2016 F1 season driver rankings #6: Sainz

2016 F1 season review

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Carlos Sainz Jnr didn’t get the promotion to Red Bull his team mate enjoyed but was not demotivated in the least, producing a string of top-drawer drives.

Carlos Sainz Jnr

Beat team mate in qualifying 11/20
Beat team mate in race 10/13
Races finished 17/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate 686/935
Points 46

Indeed while Max Verstappen took a shock victory first time out for Red Bull, his former team mate was also enjoying his best race to date. On home ground Sainz held third in the opening laps, fought the Ferraris and delivered an excellent sixth.

Sainz held his head up well against Verstappen during their brief spell as team mates at the start of the year. It didn’t help matters that in two of those four races he was hit by other drivers.

Once Kvyat arrived Sainz showed his new team mate no mercy, out-scoring him by 42 points to 4. And that crushing margin could easily have been greater.

In Monaco Sainz grabbed a spot on the third row but slow pit stops dropped him back to eighth at the flag. Despite a power unit failure in Austria he climbed eleven places to finish eighth at a track which was far from ideal for Toro Rosso. More car problems thwarted his efforts in Belgium (puncture) and Singapore (MGU-K), where he qualified a strong sixth.

By the latter stages of the season Toro Rosso had been out-developed by several of their rivals. Yet Sainz continued to drag the car into Q3 and pull off surprise results. Austin was arguably his best drive of the year, where he secured another sixth place.

Car problems were his only cause of retirements all year, though he did crash out of qualifying in Canada. This was the lowest point in what was otherwise a remarkable second year of F1 for Sainz.

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Over to you

Shown the way for Kvyat most of the season, had some great battles and impressive performance, not as good as Verstappen but still a fine wonder-kid.

What’s your verdict on Carlos Sainz Jnr’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

Add your views on the other drivers here:

The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are produced by referring to:

View race-by-race notes on Carlos Sainz Jnr

Australia – A tenth off Verstappen in Q3, Sainz held his position at the start but made a very early first pit stop, undercutting Massa to pass the Williams. He would have had a good chance of beating the Williams had the race run its course without the interruption, instead his late pit stop dropped him towards the lower reaches of the points. he passed Palmer to take ninth.

Bahrain – Sainz would have started ahead of Verstappen if he’d been able to replicate his Q1 lap time in Q2. Starting on the soft tyres meant he was immediately under attack at the start, and his race was ruined when he was hit by Perez.

China – Having out-qualified Verstappen, Sainz ended up on the medium tyres for longer than his team mate at the end of the race which explains how his team mate was able to get back ahead of him. Despite that he took Bottas for ninth on the final lap.

Russia – Had a straightforward day on Friday, missed the cut for Q3 by four-hundredths of a second on Saturday, but that gave him a free tyre choice for Sunday. He got off the line well but collected Kvyat’s front wing at turn two which forced him to pit early to have it removed. His tyres began to fade at the end of a long second stint, which allowed Button past, and a ten-second penalty for forcing Palmer wide left him 12th.

Spain – Was very pleased to take eighth on the grid in front of his home crowd. A rapid start and excellent pass on the outside of Vettel moved him up to third by the Safety Car. Despite firm defending with Raikkonen, the red cars inevitably passed Sainz with his year-old motor. His early pit stop dropped him behind Haryanto which meant Williams were easily able to get Bottas out ahead of him. It didn’t look like the car had more in it.

Monaco – Got his Toro Rosso onto the third row of the grid and brought it home eighth but said he was disappointed to have lost places at both his pit stops. Sainz was among the last to switch to intermediates and was back in for wets just ten laps later. Described racing around Monaco in the wet as “the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life” but copes with it better than most.

Canada – Of the two Toro Rosso drivers Sainz looked more likely to get into Q3 until he hit the wall. However from 20th on the grid he made up four places at the start and a well-timed first stop put him in contention for points. He built up enough of a gap before his final stop to make it without losing position, claiming a fine ninth.

Europe – Ran strongly on Friday but after changing his brakes on Saturday he wasn’t as confident in the car and failed to make it into Q3. He had just made his second pit stop and was looking to go on the attack when he also suffered a suspension failure.

Austria – Sixth in both sessions on Friday, he then had a luckless Saturday. An electrical problem in final practice forced a change of engines, and the replacement unit failed during Q2. He started strongly, climbing four places to tenth, but fell back to 17th when he pitted under the Safety Car. However he made it to the end from there, passing Alonso on his way to a decent eighth.

Britain – After a tough Friday Sainz was pleasantly surprised not only to gain a place in Q3, but start a strong seventh after penalties. Despite two mistakes in the race – including a dramatic slide at Stowe – he grabbed more points for eighth place.

Hungary – Took advantage of Raikkonen’s struggles in Q2 to qualify a superb sixth place – it’s doubtful the car was capable of more. Alonso jumped him at the start, however, and he was unable to re-pass the McLaren.

Germany – Another recipient of a tough qualifying penalty after holding Massa up briefly in Q2. He started well and got up to 12th but he too had slow service in the pits which ended his chance of beating the Haas pair.

Belgium – It was tough going for Toro Rosso at a track which punished their performance on the straights and he only managed 15th on the grid. He was unfortunate to collect a puncture on the second lap while running in the points, but carelessly blundered back onto the track and lost control of his car as the tyre disintegrated.

Italy – It was clear from practice the year-old Ferrari engine was hurting Toro Rosso at Monza. Sainz got into Q2 where he was slowest, but was promoted to 15th by Grosjean’s penalty. An attempt to do a one-stop race with a 29-lap stint on super-softs was extremely ambitious and predictably didn’t work.

Singapore – Delivered the maximum in qualifying on a track which suited the chassis but the race left him angry. A black-and-orange flag for damage repairs dropped him out of the battle for points, and an MGU-K problem consigned him to a frustrating evening.

Japan – Enjoyed a trouble-free Friday but the rest of his weekend was a frustration, particularly in the race. Toro Rosso’s lack of straight-line speed continues to dog them and Sainz was plainly over-driving the car at times in his battle with the Williams drivers. The result was an unhappy 17th place.

Malaysia – His race began with a drama when his engine cut out as he was doing his pre-start clutch preparation. He used the MGU-K to restart it just in time for the lights to go out, and did a “mega job” (his words) at the first corner to move up half-a-dozen places. The team used an alternative strategy to keep him in the hunt for points but it didn’t pay off – he finished a few seconds behind Palmer.

United States – Was justifiably proud of his qualifying effort, claiming a place inside the top ten despite his final practice being ruined by two punctures. He delivered a strong race too, avoiding the first-lap dramas and benefiting from the Safety Car to run fifth. It’s doubtful he could have found a way to keep Alonso behind, so sixth was a superb result.

Mexico – Made it into the top ten on Friday and – remarkably – did so again on Saturday, repeating his Q3 heroics from Austin. He was careless on lap one, forcing Alonso off and collecting a penalty, and also delayed by a gearbox problem. On top of that he lost a place to Button while getting out of Verstappen’s way, leaving him 16th.

Brazil – Found little improvement in Q2 and dropped out along with his team mate. However he was on great form in the race. Unlike Kvyat he didn’t pit for intermediates and this paid off handsomely: he was fourth with five laps to go. While Verstappen’s pass was probably inevitable he let Vettel go by rather too easily.

Abu Dhabi – Did little running in the more representative second practice session due to Kvyat’s punctures. Having started from the back row he got rid of his super-soft tyres early on and made some progress. An early second pit stop dropped him behind Palmer and shortly after passing the Renault he was rammed from behind, causing race-ending gearbox damage.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “2016 F1 season driver rankings #6: Sainz”

  1. Completely overrated. He has shown nothing special this year. No special overtaking or special achievement. Even at Interlagos, he just kept driving his laps and he didn’t overtake anyone at all. Kvyat was knock out this year by his swap with Max, so not a good benchmark.
    At least Vettel, Hulk and Perez should be above Sainz in this ranking.

    1. WheeledWarrior
      14th December 2016, 11:39

      I wouldn’t say completely overrated, since Sainz delivered a very solid year. Just a little bit to high in my opinion, 9th would have been ok in my book.

    2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      14th December 2016, 11:53

      I wouldn’t say he is completely overrated but I still think he should be in the top 10, just not as high as this. He has had quite a lot of clumsy moments in several races this season, especially in Mexico with Alonso. That was one really big mistake that nearly put Alonso out of the race. And because of Kvyat, who I think has mainly performed badly because of being dropped by top team, that has made Sainz look far better than he really is. I still think he is very good, just not as high as the 6th best. Even though Kvyat has had a dreadful season at Toro Rosso, I’m quite confident he will be at Sainz’s level next year once he gets settled in. It really didn’t help him changing teams part way through the season. He had a fine 2015 season and it won’t just have been luck that allowed him to beat Ricciardo.

      Next year, I think Sainz and Kvyat will be having a good battle. I’m pleased Toro Rosso allowed Kvyat another chance.

      1. @thegianthogweed I don’t think he’s overrated, and 6th isn’t an excessively high rank for him. He was one of the stars of the season, remember he had the same 2015 Ferrari spec engine the whole season, and he dragged the car to grid positions it didn’t deserve. Then at the races he fared very well with the competition even if most of the times he was never going to be able to defend and dropping back a bit was logical.

        I really like him. For all the hype (justified or not) his team mate had, Sainz looks very good from the quiet corner of the Red Bull teams.

        1. RossoTorro (@)
          14th December 2016, 13:18

          I do not think he’s overrated either but calling him one of the stars this season makes no sense either. The Ferrari 2015 engine thing was less important than the media wanted to make it look, compared to the 2015 car and engine it was a big improvement in both power and reliability. Since Kvyat’s little uprising in Singapore he’s been very close to Sainz in qualifying but suffering from terrible reliability to be able to keep up in the races.

          And in the first four races he was nowhere compared to Verstappen in qualifying but more import during races.

          1. Also Toro is a car that is linked with Red Bull which is a powerhouse when it comes to chassis and aerodynamics. I think it was VES that stated if the Toro had a better engine it would be a strong competitor. To say it was a terrible car is far from the truth. As for the number 2 driver under performing probably has more to do with his confidence after being demoted.

          2. @rossotorro
            So an average difference of about one hundredth of a second is a sign of being nowhere near proximity of one another. Now then, how would you typify the delta between RIC and MVER?
            Please, shed some light of the mathematics used in the Netherlands at the moment.

    3. Agree. Sainz is the most overrated driver on the grid; similar to Hulkenberg in 2013. Let’s face it Verstappen easily beat Sainz in 2015 despite this being just his second year in single seaters and the fact that Sainz had vast experience in the junior series. Sainz is also error prone as seen by his pair of qualifying crashes in 2015 and his immaturity such as Spa 2016. Toro Rosso car was a really good chassis and was as good as Ferrari by thr end of the season so his drive in Brazil wasn’t really that good as it was the wet and that STR should have been as fast as Force India. Lets not forget that in the first half of the year the car was extremely quick and as fast as Force India and Williams. His drive in Spain was nothing special; Bottas finished far ahead and Perez in a weaker car wasn’t far behind. Also Kvyat beat him 4-1 in qualifyjng at the end of the season.

      1. Let’s hope that Mercedes will sign Sainz and then Mr. Doctor Verstapen will have change to beat him in competitive car.
        By the way Sainz is completely not overrated. I will die in laughter when they will rate Verstapen #1….

      2. Verstappen is the most overrated driver on the grid. In 2015 Verstappen didn’t beat Sainz easily. You slept on races or what? They have been very close to each other. It’s unluck for Sainz that the points didn’t show that. This year Ricciardo outqualifyed and outraced Verstappen. He scored more points by 31 and Ricciardo lost more points in this season by unluck. Only the media made Verstappen that good driver. Yeah he is talented but he is stupid on track, can’t manage tyres well, he is not that fast, his qualifying pace not that good so I don’t buy what the media says about Verstappen that he is the next Senna. What I see in Verstappen is a well protected teenager.

        1. Verstappen is a great driver, but yes is being overhyped too early – but that is because redbull threw him into a car that won the first race he drove that car…. how many drivers in their life get that opportunity??? Verstappen jumped the queue. In outright pace, Ricciardo is the next Senna, those qualifying laps… Verstappen can not match that… he only beat Ricciardo in a few qualifying sessions, usually by less then .1 of a second, and in all those times Ricciardo was not happy with his runs. If Ricciardo was happy with his runs, he would be the first to congratulate Verstappen for beating him.

  2. Well done Chili!

  3. He is a good racer. Butt still overrated in my opinion. He seems to drop back during the race. Great qualifying though. Had no real reference point during the season.

    1. During his time with max he was always focused on max and nothing else. Australia 2017 was the best example. When max went away he could again focus on the race and not his teammate.

  4. Fantastic drive this season. Beat his team-mates 10/13 times (1/2 v Max, 9/11 v Kvyat) when they both finished. People saying he’s overrated clearly haven’t watched him properly this season, he’s a great driver, and will only get better. Hope he gets out of RBR academy though, as he’s Ricciardo and Verstappen are likely to be their team for a long time now.

  5. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    14th December 2016, 12:08

    A second season worthy of a possible future champion. The way in which he translated the unquestionable frustrations of Verstappen’s promotion into positive motivation is quite outstanding. His weekend in Barcelona weekend wrote fewer headlines than Verstappen’s but was similarly superb. He could have been on the podium in Monaco and was simply extraordinary in CotA to claim sixth.

    Part of me is surprised to see him blossom into such a creditable prospect because whilst he did take the FR3.5 title, it was not against the finest field of talent, and he had spent the previous season being completely outclassed by teammate and eventual champion Kvyat in GP3, ending the season 10th in the standings (having had his fair share of on-track incidents). He needed to take the title in 2014 to even retain his association with Red Bull, and whilst he delivered, it didn’t stop Carlos initially being undercut by Verstappen in the race for Vergne’s seat. Lest we forget, Sainz may not have secured F1 promotion at all had Vettel not made an impromptu switch to Ferrari.

    However he clearly has a natural affinity with the power and grip of a F1 car. He was reportedly memorably outstanding in his debut showing in the RB9 at the 2013 Silverstone Young Driver’s Test. He no doubt top Mercedes’ preference list of the remotely realistic drivers that could fill Rosberg’s shoes, and he certainly tops my personal preference list of the drivers I would like to see alongside Hamilton.

  6. Sainz is probably more underrated than overrated. He’s come out of the matchup with Verstappen as a stronger driver, even though losing out to Max for the RedBull seat. It shows how mature and level headed he is.

    I’m excited to see what Max can do in the coming years, but equally as exciting to see what Carlos will do.

    I’m kind of hoping Mercedes can pry him out of RB’s hands and give him Rosbergs seat.

  7. All I can say is the Red Bull driver academy has had a good run these past 4 drivers with Kvyat being the exception. Although I personally think his form will recover next season after some time off to mentally rest.

  8. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    14th December 2016, 13:17

    In the 1st half of the season, he scored points in 8 out of the 1st 11 races. The car was obviously not competitive in the 2nd half but he still managed to pull 2 P6 positions towards the end matching the best result of his season.

    As many have said, he did all that in the face of great pressure having seen Verstappen promoted and also seen him win a race immediately after switching sealing the spot for many years to come. That bumps him up 2 spots in my mind.

  9. I like him, but I have to say this:

    In the first half of 2015 Verstappen showed a view signs with his great long first stint at Australia (only to be wrecked by a kaput Renault while running 7th) and his overtakes on both Sauber’s and on Perez in China. However, it was Sainz who was quicker than Verstappen in qualifying, was scoring more points and was just more consistant.

    As the season went on, Verstappen started to improve his 1 lap pace (whenever he didn’t have reliability issues on Saturdays at least) relative to Sainz and started to put in more and more impressive drives with consistancy. This did coincide with Sainz having several race ending reliability issues, but still 49 points to Verstappen to 18 points for Sainz can’t be explained away by just reliabilty.

    During the opening 4 races in 2016 Verstappen lead the points tally 13 to 3 (each had 1 retirement) and the qualy battle was also lead by VES 3-1. It seems as if Verstappen needed a little bit of a run-up, which seems logical after having only one year of experience in junior formula racing (F3), whereas Sainz had 5 years (F.BMW,F. Renault 2.0, F3, GP3 and F. Renault 3.5 WSR).

    Ofcourse we never saw it playout between the two as Verstappen was moved to RBR after those first 4 races, but I can’t deny that the trend was showing VES was ‘overtaking’ SAI and would have possibly put SAI in his shadow over the course of 2016. We’ll never know.

    All in all I think SAI has shown enough to be considered by other teams, but I do really miss a standout drive from him tbh. Yes Spain and USA were very good and he has been consistantly quick and mistake free but I just haven’t seen a race from him where he made me sit up in awe like VES has (and tbf like HAM/RIC/ALO and to a lesser extend BUT have in the past). He lacks a signature race or two that shows the mark of a champion. Now, Rosberg and VET both lack such moments too tbf and they both have won championships when given the right circumstances by being very quick and consistant, so that could happen for SAI aswell. But I doubt he is of the calibre of VES in terms of talent and upside.

  10. Not a single driver above him (ie 7-23) was as comprehensively beaten by a teammate as Sainz was in the first four races. That alone makes this a bit odd. Sainz is one hell of a driver but it’s a lot like people are putting him this high to be contrarian and downplay last season. Really, both FI drivers had better seasons.

    1. Sorry I meant below him. Ie 5-1. So putting him sixth is marginal when you see how Perez and Hulk had excellent seasons and matched each other and are both above Sainz.
      This all came out wrong.

    2. Agreed. I really do not understand this assessment by Keith. Maybe I am missing something. At this point in his career going up against a Legend like Hamilton would be a bit much.

  11. While people without enough knowledge about Sainz think he is overrated, he is probably mostly underrated. The article mention some of the highlights of his 2016 season but there is one that I consider very important. In Interlagos, he was in 4th position a few laps before the end of the race, struggling with old tires. The merit of it was that he didn’t had a single error under those conditions while almost all of the other pilots made at least one error during the race.

    He had 4 DNF during the season, none of them were his fault added to the pit stop problems. Without those problems, Max could have been at the level of Williams even when the engine was a lot worse than that used by Williams.

    Perez, Hulk, Bottas, Vettel or Raikonnen were not able to position the car ahead of its natural position. They performed well, but they were not outstanding as Sainz so I agree on positioning Sainz at least in #6, however I think he deserves to be at least ahead of Rosberg. Some people are suggesting that Carlos could be the replacement for Rosberg at Mercedes, and I’d like to see Carlos and Max fighting without team orders in different teams for a podium. However Red Bull is not going to allow one of the best drivers of the grid to jump to another competitive team. Next year it is going to be RBR vs MB and Carlos would be a loaded gun in Mercedes´ hands.

    The big problem of Sainz was the huge media support Verstappen had during 2015. It is true that Verstappen driving is more spectacular than Sainz’s, but it doesn’t mean a better driver, like most armchair F1 critics use to say. When we review the numbers from last season we see they were almost even. For the first 9 races, both were almost even, only one point difference. But for the last 10 races, Carlos had 4 DNF while Verstappen car was completely reliable. Added to the fact that Carlos was always following team orders leaving Max to pass him when he received the order while Max never followed team orders in this regard. Taking into account only the races were both finished, the race performance of Max was 100% while the race performance of Sainz was 106.67%. Max gained an average of 1.92 positions during race, while Sainz gained 2.36.

    Carlos is not as spectacular as Verstappen because he has the stile of Alonso or Ricciardo. Their driving style is impressive, provides results but it is not spectacular. Verstappen reminds to Hamilton, or Raikonnen when he was at McLaren, a demon on wheels. However this driving stile is too risky and at the end the results tells that a balanced driver, such as Alonso, Ricciardo, Vettel or even Rosberg, is better than a pure adrenaline driver. Carlos is balanced and he just need to learn how to develop the car along with the engineers to be a round driver. I am sure that in the future we will see Carlos and Max fighting for the WDC when both were more mature.

    1. I think Sainz would become Hamilton’s whipping boy since Carlos seems to lack that killer instinct needed at the top. I saw a good job from him this season but nothing that would set the world on Fire. I like to give podiums more credit then a couple of six place finishes since podiums no matter when are simply hard to get for the midfield. Just ask Hulk.

    2. @okif1 The funny thing about your assessment of their driving styles is that it is literally 100% the opposite of what, for instance, autosport concluded when comparing Sainz and Verstappen driving styles. Sainz actually takes far more risks, which is why in Quali it is often rewarded. Verstappen has more natural pace, but is more balanced, which means that when it comes to margins, he sometimes loses out.
      Pretty funny that you talk about how media hype makes Sainz underrated, and you let that same media hype cloud your assessment of their driving.

      1. Hans Braakhuis
        14th December 2016, 21:14

        Exact, if there is one adrenaline driver it is Carlos Sainz. I think the promotion from Max to RBR is a good thing for Carlos. Focus on his own race.

  12. Based on Keith’s write up he should be higher! I think he had a good year but it’s hard to tell because of the car and the short time he was paired with verstappen – f1metrics has him very, very high.

  13. I disagree with this one. Sainz over Perez! Even though some think Hulk’s misfortune handed Perez yet more podiums history shows that no matter what Era of F1 podiums are difficult to get. Especially for cars that are not part of a top team.

  14. Sainz, with alot more experience than Verstappen was easily beaten in their first season together. The points difference was not all about mechanical failures. Verstappen was the better man..period. Verstappen only got better this season and really upped his Q game. Sainz is a good driver, but lacks many aspects to being considered a great or a champion in the waiting. Verstappen is on a different lvl to Sainz and many other drivers in F1.

    Ricciardo needs to find another gear next year. He got spanked the last 4 to 5 races….Verstappen is getting better and better

  15. Sainz doesn’t belong here !
    STR was a real gem of car for their budget during first half and the fact that Kvyat was demoted and has had demotivating run just helped him in this process of overrating.
    Something similar to what pascal had – He almost thrashed Haryanto but once Ocon was in, it is a different story.

  16. Could have been a top 3

    Get him to Merc and watch him demolishing the other guy, pretty please!

  17. For me, Sainz was among the best performers considering his available equipment, which was very strong at the beginning of the year when Verstappen could also exploit it, but faded throughout the season. So for me a 6th place in the latter stage of the year with a Toro Rosso, matches a Verstappen podium with a really strong Red Bull, and he just kept on delivering all year long. Sainz, Alonso and Ricciardo are the standout drivers for me this year, not neccessarily in this order.

  18. He did less with a better car than Verstappen last year.
    He should thank Red Bull for taking Verstappen out and replacing him with a lesser driver.
    It would be a embarrasing defeat if the boy were to stay till the end of the season.
    So everybody got out looking good, except Kvyat.

  19. Want proof that he is overrated? Look at the car/team that he’s in. He has still not produced spectacular performances all season and other drivers in slower teams have reached better results, despite all the people still place him on a pedestal like he’s an overtaking monster. I am not saying he is a bad driver but don’t think he has impressed sufficiently ro be ranked so highly.

  20. Would of put him to 3rd. Got to say he was fantastic this year.

  21. Over rated. Anyway I do think 6th is representative. I can’t remember such a poor middle season and yearly driver ranking as 2016’s, particularly up to the top ten.

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