Red Bull prioritised Max Verstappen’s fight against Sir Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Drivers’ Championship over their battle against Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship, former F1 racer Jolyon Palmer has said.
Verstappen won 10 races last year, finishing on the podium 18 times while only failing to finish in the top two on four occasions.
The Dutchman beat Hamilton to glory on the final lap of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a controversial Safety Car restart late on, and the pair had come together on track multiple times prior to the finale.
Despite Mercedes’ late heartbreak, they did manage to seal the Constructors’ Championship for a record eighth time, and Palmer has praised this achievement given their rough start to the year.
“Mercedes were constructors’ champions again in spite of having a tough start in pre-season, rocked by rule changes that favoured the higher-rake Red Bull,” Palmer told Formula1.com.
“Like the Drivers’ Championship, this was extremely tight throughout the season but Mercedes got on top of their car and came on strong in the latter half,” he added.
With Hamilton and Verstappen fighting hard out front for victory in the Drivers’ Standings, it ultimately came down to their respective team-mates Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez to decide the outcome of the teams’ battle.
“There wasn’t a lot between the second drivers in each team either with Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez having very different strong suits – qualifying pace in the former’s case versus race craft in the latter’s,” Palmer explained.
The former Renault driver said Red Bull ultimately cost themselves the Constructors’ Championship by sacrificing Perez in a number of races to aid Verstappen.
“In the end, it felt like Red Bull were more pre-occupied by the Drivers’ title as they sacrificed Perez’s race a couple of times at Silverstone and Abu Dhabi, while Mercedes possibly regretted ordering Bottas back past Hamilton in Austria.”
As a result, Palmer rates Mercedes higher than the “pragmatic” Red Bull in his end-of-season awards.
“Maybe that means Red Bull were the more pragmatic last year to win the more coveted Drivers’ title, but Mercedes will go down as the best team of 2021 in the standings.”
As for the best qualifying performance of the season, the 30-year-old cannot look beyond George Russell’s qualifying lap at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix.
“A once-in-a-decade stunner from Russell that almost landed him on pole in a Williams at a sodden Spa – the ultimate drivers’ conditions,” said Palmer.
“The Williams wasn’t a bad car in the wet in Belgium, but it never should have been able to split the title contenders on the grid – Russell outqualifying everyone bar 2021 champion Verstappen, himself a supremo in wet conditions.”
Though the race in Spa was curtailed after a few laps behind the Safety Car and no actual green flag racing, Palmer affirms that Russell was worthy of the nine points he received for second place that day.
“If a podium was ever going to be awarded for qualifying brilliance then this was it – and so it was the case when the rain never abated on Sunday. A tough day for the fans, but a great day for George and Williams.”
With Bottas heading to Alfa Romeo this year, Russell will partner Hamilton at Mercedes.
Meanwhile, Perez has been retained alongside Verstappen at Red Bull following an impressive debut season at the team for the Mexican.