|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/16|
|Beat team mate in race||5/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||514/885|
|Max Verstappen 2015 form guide|
It is amusing to note how the FIA’s opinion of Max Verstappen’s merits as an F1 driver has changed over the past 12 months.
First, they did everything they could to stop drivers like him gaining a place in F1 again: rushing in age and driving licence restrictions and topping it off with a vast new superlicence bureaucracy.
Once they’d seen him drive, the FIA’s next response was to shower him with awards – for Rookie of the Year, Action of the Year and Personality of the Year – exposing their knee-jerk rule making for what it was.
Verstappen’s performance, not his age, is the issue at hand when it comes to assessing his place among the drivers of 2015. Without doubt he stood out from the pack by making more passes than anyone else, which were often executed them with the same laudable verve that characterised his Formula Three campaign last year.
An engine failure prevented him from starting his F1 career with a points finish, but he put that right next time out in Malaysia, producing an excellent pass on Daniel Ricciardo of sister team Red Bull on the way. But his qualifying lap that weekend hinted at the depth of his talent: taking sixth on his first visit to the circuit and with little prior experience of driving an F1 car in the wet.
He was kept honest all year long by capable team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr, at least on the infrequent occasions when both their cars were running at the same time. Verstappen had to give best to his team mate in Spain but Monaco – always an excellent barometer of ability – was another indication the youngster is something special.
He stunned by setting the second-fastest time in his first session at the track, but took perhaps a little too much confidence into the race. Having already put a superb pass on Valtteri Bottas, he left too little margin while scrapping with Romain Grosjean and the result was a sizeable crash. He also collected his first penalty points: further infractions saw him accrue more than any of his rivals by the season’s end.
This did little to discourage future bold attempts at overtaking, which included a fearless move around the outside of Felipe Nasr at Spa. In Hungary he capitalised on a hectic race to grab an excellent fourth, and he repeated the result when rain at Austin presented another chance. This was more than just opportunism – Verstappen showed maturity while racing at the sharp end in the closing stages of the race.
Even by the end of the year he hadn’t fully eclipsed Sainz, who put one over him in Abu Dhabi. But it was partly because Verstappen had faced such a capable team mate that his season impressed so highly.
View race-by-race notes on Max Verstappen
Australia – Lost most of the second practice session due to a battery problem, but going into qualifying it was nip-and-tuck between him and Sainz for who would be quickest. A mistake at turn four on his last lap in Q2 kept Verstappen from reaching the top ten. In the race he ran as high as fifth during a long first stint on medium tyres, but the possibility of scoring points died along with his engine following his pit stop.
Malaysia – Despite having little experience of how an F1 car handles in the wet, Verstappen took a fine sixth on the grid. He looked cautious at the start, however, and by lap two had fallen to tenth, one place ahead of his team mate. Toro Rosso split their strategies when the Safety Car came out: Verstappen pitted and so by the end of the race he was battling Sainz for position. He prevailed, and seventh place made him F1’s youngest ever points-scorer.
China – A lock-up in qualifying cost Verstappen a place in Q3, by his own admission. Made up two positions at the start despite contact with Kvyat before gradually making his way into the points, pulling off a series of stunning and aggressive overtakes on the two Saubers and Sergio Perez along the way. Was running in eighth before his car ground to a halt along the pit straight.
Bahrain – Toro Rosso reliability remains poor and Verstappen has borne the brunt of it. He hoped the understeer-prone set up which confined him to 15th in qualifying would help him in the race, but as he was unable to run full engine performance and later suffered an electrical failure it proved irrelevant.
Spain – Shared the third row with his team mate but out-dragged him to turn one. Couldn’t keep Raikkonen behind on the first lap, though. Both Toro Rosso drivers were passed easily on the straight by cars with better straight-line speed, but with four laps to go Verstappen lost out to his team mate and he finished just outside the points.
Monaco – Raised eyebrows with the second-fastest time in first practice, then in qualifying was narrowly beaten to eighth place by his team mate and Maldonado. He passed the Lotus driver early in the race, but a slow tyre change spoiled his race. Put an opportunistic pass on Bottas but then collided with Grosjean, incurring a five-place grid penalty for Canada.
Canada – Arrived in Montreal with a five-place grid penalty from Monaco, then copped another ten-place penalty for an engine change, which turned into a ten-second penalty in the race when it couldn’t be applied in full. He made it into the points places by staying out late, but the inevitable penalty dropped him out of contention again.
Austria – On his first F1 race weekend at a track where he has raced before Verstappen got into Q3, qualified seventh, and picked up another place at the start. After that it was a question of how many Mercedes-powered cars could he keep behind. Bottas got him early on, and by the time Maldonado was on his tail Verstappen was having trouble with his tyres, so he had to settle for eighth.
Britain – Very pleased with his car after final practice but was caught out at Village in Q1, spinning off. The team later identified a throttle torque calibration problem which was blamed for his Q2 elimination. He was the only driver to start the race on the hard compound tyres, but after the restart he spun into retirement at Farm.
Hungary – An electrical problem confined him to the garage halfway through Friday practice, but he bounced back to become Toro Rosso’s only representative in Q3. He started poorly, falling to 13th, but after passing Alonso a well-timed pit stop moved him up to ninth. When the Safety Car came out he had not long since changed to mediums, and switching back to softs put him in a strong position at the restart. However he broke the speed limit under the Safety Car period and had to serve a drive-through penalty. Without that, he might have had his first podium finish. Instead he was fourth, his best result so far, though he was fortunate to escape a penalty after tangling with Bottas.
Belgium – Intended to drop out in Q2 due to his impending engine change penalty, but then suffered a power unit problem which forced him out anyway. Gained six places at the start and used a three-stop strategy to maximise his time on the faster soft tyres. That put him in a strong position at the end of the race: he managed to pass Bottas but a last-lap move on Raikkonen didn’t work out, and he finished eighth.
Italy – Went into the race knowing he would have to take a drive-through penalty after his team sent him out in qualifying without securing his engine cover fully, which shattered as he accelerated towards the Curva Grande. Nonetheless in his first Monza race he produced more of his late-braking flair as he recovered to finish 12th behind his team mate.
Singapore – As in Monaco, Verstappen looked instantly at home on a true street track that was new to him. Despite running very wide at the final corner he split the Williams drivers for eighth on the grid. He stalled at the start and lost a lap, but gained it back during the first Safety Car period. A switch to super-softs for the final stint allowed him to make a run into the points, and he resisted his team’s call for him to let Sainz through to have a go at Perez.
Japan – A three-place grid penalty for stopping on the racing line when he car broke down in qualifying seemed harsh given his car could easily be seen by other drivers and there was nowhere he could have stopped which wouldn’t have brought out the yellow flags. That left him 17th on the grid, but within four laps he was 13th and an early first pit stop helped him gain more ground. He got ahead of his team mate in his final sting for ninth place.
Russia – The 18-year-old was left to solider on alone in qualifying after Sainz’s crash, but he made it to Q3 and claimed a decent ninth place on the grid. He was caught up in the Hulkenberg/Ericsson tangle at the start, however, and floor damage hindered his efforts to recover. Having taken the chequered flag in 11th he was promoted to the final point by Alonso’s penalty.
United States – Ran in the top ten for the entire race and got as high as third as he tried to coax a set of soft tyres throughout the entire second half of the race. He was aided by a spate of interruptions – just seven laps of green flag running between laps 27 and 46 – but nonetheless he held his own among some of F1’s biggest names.
Mexico – Headed first practice, crashed at the start of the second, but was Toro Rosso’s only representative in Q3. He managed his cooling-troubled car to ninth place in the race.
Brazil – Got into Q3 for the ninth time this year, which he hadn’t expected. He did his usual combative work in the race to make up for the Toro Rosso’s lack of punch on the straights – his pass on Perez in the Senna S was a particular highlight. Ninth place was his reward after Massa’s penalty.
Abu Dhabi – Lost tyre temperature in traffic before his final run in Q2 so his last lap wasn’t quite up to scratch and he missed the cut. A heavy lock-up at turn eight forced an extra pit stop which damaged his chances of finishing in the points. He then picked up a justifiable five-second penalty for gaining a position on Button by going off the track, and a rather harsh drive-through for not responding quickly enough to blue flags when being lapped by Hamilton.
Over to you
He got rapidly better as his experience grew, yet made few mistakes and many, many great overtakes. Wonderful driving standards from a 17-year-old rookie. Surprise of the year.
What’s your verdict on Max Verstappen’s 2015 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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