Nico Rosberg insists it is “just crazy” that Max Verstappen outperformed Lewis Hamilton in their wheel-to-wheel battles throughout the 2021 Formula One season as he named the Red Bull title-winning driver his number one driver of the year. Though Hamilton missed out on a record-breaking eighth Drivers’ Championship, Rosberg thinks his former Mercedes team-mate is “probably the greatest of all time”.
Verstappen claimed his first ever driver’s title while denying rival Hamilton his eighth in the process at a dramatic Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December.
The Dutchman’s last-lap overtake, after a safety car period, saw him triumph by just eight points after the two had headed to Yas Marina exactly level in the standings.
Red Bull’s triumph was the first time a non-Mercedes driver had won the title since Sebastian Vettel, also with the Milton Keynes-based outfit, back in 2013.
And Rosberg, the last man to deny Hamilton before Verstappen when he claimed the 2016 crown, gushed with praise for the 24-year-old’s driving across the season.
Verstappen picked up 10 wins and in the 18 races where he reached the chequered flag, only once did he finish lower than second as he showed remarkable consistency across the 22-race calendar.
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Rosberg named Verstappen his driver of the year on his YouTube channel and was blown away by how the Red Bull driver ousted Hamilton in their close encounters on track.
“[He was] just phenomenal,” Rosberg said. “The level in qualifying most of the time, the consistency throughout the whole year, the level he took against Lewis, who is probably the greatest of all time, in the Mercedes and in that dominant form, it was just off the charts.
“Also the level in the wheel to wheel racing, Lewis is the best in wheel to wheel racing but Verstappen, you probably have to say he was even better.
“That’s just crazy. The level also during the most pressured moments, Verstappen almost gets better when the pressure is high. I got like three-tenths slower when the pressure was high, he gets like two-tenths faster, it’s crazy.
“I don’t know how he does it. Verstappen number one. If you take bad luck into consideration, he probably had a bit more bad luck.”
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Rosberg also named Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in fifth with AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso for Alpine just missing out on the top five.
Similarly, Verstappen was voted the best driver in F1 across 2021 per Motorsport Week. Red Bull and Mercedes did not take part in the vote, nor did Alfa Romeo.
But the remaining 14 drivers voted Verstappen first, Hamilton second, Norris third, Sainz fourth and Leclerc fifth. Similarly to Rosberg, Alonso was sixth with Gasly seventh.
Mercedes’ Bottas did not even make the top 10 with George Russell, the Williams driver who will replace the Finn at the Silver Arrows in 2022, eighth.
Esteban Ocon, Alonso’s Alpine team-mate, and Haas rookie Mick Schumacher were voted ninth and 10th, even though the latter failed to score a single point all season for the backmarkers.