If you look at the 2011 Formula 1 season on paper, you may think it was a relatively dull season. Sebastian Vettel won the championship by a whopping 122 points to become the youngest ever double world champion.
Vettel won 11 races and took 15 pole positions, wrapping up the title with four races remaining. How could it possibly have been a classic?
Put simply the racing was fantastic. It was a season full of changes including the introduction of DRS, Pirelli joining the sport with high degradation tyres and KERS returning to the sport.
For some the changes were too artificial, but this new-look Formula 1 created some of the best Grand Prix this century.
China begins the run of sensational races
The opening races did not bode well for an exciting season. Reigning champion Vettel took pole position in Melbourne by eight tenths of a second en route to victory. It was a repeat performance in Malaysia but from round three onwards in China, F1 spoiled fans with exciting races.
A charging Lewis Hamilton on a three-stop strategy was on a mission to prevent Vettel from scoring a hat-trick of wins. The German was on a two-stop strategy which meant the race was set for a thrilling finale when the differing strategies would finally converge.
Hamilton caught Vettel as they did battle with a handful of laps remaining, and the former brilliantly overtook his German rival at Turn 7, a corner which has seen very few overtakes.
This was the first of many strategic races after years of cars being unable to follow and overtake each other.
Alonso at his clinical best
Spain saw much of the field needing four pitstops as Vettel got the better of Hamilton in another intense race and get revenge for China.
Remarkably, Fernando Alonso was lapped despite leading the early stages of this race in his Ferrari after a sensational start from fourth on the grid to lead in front of his home crowd.
The Spaniard drove the wheels off the car and found himself fighting at the front, punching above the car’s weight. He picked up Ferrari’s only victory that year at a damp Silverstone but gave it everything to push Red Bull and McLaren.
The most exciting Monaco Grand Prix?
Even Monaco was a classic in 2011, a Grand Prix which is typically largely processional. Vettel, Alonso and Jenson Button diverged on different pitstop strategies only to converge towards the end of the race.
With a dozen laps to go, they were nose to tail battling it out for the win on the streets of Monte Carlo. Vettel was on very old tyres, doing everything he could to hold back Alonso and Button on fresher rubber.
A slice of luck for Vettel robbed us of one of the most dramatic finishes in Formula 1 history when a red flag suspended the race with 10 laps remaining.
This allowed Vettel to replace his worn tyres with fresh rubber to gift him the win. Nevertheless, it was a nail-biting Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Massa trade blows
Monaco saw the first of numerous collisions between Hamilton and Felipe Massa. The pair always seemed to find themselves on the same part of the race track and they came to blows in Monaco twice.
In the race, they went side by side at the Lowes Hairpin and the tunnel which saw the Brazilian crash out. Later in the year, Hamilton and Massa came to blows in Singapore which resulted in a post-race feud and ignited the animosity.
Then, they traded paint at Suzuka before a high-speed clash in India. It was incredible to see how many times they collided but it was certainly a storyline that added to the intensity of 2011.
Hamilton’s incidents with Massa were a low point of his career and he has come a long way since.
The most underrated race of the decade
Nevertheless, Hamilton’s drive in Germany was one which goes under the radar. In fact, it’s a race which many forget when talking about the best Formula 1 races this century.
Another three-way scrap for the lead between a Red Bull, McLaren and a Ferrari at Germany’s Nurburgring saw Hamilton mixing it up with Alonso and Mark Webber for most of the race.
Cold temperatures allowed the trio to push hard and they were leaving nothing on the table. There were no safety cars and a similar strategy was employed by all three teams. It was all down to the drivers pushing to the limit.
The laps around the pitstop phases were incredibly tense as Hamilton, Webber and Alonso all tried to undercut or overcut each other which resulted in some very close merges at the exit of the pitlane, going into Turn 1.
Alonso looked like he outfoxed his rivals, but Hamilton bravely went around the outside of the two-time world champion at Turn 2 to take the lead, which would turned out to be the race-winning overtake.
A Hungarian classic
A week later at the Hungaroring, another dramatic race unfolded. This time it was Button who stole the show.
In his 200th race start, the Brit mastered the damp, changing conditions and came out on top against teammate Hamilton following a big battle in the middle of the Grand Prix.
It was an event full of drama with tyre strategy playing a key role to create a Hungarian classic.
Hungary would be a contender for race of the year for most Formula 1 seasons but that particular award undoubtedly goes to the Canadian Grand Prix.
The race of the century
An incident-packed race saw Button win in the most dramatic circumstances. Button collided with teammate Hamilton early in the Grand Prix, putting the latter out of the race.
He then picked up a drive-through penalty for speeding under the safety car before the two hour red flag due to torrential rain.
Later in the race, the Brit clashed with Alonso causing the Spaniard to retire whilst he suffered a puncture himself. With 30 laps to go, Button was last.
The 2009 world champion began to claw his way back through the field, overtaking cars one by one. His pace was remarkable and he found himself on the back of Michael Schumacher and Webber, who were battling it out for second place.
Button took advantage of the scrap, overtaking both drivers as soon as he had the chance. Leader Vettel was just a few seconds up the road so Button made one last push.
Fastest laps were traded between the pair but Button was inching his way towards the German. On the final lap of the race, Vettel cracked and made a mistake at Turn 6 by running wide and onto the wet part of the track.
It was a gift for Button who took the lead with half a lap remaining after Vettel had led the entire Grand Prix. Canada 2011, one of the greatest F1 races ever.
Button pushes Vettel to new heights
Button arguably had his best campaign in F1, even better than his world championship-winning year. He was Vettel’s closest challenger and thrived on Pirelli’s high degradation tyres. A tense Singapore round saw Button push Vettel all the way to the flag, a similar story to the 2010 race.
At the start, pole sitter Vettel moved over on the Briton in a similar fashion to Schumacher’s getaways in his Ferrari days. The Red Bull driver avoided a penalty but was outfoxed by Button in an intense race.
However, Vettel’s 14th podium from 15 races was enough to secure the drivers’ title with four races remaining. The end of the season was not as dramatic as the middle or beginning of 2011 but there were still incidents and brilliant wheel to wheel action throughout the field.
Vettel took a record-breaking 15th pole position at the final event of the year in Abu Dhabi and would face a sterner challenge from Alonso and Ferrari the following season. An incredible performance all-year round from the four-time world champion.
Has there ever been an F1 season with so many exciting and entertaining races as 2011?