drivers who did not exactly have knockout seasons - he barely even beat Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud!) Yes, I think Sainz was certainly better than all those drivers, but do you see why I have reservations? And I saw people all over social media criticizing any rankings of Leclerc over Sainz when in my opinion, not only is it obvious that Leclerc was better than Sainz, but it is also obvious to me that Leclerc was much better. Anybody rating Sainz higher probably did so just because they expected Leclerc to beat Sainz more than he did. But losing less than you were expected to still doesn't make you better. Even beating your teammate in points (which yes, Sainz did) doesn't automatically make you better. Was Terry Labonte better than Jeff Gordon in 1996? Was Jimmy Vasser better than Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000? Yes, I'll grant that Leclerc and Sainz were closer than those, but they still weren't exactly close. Having said that, out of respect to the other argument, I decided to compromise and give Sainz the absolute last of my elite tier positions, but honestly I think this might be overrating him.

24. Nyck de Vries

WEC LMP2191000.0000000.693.49N/A

Like I've said many times in these articles already, Formula E was a giant mess that I had no idea what to do with. Take the champion Nyck de Vries. Although he won the championship and tied for the most wins with 2, there was somebody better in literally every other category, and the weirdest aspect of his season was that he ranked only 11th in speed despite winning the championship, which is almost unheard of in any championship (while the fastest driver René Rast finished 13th in points and didn't even lead a lap.) The parity in FE was absolutely insane as different drivers led in almost every single category. Unable to make up my mind (as evidenced by my taking several other FE drivers like Robin Frijns, António Félix da Costa, and Sam Bird only barely behind him), I just ended up throwing my hands in the air and saying, "fine, de Vries." But I could have justified putting about 5 or 6 other drivers in this spot as well since practically the whole top half of the FE field seemed to be essentially even. The 2019 Formula 2 champion beat earlier GP2 champion teammate Stoffel Vandoorne 5-4, giving him a rating of 14th in my open wheel teammate model, 3rd among FE drivers behind Bird and da Costa (ignoring the utter fluke of Oliver Turvey ranking an absurd 6th overall despite a completely negligible season.) da Costa and Bird were also both more dominant than de Vries in most categories, as they both beat him in TNL, lead shares, speed, and narrowly in average percent led. However, de Vries also dominated them by several positions in the championship since Bird only finished 6th while da Costa only finished 8th, and I think that difference in consistency was enough to overcome their slightly greater dominance. Having said that, the FE grid was so even in 2021 that de Vries only beat Bird by 12 points and da Costa by 13, the difference between 1st and 4th in a single race. Further complicating things is the fact that many of these drivers also doubled up by competing in European sports car racing. If you asked me to judge just the Formula E seasons alone, I think Bird was the best actually, but he didn't do any sports car crossovers while de Vries, da Costa, and Frijns did. But it was here that I finally made up my mind. All three of these drivers competed in the LMP2 class in the World Endurance Championship as well and de Vries was the fastest of the three, as he had a speed percentile of 93.49%, 2nd highest of the 77 drivers in the class behind only Ye Yifei, while Frijns ranked 11th (81.88%) and da Costa ranked 13th (80.83%.) Admittedly, Frijns won the LMP2 championship while de Vries won no races, but Frijns's FE season was much weaker than the others, while da Costa's one WEC win and de Vries's one win in the European Le Mans Series more or less cancel out to me. All these drivers are basically interchangeable and the differences are marginal, but I think de Vries was (barely) the best in Formula E.

23. Álex Palou


What I will say for Palou is that he was clearly the most improved IndyCar driver of 2021. What I will not say is that he was the best driver. His season was quite similar to Nyck de Vries's in that he won the championship despite not leading most of the relevant statistical categories other than wins and the actual championship result. However, while I ultimately decided de Vries was in fact the best Formula E driver of 2021, I'm afraid I can't draw the same conclusion for Palou. He rated 13th in my open-wheel teammate model, coincidentally one spot ahead of de Vries, but three IndyCar drivers: Josef Newgarden in 4th, Colton Herta in 7th, and Pato O'Ward in 9th all had substantially higher teammate ratings, and I do think all three of those drivers had clearly better seasons; not by a huge amount, but I do think all three of them were better. Clearly Ganassi had the fastest cars in 2021 when you consider that the previously-unheralded Palou won the championship and the previously-unheralded Marcus Ericsson had a multi-win, 6th place season, which both were wildly unexpected. Entering the year, I regretfully admit that I thought Palou was simply another Ed Jones. Had I looked more closely at Palou's Super Formula results from 2019 and realized that he was overwhelmingly the fastest driver as a rookie that year, his season would make more sense to me, but he really ran about the same as Santino Ferrucci in his rookie IndyCar season in 2020 (Palou slightly won the head-to-head, but Ferrucci finished higher in points.) Is it really likely that someone would go from "about as good as Ferrucci" to "the best driver in IndyCar" in just one year? No. Even though Ferrucci is talented, he'll never be championship-caliber. Clearly the car was doing a lot of the work here but it was masked by Scott Dixon's sudden decline. Don't get me wrong: Palou winning the championship in his first year for the team (the first Ganassi driver to do that since Dario Franchitti in 2009) and becoming the first teammate to beat Dixon since 2011 is a big deal. But he only beat Dixon 8-6, Dixon was much more dominant in the races, and despite co-leading the series with 3 wins, he only had 1 TNL and 1.40 lead shares: Will Power pretty much matched Palou in TNL, lead shares, and average percent led despite the Penske cars being significantly slower. It kind of feels like Palou won the championship before he was actually ready to, but will probably eventually justify his championship in retrospect when his career is said and done, much like Matt Kenseth's 2003. To Palou's credit he did lead in wins and fastest laps and he was the highest-finishing series regular in the Indy 500 despite losing the late-race duel to Hélio Castroneves, but Newgarden and Herta beat him in every single category other than those and beat him in average percent led almost 3-1; O'Ward was slightly less dominant than Palou in races, but he beat him badly in TNL, lead shares, and races with the fastest average speed, and nearly matched him in speed with a much slower car. Clearly all three of them were better, but obviously the championship and Indy runs and performance against Dixon still mean something too, so I'll still say Palou was close. Here is the most telling stat about Palou's 2021 season: even though he had the second-fastest average speed of the year to Newgarden, he wasn't the fastest driver in any individual race. This means he clearly had an awesome consistency without being in any way electrifying. Ultimately, I'll take the electrifying driver in a weaker car over the consistent driver in a great one. Don't get me wrong: Palou still is a great talent and could be the best IndyCar driver in some later years. He just wasn't this year.

22. Denny Hamlin


At first, I was going to rank both Palou and Hamlin as just barely outside the elite tier, but upon further research I could not justifiably come up with 25 drivers to rank above either of them, so I have placed them just inside instead. Despite losing the NASCAR Cup championship and being the only one of the four finalists to not even really contend in the season finale at Phoenix, Hamlin certainly had the second best Cup season of 2021 and led the points for a much longer portion of the season than even Kyle Larson did, but let's not kid ourselves: Hamlin wasn't even close to Larson. He was perhaps surprisingly the fastest average driver in Cup in 2021 with a speed percentile of 82.37%, but that obviously has more to do with consistency in speed than top-level speed, which clearly favored Larson, who was the fastest driver in 11 races while Hamlin was only the fastest driver in two. Hamlin was the second most dominant driver of the year leading the most laps in six races and posting an average percent led of 13.5% and he rated fourth in my NASCAR teammate model behind only Chris Buescher, Larson, and Kevin Harvick, but he clearly had a better year than Buescher and Harvick. However, the curious thing was that aside from his consistency and his dominance, he wasn't really much better than either of his marquee teammates at all. Shockingly, Kyle Busch actually beat Hamlin in their teammate head-to-head while Truex won twice as many races. Both Busch and Truex had more lead shares than Hamlin because Hamlin was significantly less clutch. While Truex went 4-2 in TNL lead changes and Busch went 3-4, Hamlin was significantly worse at the end of races with a 3-6 lead change record. Additionally, both Truex and Busch had more races led naturally and they both had positive lead change records overall in 2021 while Hamlin had a negative one. If you neglect the fact that he was faster, more dominant, and more consistent with a better teammate rating, he was arguably actually worse than Truex and Busch. Granted, all those other things do matter quite a lot so I'm still taking Hamlin higher, but I do think it's notable that he continues to be a much worse passer than Truex and Busch (he's had a negative lead change record almost every single year since his 2013 injury; I believe 2020 was his only positive record.) This may be the reason why he has never and I think will never win a championship because he is not a clutch performer and when NASCAR has set things up to all come down to a "winner take all" finale, that is going to bite him again and again. Having said that, I do think the title has become so meaningless and random that it's not really going to affect the way I look at Hamlin's career very much.

21. Colin Turkington


There were three clear standouts in the British Touring Car Championship in 2021 with Ashley Sutton winning the championship with five wins, Turkington finished second with four, and Cook finishing third in points with five. They were fiercely competitive all season as the season started with Turkington spinning out polesitter Sutton in the first race, handing Cook the victory. However, despite that rough start, Sutton came back to win the championship in a bit of a runaway (he won by the equivalent of 2.5 races out of 30.) TouringCarTimes rated Sutton 2nd to Cook's 13th and Turkington's 14th. While I did end up taking Sutton higher than the other two, I think both Turkington and Cook were a lot closer than people think though, as they were both way more dominant than Sutton. Turkington for instance had an average percent led of 18.8% to Sutton's 7.5%, led the most laps in six races to Sutton's two, and set seven laps to Sutton's five. Although I still ended up rating Sutton higher and I'll explain why later, I don't think he was substantially better than Turkington and Cook as well considering how much more heavily both of them dominated races than Sutton did. The main blemish of Turkington's season is that he had a lead change record of 0-2, indicating that he failed to make an on-track pass for the lead all season. He was good at maintaining the lead when he started on pole, which he did four times, but Sutton did pass him for the lead both times. Even though Turkington was much more dominant, Sutton was much more clutch and a way better passer and duelist generally. Regardless, I don't think either he or Cook were as far behind as TouringCarTimes does. I think both of them were much better than most touring car drivers this year.

20. Josh Cook


Speaking of. I first heard of Cook in 2015 when a member of the now-erased racing-reference.info comment section recommended I rank him on my top 100 list that year, which in retrospect I find ridiculous. He didn't deserve it then, but he does now. Just like the aforementioned TouringCarTimes, I placed Cook exactly one spot ahead of Colin Turkington for a reason. Their stat lines are more identical than anyone else's on this list, and they even did it in the same series. While Turkington beat him by three points in the championship, the difference between 1st and 2nd in a single race, Cook had one more win so I guess that cancels out. Both Cook and Turkington had 4 TNL, 4 lead shares, led the most laps 6 times, had an average percent led that rounded to 18.8% (although Turkington's was barely higher), and they also were almost exactly tied in their speed percentile with Cook's 78.19% just nosing out Turkington's 78.10%. While the younger Cook had a faster top speed with 7 fastest laps to Turkington's 4, Turkington was more consistent over the full race distance with 8 fastest races to Cook's 3. No two drivers were more even on this entire top 200 list than Cook and Turkington. But Cook was better. Although he certainly got lucky to back in the first race after Turkington spun Ashley Sutton out, which allowed him to start on the pole for the second race by default and gifted him another win, he did have a lead change record of 2-1 passing polesitter Daniel Rowbottom to win at Thruxton and passing fellow polesitter Senna Proctor to win at Brands Hatch. Additionally, Turkington won two reverse grid races while all five of Cook's race wins came in races that were determined entirely by speed. Also Cook technically drove an independent entry while Turkington drove a factory entry, but as I've mentioned several times before, I don't think that matters much in BTCC where the faster cars are required to carry more success ballast anyway. My evaluation of Cook vs. Ashley Sutton is pretty much the same as my evaluation of Turkington vs. Sutton. Sutton passed Cook for the win once while Cook did not pass Sutton for the win at all, but at least he was only passed by Sutton once while Turkington was passed by him twice. All in all, Cook and Turkington were ridiculously even and not far off of Sutton, but the order they should be ranked is clear.

19. Yann Ehrlacher


The World Touring Car Cup was only barely less of a mess than Formula E this year, as it too had ridiculous parity with all the top 12 or so being relatively evenly matched in performance, although I think the distinctions were still much easier to make in WTCR than in FE in 2021 and the champion went to the right guy. In addition to winning the championship, Ehrlacher was one of four WTCR drivers to post a winning record against all three of his teammates along with Mikel Azcona, Frédéric Vervisch, and Esteban Guerrieri, the latter of whom I rated maybe a little too low. Ehrlacher was one of four drivers to win twice along with Jean-Karl Vernay, Vervisch, and his teammate Santiago Urrutia, but most notably he utterly dominated two past champion teammates by substantial margins, beating his uncle Yvan Muller 10-4 and Thed Björk, who won his WTCC championship much more recently, 13-2. Ehrlacher was the fastest overall driver in the series, although a speed percentile is 70.34% is quite low to lead any series, which gives you some idea of how much parity there was. He also was one of only three drivers who was the fastest driver in two different races, even though other drivers beat him in all other categories. For the most part, Ehrlacher's consistency was his strength, as he extended his record streak of consecutive points finishes to 38, and that streak dates back to 2019. Much like in the cases of Ashley Sutton and Nyck de Vries, I do agree in this case that the champion was the best driver but I don't think Ehrlacher was so much better than the other top WTCR contenders that he should be rated overwhelmingly higher than them. Azcona and Vernay at the very least were in the same league.

18. Colton Herta


Herta was in most regards the most dominant driver in IndyCar in 2021. Despite only finishing fifth in the championship, he tied the champion Álex Palou for most wins on the season with three, but he led the series in TNL with 5 (nobody else had more than Pato O'Ward's 3), lead shares with 5 (nobody else had more than O'Ward's 2.44), races leading the most laps with 4 (tied with Josef Newgarden), and an average percent led of 21.6%, barely nosing out Newgarden's 20.7%. He also had the fastest average speed in four races, more than any other driver, and he probably would have won at Nashville if he didn't crash (which was his fault for overdriving, but he still deserved the win more than Marcus Ericsson) and would have won at Gateway if he hadn't had a driveshaft failure after passing Newgarden for the lead. However, he was not consistent in his speed as he definitely had more bad races than the other title contenders and ranked only 4th in speed behind Newgarden, Palou, and O'Ward. When you consider that two of his teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe both had their worst points finishes in a full-time season ever and did so badly that 2021 effectively ended their careers while all three of Herta's teammates didn't even come close to winning, I have to take him in first place, right? No. Ultimately despite his greater dominance, I think both Newgarden and O'Ward had significantly weaker cars by a large enough margin to compensate for Herta's greater dominance, albeit barely. For one thing, O'Ward actually beat Herta in points and usually has throughout his career (like the 2018 Indy Lights battle), while O'Ward's teammate Felix Rosenqvist actually finished behind both Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe in the championship even though Rosenqvist seemed a lot less washed-up than the other two entering 2021. O'Ward also had a faster average speed than Herta even though he had what I think most people would agree was a slower car. As for Herta vs. Newgarden, it's a lot closer but I ultimately opted for Newgarden because contrary to what you'd expect, I actually think the Penske car was slower than the Andretti. When you compare Herta and Newgarden to their major teammates, Herta beat Alexander Rossi 7-4 and Newgarden beat both Will Power and Simon Pagenaud 12-2. However, I think Power and Pagenaud are both historically better than Rossi for sure, and I think they still might have been in 2021. Power clearly had a better season than Rossi and I think Rossi and Pagenaud's IndyCar seasons were basically equivalent, yet Rossi had an average speed percentile of 63.42%, which is significantly faster than both Power and Pagenaud, who had speed percentiles between 52 and 53%. Therefore, I think the Andretti cars were better by a significant enough margin to take Newgarden over Herta even though Herta was more dominant; Newgarden was also obviously more consistent and higher in my teammate ratings, although Herta was still extraordinarily good as he was the 7th-highest rated driver in my open wheel model in 2021.

17. Alessandro Pier Guidi

WEC LMGTE Pro16310.40020013.974.74N/A

One of the most decorated sports car drivers of the year - maybe the most decorated, Pier Guidi won major sports car championships in two different divisions. Most significantly, he won the World Endurance Championship in the GTE Pro class co-driving with James Calado including a class win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he was the TNL, ultimately passing Jordan Taylor for the win. He also won the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup alongside teammates Nicklas Nielsen, also a double champion, and Côme Lodegar, who also shared his Le Mans car. In that series, he won the 24 Hours of Spa, which counted three times for the championship, awarding points at 6 hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours; the team was the leader after all three "stages" to appropriate a NASCAR term. He also won in his only European Le Mans Series start. While some might say that all that is worthy of a top ten placement overall, especially when considering he earned both a class and an overall 24 hour win, I have several reservations that make me inclined to place him lower. For one thing, he spun out Michael Christensen in the series finale 8 Hours of Bahrain to win the WEC championship, and Christensen's teammate/co-driver Kévin Estre was clearly the top GT driver of the year. Second, Calado was also more successful in the same cars, as he had 2 TNL and 2.4 lead shares to Pier Guidi's 1 TNL and 0.4 lead shares, and he also was slightly more dominant. My placing Pier Guidi over Calado is exclusively because of his greater racing crossovers, even though I think Calado was actually better in his WEC starts and at least he didn't play dirty to win the championship. Having said that, just as in the case of Filipe Albuquerque, Pier Guidi's versatility caused me to rank him over Calado even though Calado was better in WEC alone, much like Albuquerque's versatility caused me to narrowly rank him over Ricky Taylor even though Taylor was way better in IMSA. Additionally, I don't believe his team would have won the other championship except for the fact that the 24 Hours of Spa counted three times towards the championship. Having said that, in sports car racing maybe triple counting is fair, since the sanctioning bodies change so often that endurance race wins generally do actually matter more than the championships. Pier Guidi was definitely one of the best sports car drivers of the year, but I don't think he was the best sports car driver or even the best GT driver.

16. Elfyn Evans

The breakout rally driver of the 2020s so far had his second-consecutive 2-win season and 2nd place finish in the championship to his teammate Sébastien Ogier, but while Ogier continues to dominate the World Rally Championship most years and actually won more rallies than he usually has lately, Evans has been steadily improving against Ogier over time. Ogier only beat Evans 7-5 in terms of shared rally finishes in 2021, while he beat him by a substantially greater margin in the previous seasons they were teammates (5-1 in 2020, 10-0 in 2018, and 9-2 in 2017.) Evans would have even won his first World Rally Championship had Ogier been forced to retire after his crash in Croatia, which would have given Evans the win. However, Ogier managed to battle back to take the lead in the final stage by a mere 0.6 seconds and Ogier finishing that rally probably decided the championship.

15. Josef Newgarden


A strong case can be made that Newgarden was the best IndyCar driver of 2021 even though he didn't win the title. He had the fastest average speed of all IndyCar drivers with a speed percentile of 81.10% even though his teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power were only barely above average with speed percentiles of 52.72% and 52.31% respectively and his rookie teammate Scott McLaughlin was well below average at 40.48%. Had his car not failed while leading on the final restart at Road America handing the win to Álex Palou, he would have narrowly won the title. Additionally, he was the fourth-highest rated of all open-wheel drivers in 2021 in my model behind only Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Lando Norris; he also overtook Scott Dixon to become the highest-rated active IndyCar driver in my model overall. Never has anyone beaten once-elite teammates like Pagenaud and Power as badly as Newgarden has as Newgarden went 12-2 against Pagenaud, 12-2 against Power, and 13-2 against McLaughlin; his teammate rating would be even higher had Road America not happened as that was one of the only two races he lost to all three teammates. However, there's still something wanting about Newgarden's season that keeps me from hesitating to rank him highest among IndyCar drivers and it is primarily his passing ability. Not long ago and as recently as 2018, Newgarden was the most brilliant passer in IndyCar; he had the third-highest career lead change percentage of all IndyCar drivers dating back to the '30s. But suddenly he changed stylistically in 2019 from a gunslinger duelist to a conservative who relies more on raw speed and pit road passes than dueling. For a man who used to be one of the most electrifying passers in IndyCar history to suddenly post a 1-4 lead change record is tremendously disappointing. He got passed for the win twice by Pato O'Ward and Colton Herta, while his only pass came against Takuma Sato, who had a very disappointing season. Regardless of losing the title to Palou, I definitely think Newgarden was better than Palou as crushing Power and Pagenaud to me is better than Palou barely beating Scott Dixon. However, deciding where to rank Newgarden versus O'Ward and Herta was much more difficult. Herta was the most dominant driver of the season in most respects, but he was also easily the least consistent. O'Ward almost certainly had the slowest car, but he was also the least dominant. As a result, I think all three of them were close. Ultimately, I chose O'Ward over Newgarden because he nearly matched Newgarden in points in a less reliable car, tied him in wins, beat him TNL, lead shares, and fastest races, which I think was enough to compensate for Newgarden's narrow leads in many of the other categories, even though Newgarden was faster, much more dominant, and had the higher teammate rating, but a case can still be made Newgarden was the best. Herta was the most dominant driver with a slightly higher average percent led of 21.6% to Newgarden's 20.7%, and he crushed him in TNL (5 to 2) and lead shares (5 to 2.3), but Newgarden was faster and had a better teammate rating. Ultimately I chose Newgarden because I think he had a slower car. Alexander Rossi posted a speed percentile of 63.42% to Pagenaud and Power having speed percentiles between 52-53% even though Rossi clearly had a worse year than Power and probably roughly an equivalent one to Pagenaud. This implies to me that despite how weak the Andretti team was, the cars were faster than they looked and actually faster than the Penskes (a part-time Hélio Castroneves winning for the Michael Shank satellite of Andretti also helps make this case.) Considering I think that Penske was slower than Andretti, I think Newgarden should be ahead of Herta, but only barely.

14. Ashley Sutton


Sutton had a slow start to his eventually successful defense of his 2020 BTCC championship after getting spun out by Colin Turkington at the start of the season-opener, which ended up effectively handing Josh Cook the first two wins. However, Sutton eventually took control of the championship as usual by matching Cook with five wins. Although as I mentioned Cook and Turkington were both way more dominant than Sutton was, averaging 18.8% led each to Sutton's 7.5%, Sutton was still better. For one thing, he was the only driver who naturally led six races in the series while no one else led more than four, and his 6-1 lead change record and 5.67 lead shares were electrifying, with both leading the series. Sutton's season highlight may have come at race 14 at Knockhill when he passed Turkington on the last lap of the race after Turkington had led from the start, but he also passed Turkington to win at Snetterton and Cook to win at Thruxton. Although he was not the dominant or necessarily the flashiest, as either Cook or Turkington or both led the most laps in more races, had more fastest laps, and/or had more fastest races, Sutton's consistency was unrivaled as he had the highest speed percentile at 81.35% and he only failed to score points in a single race, while Turkington did so four times and Cook did so six times. It doesn't really matter that he wasn't the most dominant driver; he was still the best.

13. Felipe Nasr

IMSA DPi110321.95443218.685.72N/A
WEC LMP2NR2000.0000000.078.84N/A

The best IMSA regular of 2021, he was a major standout despite the fact that he and his co-driver Pipo Derani didn't win any of the four major endurance races. While a case can be made that Ricky Taylor was better (he was certainly a better passer in a slower car), ultimately I decided that Nasr outperforming Derani in every race was more impressive than Taylor outperforming Albuquerque in most races, although I'll grant that Albuquerque was much more relevant than Derani this year and also that at least Taylor won the 24 Hours of Daytona while Nasr did not. Having said that though, Nasr's speed is primarily what impresses me, and in that regard, no one else was even close to him. He had a speed percentile of 85.73%, far higher than Renger van der Zande, who had the second-best speed percentile among series regulars at 73.02%. Nasr was way closer to Kamui Kobayashi, his teammate and the best sports car driver of the year, who led the class with a speed percentile of 88.61% in the four endurance races. Kobayashi was certainly better than Nasr though since he was faster than him in three of four races when they were teammates in IMSA and also won the main WEC championship while Nasr's WEC crossovers were nowhere near as impressive. In addition to winning the IMSA DPi championship and tying Taylor and Albuquerque for the most race wins, he also led in poles, races leading the most laps, fastest laps, and average percent led, although van der Zande had one more fastest race than Nasr and Taylor beat him (substantially) in TNL and lead shares. Still, I don't think Taylor's passing is enough to overcome Nasr's far greater accomplishments in every other category (except of course for winning the 24 Hours of Daytona itself.)

12. Charles Leclerc


I've already explained why Leclerc was clearly better than Carlos Sainz, Jr. regardless of what the points standings say in the Sainz entry so now I want to compare him to the drivers in faster cars. Although Leclerc failed to win a race, it wasn't for lack of trying as he managed to win two back-to-back pole positions at Monaco and Baku, becoming the first driver to win multiple poles for a team that did not win a race since Kimi Räikkönen in 2006. Since there is traditionally so little passing at Monaco, he probably would have won that race had he been able to make the start, but a failed driveshaft prevented him from making it. Had that not happened and he'd won the race, that would have easily given enough points to beat Sainz, which would have led to his season being perceived very differently. His other heartbreak came at Silverstone, where he led the vast majority of the race despite being significantly down on power to the Mercedes and Red Bull and also having a nagging power issue throughout the race that prevented him from building a lead. The most impressive thing about Leclerc's season to me, as I already mentioned in the Sainz section, is that he actually had a higher speed percentile than Valtteri Bottas despite the Mercedes being way faster than Ferrari. He also performed very nicely in a bunch of other categories, as he was tied for 3rd in TNL in lead shares, (I gave him the TNL for Monaco, although I suppose many people wouldn't), 4th in poles, tied for 3rd in races having led the most laps, 3rd in fastest races, and 4th in average percent led (he led more than Sergio Pérez also despite a slower car.) When you look at his points position it's disappointing, but when you look at how he was running, he wasn't really running far off Bottas and Pérez in a way slower car. He was clearly better than them, but nobody argued otherwise. Even though Leclerc did beat Lando Norris in most of the objective stats, the McLaren was slower and I did rank Norris higher. Leclerc was the 11th highest rated driver in my open wheel model and 6th in F1, but he was clearly better than two of those (Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll, who were clearly rated where they were because of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel's past success rather than their current ability.) He was rated behind all the top three IndyCar drivers, but I'm still taking him over two of them because I think Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta both had more significant weaknesses even though they did better in my teammate model. All in all, Leclerc hasn't fallen off at all and he could still be a title contender if the Ferrari had the fastest car. I don't really expect that to happen though.

11. Kévin Estre

WEC LMGTE Pro26332.60542239.874.57N/A
IMSA GTLM93000.0000105.079.15N/A

Estre was the most dominant driver in the World Endurance Championship in 2021 and nobody else even came close. In his six starts, Estre had an absurd average percent led of 39.8%. Although the class wasn't that competitive, he still utterly obliterated James Calado, the next most dominant WEC GTE Pro driver, who only had an average percent led of 16.7%. No other full-timers had an average percent led of 20% or higher in any class. Although he had the championship basically stolen from him when Alessandro Pier Guidi spun his teammate/co-driver Michael Christensen, Estre was clearly overwhelmingly superior. In six starts, he had three wins, tied for the most with the Pier Guidi/Calado team, and led outright in TNL, lead shares, poles, and races with the most laps led, and he tied Miguel Molina for most fastest laps and fastest races. Pier Guidi did nose out Estre slightly in speed with an average speed percentile of 74.74% to Estre's 74.57% to Calado's 74.41%, but a strong case can be made that the Pier Guidi/Calado car was faster because Estre's teammate Neel Jani had a speed percentile of only 26.11%, which is not good at all. He single-handedly elevated his team into what should have been a championship, while Pier Guidi and Calado were much more even in their arguably stolen championship. Estre also made a splash in the IMSA GTLM class, where he also had a faster average speed than any other driver (he and Kamui Kobayashi were the only drivers to be the fastest in a class in both WEC and IMSA in 2021.) However, he was forced to give up what would have been his Petit Le Mans win in a one-off entry so his team's full-time entry driven by Matt Campbell, Mathieu Jaminet, and Cooper MacNeil could win instead. Despite really being jerked around all season, he was still utterly spectacular. He did have some good fortune though. He did win his first 24 Hours of Nürburgring even though he and his co-drivers Christensen and Matteo Cairoli only had to race for less than ten hours because most of the race was canceled due to rain and fog. He and Christensen also won two races in the Nürburgring Endurance Series as well.

10. Pato O'Ward


Although he failed to win the IndyCar championship despite leading the points standings a couple times and he narrowly lost out on 2nd place in the finale when he was overtaken by Josef Newgarden after his sole DNF of the year, I think O'Ward was clearly the best IndyCar driver of 2021. Despite still being a mere 22 years old, he gave the ARROW McLaren SP team a third-place points finish, matching the team's best-ever championship finish by Simon Pagenaud in 2013. However, I think O'Ward this year was definitely better than Pagenaud that year. After utterly demolishing Fernando Alonso throughout the entire Indy 500 cycle in 2020, he did the same thing to both Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2021. Rosenqvist was considered one of IndyCar's biggest rising stars after he successfully outdueled O'Ward at Road America in 2020, but O'Ward ended up demolishing Rosenqvist in the same equipment badly enough in 2021 that Rosenqvist easily could have been out of the series had the AMSP team not given him a surprise reprieve. Technically, he only beat Rosenqvist 7-3, which was only good enough to rank O'Ward 9th among major league open wheel drivers in 2021, but O'Ward was somewhat unlucky and if you look at race speed, it's an entirely different story. O'Ward was faster than Rosenqvist in a staggering 14 of 15 races in 2021, and if I plugged in the data based on head-to-head speed percentiles instead of head-to-head finishes, he would have easily beaten both Newgarden and Colton Herta in my teammate rankings. To be fair, Herta beat Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe badly enough and Newgarden beat Simon Pagenaud badly enough that all three of those drivers were dropped from their teams for 2022, so they're all killing it right now. But O'Ward is doing it for a wildly unstable McLaren team that seems to fire and/or cycle through drivers constantly: a team that made Alonso, Hélio Castroneves, and Montoya look like mid-packers and Rosenqvist a backmarker when they definitely weren't. Although O'Ward didn't lead any major statistical categories (except for teammate rating if I adjust it to being based on speed instead of based on finishes), he was 2nd or 3rd in most categories despite driving a car that I think may have barely been top ten: tied for 3rd in wins, 2nd in TNL and lead shares, tied for 2nd in poles, tied for 2nd in fastest laps, 2nd in fastest races, and 3rd in fastest speed. The only thing he seemed to be lacking was dominance, as he did not lead the most laps in any race and only ranked 6th in average percent led. However, I'm not sure whether his lack of dominance matters when he was great at both speed and passing. He did pass Newgarden for the win twice and he used to be overwhelmingly the best passer in IndyCar not long ago. Most impressively might be his consistent relevance across multiple different races. While O'Ward wasn't the fastest driver in either of his wins, he was the fastest at the season-opening race at Barber as well as the first Texas race (not the one he won) and the Indy 500, while Newgarden and Herta tended to be the fastest only in races they won or dominated. After I read that McLaren's team signed Newgarden's head engineer for O'Ward, I think O'Ward is now the championship favorite for 2022. Although he wasn't quite the highest-rated McLaren driver in my model in 2021 (Lando Norris did beat him), I think Daniel Ricciardo needs to watch his back as I think O'Ward stands the best chance of any IndyCar driver of advancing to F1 since Sébastien Bourdais in 2008.

9. Kamui Kobayashi

WEC Hypercar16300.00310219.184.50N/A
IMSA DPi124000.0700012.388.61N/A

The best sports car driver of the year, Kobayashi finally completed his sports car career with his first and long-overdue 24 Hours of Le Mans overall win, and he and his Hypercar co-drivers José María López and Mike Conway also won their second consecutive championship. Kobayashi was obviously the team linchpin as he had a speed percentile of 84.50% to López's 74.87% and Conway's 62.25%, although the three were very evenly matched in average percent led, with López narrowly beating Kobayashi in that statistic. Kobayashi was the fastest driver at Monza and the Bahrain 6 Hour, matching Sébastien Buemi for the most fastest races. He also led in poles but his sole blemishes are that he had no fastest laps and no TNLs. Having said that, I kind of disregard the TNL statistic for the WEC Toyota teams since almost all their passes were orchestrated: rather than trying to have their cars race each other, they would just abruptly orchestrate a pass when the trailing car seemed faster. Kobayashi also crossed over to run the four endurance races in IMSA, where he was again the fastest in the DPi class and he set the fastest average race speed in the 24 Hours of Daytona, but his bid to win his third straight Rolex fell short, probably through no fault of his own. He had to carry that team on his back because all three of his teammates: Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller, and Jimmie Johnson have clearly declined while he's still in his prime, but if he'd had any currently elite co-driver on that team, I suspect he probably would have won something. I'm sure he'd rather have his first 24 Hours of Le Mans win than a third consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona win with no Le Mans win though. Kobayashi also filled in for Kazuto Kotaka in a single Super Formula race, finishing tenth while his teammate Yuji Kunimoto failed to finish. That doesn't really affect my placement of him one iota.

8. Lando Norris


Even though Norris didn't win and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo did, the general consensus by most people is that Norris was the 3rd best F1 driver of the year and I will not be arguing against that consensus. However, I think Autosport's decision to rate him as the 3rd best driver overall was a bit overblown (but understandable given that the publication is British.) Norris was the 3rd highest rated driver in my open wheel model behind the two drivers you expect, and ahead of all IndyCar, Formula E, and Super Formula drivers as well. Despite failing to win a race or even lead a lap in the first half, he started the season with nine top five finishes in the first ten races along with an eighth, which placed him 3rd ahead of Sergio Pérez and Valtteri Bottas in the much faster Red Bull and Mercedes cars. He then had some misfortune after he was wrecked by Bottas in Hungary and qualified 15th at Spa in the infamous one-lap race, but bounced back to score his best career finish, a second at Monza behind his teammate Ricciardo before the highlight of his season at Sochi. After winning his first pole, he dominated the race until he made the dangerous gamble to remain on regular tires in heavy rain; however, his aquaplane gave the race to Lewis Hamilton at the very end. Regardless, he made a statement and still finished the race in seventh. The rest of his year kind of fizzled out points-wise as the McLaren was slower late in the season than it had been earlier, but judging his season overall, most people think it was better than everyone else's except Verstappen and Hamilton and I have no disagreement with that.

7. Larry ten Voorde

Perhaps this is too high because I am overrating the prestige of the series, but ten Voorde is one of the few drivers who won multiple professional championships in the same season outside sports car racing, where it's fairly common. For the second consecutive season, ten Voorde won the Porsche Supercup championship and the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany championship simultaneously, winning 4 of 8 races in the former and 5 of 10 races in the latter. These series do have a lot of crossover historically with many of the same drivers and teams competing in both series, but while winning both championships in the same year is not unheard of (Frank Stippler in 2003, René Rast in 2012, Philipp Eng in 2015, and Sven Müller in 2016 also won both), ten Voorde became the first driver to win both championships in back-to-back seasons, which is definitely more historic. And none of those drivers ever won half the races in both series. Porsche Supercup is kind of its own thing as it's not really a touring car series but lots of past and future touring car stars have raced there and it is a support series for Formula 1, while the Porsche Carrera Cups are technically support series for Porsche Supercup but frequently also for domestic touring car championships in other countries, so I'm not quite sure yet how to evaluate its prestige (although I'll probably eventually do a touring car model to figure that out.) But regardless, I think that both series are prestigious enough that although he's not one of the first drivers to come to mind when you think of the best drivers in the world, I don't think this ranking is patently absurd either. Particularly if you compare him to his teammates. In the Porsche Carrera Cup, he had five teammates and had a combined teammate record against them of 59-0. In Porsche Supercup, his combined teammate record was 13-1. Since he finished every race in both series, this isn't even a case of other teammates at least beating him when he failed to finish a race, because he never failed to finish a race. He probably overall beat his teammates worse than any driver in any series in the world. Relatively minor series or not, I think all that's worthy of top ten placement.

6. Johan Kristoffersson

The other driver to win multiple major league championships in 2021 outside of sports car racing, Kristofferson has been the biggest star in the FIA World Rallycross Championship for a number of years now and wins it routinely, although admittedly it didn't come easily for him in 2021 as he only won the championship in a tiebreaker over Timmy Hansen because he won three races to Hansen's two (it's extremely weird that Hansen has both won and lost major championships in a tiebreaker, although I guess it's not unheard of since Juan Pablo Montoya also did in IndyCar.) Kristofferson along with most of the other major rallycross stars crossed over to compete in the brand-new Extreme E championship for off-road electric cars and won that too, and he and his teammate Molly Taylor utterly dominated the season with three wins in five events, and did so against a field of all-stars including Sébastien Loeb, the Hansen brothers, Mattias Ekström, Carlos Sainz (the father, not the son), and even Jenson Button showed up once. The fields in both series (especially World Rallycross) weren't especially large so I can understand why people might want to rate him lower, but I disagree and I think it makes sense to slot him right behind the World Rally Champion.

5. Sébastien Ogier

The best rally driver of the last decade had a significant return to form in 2021 as although he has won the championship eight out of nine years since 2013, he did significantly better in 2021 than he has usually done lately. Ogier won five rallies in a season for the first time since 2016 and won the championship by 23 points, his biggest margin since 2017. However, Ogier was relatively evenly-matched with his teammates in rallies as he beat Elfyn Evans 7-5 and Kalle Rovanperä 7-4 and they came way closer to matching Ogier this year than they did in 2020, but that was masked by Ogier's sudden improvement in rally wins. His season highlight came in the Croatia Rally, where he believed he had to retire from the rally after a crash on a public road. Despite slightly injuring his back, he fought back and overtook Evans to win in the final stage by a mere 0.6 seconds.

4. Shane van Gisbergen


Of the many drivers in domestic series championships in 2021, no one - not even Tomoki Nojiri or Kyle Larson - dominated their national championship worse than van Gisbergen. The Supercars champion won 14 of 30 races in 2021, although I admit that's not very unusual for the series as Scott McLaughlin won 13 and 18 races the two previous years. Although Anton de Pasquale had more poles and Chaz Mostert had more fastest laps, van Gisbergen led in every other category, usually by large margins as he had 11 TNL, 10 lead shares, 10 races where he led the most laps, 16 races where he had the highest average speed, a mind-boggling 30.7% average percent led, and a speed percentile of 89.96% that was beaten by no other full-time driver in a single-driver series except Max Verstappen. Although he kind of faded late in the season when de Pasquale went on his power run in the series of Sydney races, followed by Mostert having maybe the best Bathurst 1000 win ever, he was particularly amazing at the start of the season winning the first six races in a row, which led him to lead the championship for the entire season. He did this despite nursing an injury in a mountain biking crash between the 2nd and 3rd races of the year. Yet in his first race after the injury he somehow drove from 17th to win in a race that only lasted 36 laps and 45 minutes. That might've been the best drive anywhere all season in any series. I believe Autosport did him dirty by only rating him 16th in their own rankings, although I'd feel a little contrarian ranking him over Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton. Ultimately, it was a fairly tough decision between van Gisbergen and Larson for the top domestic driver of the year. However, I went with Larson because: 1. I think NASCAR Cup is a more prestigious series than Supercars as Cup is the top tier of oval racing and Supercars is not the top tier of road racing; 2. Cup requires much more versatility as drivers compete on ovals, road courses, and now dirt; 3. Cup definitely has a deeper field of competition; 4. Larson had all those sprint car wins while van Gisbergen didn't have wins in any other series although he has in the past; 5. I think if McLaughlin hadn't switched to IndyCar that van Gisbergen's season would look nowhere near as good (he might've still won the title, but he probably wouldn't have won 14 races and even gone on a winning streak while injured.) Regardless, this is clearly one of the two best seasons of van Gisbergen's career along with his 2016 season, where his championship season in Supercars wasn't as dominant but he also won the Blancpain Endurance Series championship and the Bathurst 12 Hour.

3. Lewis Hamilton


I realize there is a very large contingent of people who think Hamilton was robbed of the Formula One championship in Abu Dhabi, culminating in the inevitable social media storm of people sharing the hashtag #westandwithlewis to this day. I agree that it was a bad call to let Max Verstappen pit for tires and not let Hamilton pit and that Hamilton would have been more likely to win the race and the championship had they both pitted. I understand why on that basis Autosport ranked Hamilton as the best driver of the year (and honestly, that's a lot more justifiable than some of their other placements, especially Álex Palou in 5th; plus obviously they're British.) Having said that, I think Verstappen was the best driver clearly and it wouldn't have mattered regardless of who won the championship. One of the biases you eventually develop as an analytics guy is that you become increasingly indifferent to championships. While most people can rationally see that championships in every auto racing discipline are more contingent on the strength of the team than the strength of the driver, the championships are consistently awarded to the drivers, even though most people who do racing analytics like F1metrics realize the best driver does not always or even usually win the championship. The fact that I was primarily a NASCAR fan growing up and watched NASCAR adapt steadily gimmickier championship formats over time put this into even more stark relief. Having a champion at all rather than just a bunch of standalone races in and of itself is probably merely designed to increase entertainment value. Championships are viewed as a more important part of legacies than they really should be and while I'll give a little weight to them, what really matters when evaluating a driver is how you perform given the strength of the car. Is Palou suddenly the best IndyCar driver of 2021 just because he won the title? No. Would Kyle Larson suddenly not be the best Cup driver of 2021 if he lost the random coin flip that was Phoenix? No. And the same holds true for Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. Any Neil Postman fan will realize that televising anything will create skewed incentives to find new ways to make things artificially more exciting (have we forgotten that Bernie Ecclestone once floated the idea of artificial rain?) Hamilton's team may indeed have been robbed of the race win and the championship, but I think Verstappen clearly outperformed him. For one thing, Verstappen swept his teammate Sergio Pérez 16-0 while Lewis Hamilton only beat Valtteri Bottas 14-3. Although my model did have Bottas as the higher ranked driver and he's been more successful generally, Verstappen had a substantially higher rating at .630 than Hamilton's .525. Hamilton certainly did very well and he was absolutely the second-best open wheel driver of the year. He definitely beat Bottas by a more substantial margin than he usually does, although I do suspect part of that may have been a loss of team morale on the Bottas side because Mercedes and Bottas both knew that 2021 was their final season together. However, in other regards, Hamilton's season was clearly a decline from his previous Mercedes seasons. Since Mercedes became the premier team in 2014, Hamilton had his least winningest season with eight wins, and had an average percent led of 23.4%. This is despite the fact that the Formula One season lasted 22 races, longer than any season in history. His average percent led may sound like a lot and indeed it is, but when you consider his previous seven seasons, in those years he had an average percent led of between 36.2% and 64.2% in every single season, so he definitely had a sudden and unexpected decline in terms of dominance, particularly considering the 64.2% season was actually 2020. In one year, he was almost 2/3 less dominant than he used to be. Clearly placing Hamilton at #1 should not necessarily be automatic if he had his least winning and least dominant season since 2013 in a year that had more races in a season than any previous year. Additionally, Hamilton's eight wins may actually overstate how well he ran, as he was lucky to win several races that other drivers dominated, such as Silverstone, where he benefited from Charles Leclerc's power glitch, and Sochi, where he benefited from Lando Norris's aquaplane. I'm not going to attempt to assess blame for Hamilton and Verstappen's Monza and Silverstone crashes, because I've never been particularly good at judging blame and intent, but Hamilton get lucky that Verstappen crashed at Baku due to a tire failure, and he did catch another break when he survived the Silverstone wreck regardless of whose fault you think it was. While I think Hamilton has been the best driver in the world several times before, I don't think he was in 2021, but I will discuss this more in the Verstappen section.

2. Kyle Larson


Usually when a driver is fired for bad behavior (like Ernie Irvan in 1997 or Kurt Busch in 2011), they have to struggle in second-rate cars to build back their cred before working their way in elite cars again. However, Larson ended up replacing the retiring Jimmie Johnson at Hendrick Motorsports at just the point that Hendrick had fully returned to powerhouse status after Chase Elliott's successful title bid. I admit I was annoyed that it felt like he didn't have to pay his dues again and got to waltz into such a premier ride after what he did, and I was even more annoyed once his dominant power run started in the mid-spring especially at the Coca-Cola 600 where it felt like he was getting near-hagiographic coverage by the media, he wore even me down by the end of the season. Looking at it subjectively, his dominance kind of annoyed me but looking at it objectively, I can admit that Larson had the best season of any driver in a domestic American series since at least Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999. He became the first NASCAR Cup driver to win ten races in a season since Jimmie Johnson in 2007, but he was way more dominant than Johnson was that year. His average percent led of 24.6% was the most seen in Cup since Jeff Gordon in 1995. Although you can easily argue he lucked into his championship race victory as he took the lead via a pit stop exchange, he didn't luck into much else as he had 11 TNL, led the most laps in 14 races (the most since Cale Yarborough in 1976), and had the fastest average speed in 11 races, suggesting that maybe he should have actually won more. He nearly became the first driver to win four races in a row since Johnson that same season until his tire blew on the last lap of the first Pocono race, and if you count the Texas all-star race, which most people don't, he actually did. He was easily the most clutch driver with an 11-3 record, which I'll still take over Ryan Blaney's 3-0 record. He rated 2nd in my NASCAR teammate ratings for 2021, well ahead of any of the legitimate contenders, although curiously behind Chris Buescher. However, surprisingly, there were a number of statistics in 2021 that Larson didn't lead. As already mentioned, Denny Hamlin had a faster average speed and Chase Elliott actually beat him in terms of fastest laps, races led naturally, and teammate records. Those two drivers were at least in the same league albeit still far behind in my opinion, as they only barely beat Larson in all those categories, while Larson has at least a 2-1 advantage in almost every category he led. With ten wins in 2021, he more than doubled the second-place driver in wins for the first time in Cup since Dale Earnhardt in 1990. I also am impressed Larson won the most races on both ovals and road courses when NASCAR suddenly started randomly adding lots of road races when I expected Elliott to run away with them; no other Cup driver won on both this season, and certainly none of the rest won major dirt racing events. Even though he didn't lead every single category, I still think Larson without question had the best NASCAR season of the 21st century to date, and unlike most of the other major contenders for that title, he also had major accomplishments outside of NASCAR as he had a clean sweep of most of the important dirt sprint and midget wins, winning the Knoxville Nationals, (second) Kings Royal, and the Chili Bowl all in 2021. Only two other drivers, Sammy Swindell and Dave Blaney, won all three of those races in their careers, but neither of them won them all in the same season before Larson, not to mention that they were full-time dirt drivers who devoted their entire careers at that point to practice for these events while Larson had plenty of other distractions. I know dirt racing usually doesn't get much respect outside of the United States, but that's what really elevated him for me. Not only did Larson actually have a higher average percent led in Cup than Lewis Hamilton did in F1 (in a series where it is much, much harder to dominate like that, even in a premier car) but he also had major accomplishments outside of Cup, and that's what ultimately made me decide in favor of Larson. Maybe I'd have flipped Larson and Hamilton if Hamilton actually won the championship, but I'm not sure I would have even then. While I admit I'm still annoyed Larson got to waltz to a title after not really suffering much in the way of repercussions, ultimately he (unlike Matt DiBenedetto) was simply too good to cancel.

1. Max Verstappen


Yes, it was blatantly unfair that F1 abruptly decided to stage a NASCAR-style competition gimmick at Abu Dhabi, and even NASCAR would have let them both pit. Yes, if both of them had been allowed to pit as should have happened, Hamilton probably would have won the race and the title. Does that mean Hamilton would have suddenly been the better driver? No. Verstappen was not only better, he was much better. In the races Verstappen and Sergio Pérez both finished, Verstappen beat Pérez 16-0, marking the second consecutive year that Verstappen had an undefeated record against his teammate in shared finishes (I honestly would rate Verstappen 1st for 2020 also, but Hamilton has a much stronger case for that year.) I believe no F1 driver has had an undefeated record against every teammate for multiple years running since Michael Schumacher from 1993-1997, and he did so in an era with much shorter seasons and much more attrition. Even #2 drivers usually don't get swept but Verstappen has been sweeping them. Hamilton did have a better year than usual against Valtteri Bottas, yes, as he beat him 14-3 and Bottas was higher-rated in my model than Pérez. However, Verstappen still had a much higher rating in my model for 2021 than Hamilton did (.630 to .525.) Lando Norris at .488 was closer to Hamilton than Hamilton was to Verstappen. Other models agree. F1-Analysis also had Verstappen ahead of Hamilton by an even greater margin, and even had Norris and Carlos Sainz, Jr. over him. I certainly wouldn't go that far (I think Sainz was probably the most overrated F1 driver this season), but the stats guys agree: this wasn't that close. One can debate whether the Mercedes or the Red Bull was the faster car. Some would say the Mercedes was because Verstappen became the first driver to win the championship without his team winning the constructor's championship since Hamilton himself did in 2008 not to mention the fact that Mercedes tended to be faster in qualifying especially when considering Bottas's wave of poles. Others would argue the Red Bull was because of how dominant Verstappen was in terms of leading laps (he averaged a mind-boggling 49.4% led to Hamilton's 23.4%) and also because both Verstappen was faster than Hamilton and Pérez was faster than Bottas in terms of speed percentile. Honestly, I think the Mercedes was still faster because they have been dominating for years and usually the incumbent team in any series is still expected to dominate over the challenger unless there's a massive paradigm shift as was seen in years like 2009 or 2014. Even if you don't, do you think the Red Bull was so much faster to allow Verstappen to be over twice as dominant as Hamilton if the cars were evenly matched? I don't. Although they were relatively evenly matched in wins with Verstappen winning 10 times to Hamilton 8 and they actually tied in TNLs at 9 each, Verstappen beat Hamilton 10-5 in poles, 13-4 in races leading the most laps, not to mention being faster in the races and posting better teammate records and ratings. Even if you think the Red Bull was faster, it's clear the cars were at least close. Too close for me not to reward Verstappen more for his greater dominance and teammate ratings. This year was clearly a changing of the guard and it could actually be reflected in my ratings, as Verstappen actually overtook Hamilton to become the 2nd highest-rated active F1 driver in my overall model (he's still behind Fernando Alonso but will probably overtake him in a year or two.) You can still think Hamilton was robbed of the championship all you want, but he wasn't the better driver.

Now that I have finished this, my next project will be to update my open wheel driver ranking to include all the drivers with linked teammates throughout Formula One, IndyCar, and Japanese F3000/Formula Nippon/Super Formula history, meaning the drivers of the 20th century who were mostly not included in the model. Since both IndyCar and Super Formula mostly had single-car teams until the 21st century, I suspect that the number of drivers I will be adding from those series won't actually be as many as you think, although clearly I'm missing many of the headline drivers from those series who did drive for powerhouse teams, especially the Penske IndyCar drivers when Penske had multiple cars in an era when few other teams did. In Formula One of course, almost all the regular teams that ran the full season had multiple cars for the entire series history, so there will be a lot more unearthing to do there. As I've already mentioned, I did add all the 2021 results from the major league open wheel series to my model already, as well as adding all the new drivers who made their first starts in a major league series (for example, Christian Lundgaard) to my model. For my next post, I will hopefully add all the new 2022 drivers not yet in my model (Guanyu Zhou, Kyle Kirkwood, Devlin DeFrancesco, David Malukas, and Ren Sato), although I acknowledge that not all of them have had a major league teammate yet. There's no chance I will have that model finished by the start of the Formula E season next week, but I'd like to see if I can fully finish it before the start of the Formula 1 season on March 20 (or even better, the start of the IndyCar season on February 27, but that seems unlikely.)

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.