As we continue reviewing 2021's F1 drivers and how well they did in comparison to my preseason expectations, we come to the super-tight midfield. In recent years, the inaction at the front of the pack has made the pecking order behind the 'big two' or 'big three' be the most competitive in the championship. 2021 was no exception. Even though the fight at the front was barnstorming, it wasn't to the detriment of those behind them who slugged it out all season long.
Yuki Tsunoda: Predicted finish - 14th / Actual finish - 14th
Yuki Tsunoda was the rookie with the best chance of doing well in 2021. I wonder whether he would consider his debut season a success after he occasionally dazzled but more often flopped. Inconsistent would be the best word to sum up his year with AlphaTauri. He may be fortunate that Red Bull has no obvious youngster ready for the step-up in 2022, else he could be cast aside like many before him.
I'm not sure Tsunoda showed any future champion-level qualities that his employers will have hoped he possessed. A P4 finish at Abu Dhabi will be a boost to enter the winter break with, but he'll need more than a single standout performance for next season.
Esteban Ocon: Predicted finish - 13th / Actual finish - 11th
The rollercoaster ride that is Esteban Ocon's Formula One career continued its unpredictable nature this year. A maiden win to go with a new long-term contract is all that will matter to Ocon, and with good reason after being out of a drive just two years ago.
The 2021 Alpine didn't look capable of threatening the Ferraris and McLarens, but now and again, Ocon would snatch the best of the rest award anyway, which shows his raw speed. Together with Fernando Alonso, Alpine's driver is pretty potent, but they are being held back by machinery not worthy of their talent. 2021 was a mostly under-the-radar, but impressive season for the Frenchman.
Lance Stroll: Predicted finish - 12th / Actual finish - 13th
2021 must've felt like coming down to Earth for Lance Stroll after his highs in the 'pink Mercedes' last season. Point-less races more often than not and regularly being out-qualified by a new world champion teammate in Sebastian Vettel won't have been an easy pill to swallow.
On the other hand, he wasn't embarrassed by the four-time champ, which I guess is a feather in his cap? The German is the best teammate he's had, in my opinion, and the two would've finished with roughly the same points had the late chaos at Baku not gifted Vettel that podium finish. Stroll did fine in an okay car, but he might need to hunker down for the long haul if his long-term career is with Aston Martin.