Max Verstappen received a surprise promotion to Red Bull just four races into the year and was arguably the team’s leading driver by the end of the season.
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/21|
|Beat team mate in race||8/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||602/1148|
At the first race weekend of the year Verstappen put his Toro Rosso fifth on the grid with only the Mercedes pair and the Ferraris ahead. A tactical error by the team spoiled his race and he spun trying to pass his team mate, prompting predictable editorials about how he’d proved too young and impetuous for F1.
Those words were quietly forgotten four races later when he was standing on top of the podium at the Circuit de Catalunya in his Red Bull overalls. Undoubtedly an element of fortune had been involved. But Verstappen proved impervious to pressure from Kimi Raikkonen and that coolness served him well throughout the rest of the year.
It’s a measure of how Verstappen shook up his rivals that the FIA was provoked into clarifying areas of the rule book which then served to trip up those who were trying to beat him. Raikkonen was driven to distraction by Verstappen’s uncompromising, rigorous and letter-of-the-law legal defending.
Whether he was darting around the outside of his team mate on the first lap in Germany or flashing past Raikkonen at a restart in Malaysia, Verstappen pounced on passing opportunities with utter ruthlessness.
Some associated his aggressive style with wildness, though this usually wasn’t the case. Monaco was an exception, as in his post-Spain high he binned the car three times in one weekend.
At times a lack of polish in his performances cost him, too. Poor starts in Italy and Singapore proved costly. He came up short in the qualifying contest against Daniel Ricciardo, which was to be expected. However he was 4-2 up over the final six races: something for Ricciardo to reflect on during the off-season.
Verstappen’s day of days was in Brazil, where he danced around a soaking track performing passes at almost every corner on almost every rival. Whatever room there was for doubt about his potential has now been utterly extinguished.
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Over to you
Shame he couldn’t win another one but he’s been really great, hope to see him fight for title next year. Also the top three overtakes made by him.
What’s your verdict on Max Verstappen’s 2016 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are produced by referring to:
- Race-by-race notes on how they performed (see below)
- How well they performed compared to their team mate
- How competitive their car was
- Other data on the 2016 season
View race-by-race notes on Max Verstappen
Australia – It looked like being a very good race for Verstappen until the Safety Car came out. He qualified a strong fifth with only the Mercedes and Ferraris ahead of him, gained a place at the start and held Hamilton off with little trouble in the opening stint. But like Ferrari, Toro Rosso opted against switching to the mediums and paid the price. It was a triple-whammy for Verstappen as he was also called in for his last stop after Sainz, despite running in front of him, and the team then fumbled Verstappen’s stop. He made his displeasure clear in a series of radio messages and a late spin, though harmless, indicated he had let frustration get the better of him.
Bahrain – There wasn’t much to choose between the Toro Rossos in qualifying – Verstappen edged Sainz by just four-hundredths of a second. The pair fought hard on the first lap but Verstappen, running the super-soft tyres, prevailed. A long third stint on medium tyres allowed him to attack in the final stint on super-softs, although they were dropping off qualifying at the end of the race. He took sixth off Massa but ran out of time to get Grosjean.
China – Qualifying in the lower reaches of Q3 is not an advantageous place these days, and so it proved for Verstappen after lining up ninth. Lost ground at the start plus the timing of the Safety Car and being held up by Hulkenberg in the pits left him 20th by lap nine. Remarkably, he still managed to finish higher than he started, moving ahead of his team mate plus Perez and Bottas to take the flag in eighth place.
Russia – There was just hundredths of a second between the Toro Rosso drivers on Friday. Verstappen was vexed by too much oversteer but pipped Sainz into Q3 and qualified ninth. Having narrowly avoided the Vettel/Kvyat fracas Verstappen was well-placed in sixth until a power unit problem halted his run.
Spain – Gets full marks despite being edged by Riccirado on Saturday due to his stellar drive on Sunday. Verstappen’s lap one pass on Vettel and coolness under pressure from both Ferrari drivers displayed immense maturity for a driver of comparatively few race starts.
Monaco – Arrived in Monaco making all the right noises about staying out of the barriers but didn’t come good on that aim. By the chequered flag he’d made three trips to the wall, one of which condemned him to dropping out of the running in Q1 and another putting him out of the race. Prior to that he’d made some great passes and was flying after his switch to intermediates. But his Red Bull career now reads: one excellent weekend, one miserable one.
Canada – Beaten by Ricciardo in qualifying but got ahead of him at the start. He managed his pace at first, then got a hurry-up from the Red Bull pit wall. Like his team mate he couldn’t stretch his first stint out long enough to one-stop. However his defensive driving against Rosberg in the final laps was superb and made the difference between fourth and fifth place.
Europe – Was infuriated by Bottas in qualifying as he kept finding the Williams trying to occupy the same piece of track as him. He started well, passing Bottas and Kvyat, then fell foul to the same tyre problems which wrecked his team mate’s race. On his second set he was able to pass Massa and Hulkenberg for eighth behind Ricciardo.
Austria – Damaged his car on the kerbs twice in first practice. In qualifying he also only had a single run on slicks at the end of Q3 – and was over a second off Ricciardo’s time. His race was much better, however: he passed Ricciardo early on then jumped Raikkonen through his pit stop and held the Ferrari off to the flag for a strong second place.
Britain – Grabbed third with a super-committed lap yet the one second gap to Mercedes showed Red Bull still have much work to do. He was on a mission from the word go in the wet conditions, taking the fight to Rosberg with great verve and producing a stunning pass for second place. Rosberg inevitably re-passed him with DRS, but despite a minor off Verstappen still finished close enough to benefit from the Mercedes driver’s penalty.
Hungary – Not quite on Ricciardo’s one-lap pace and despite driving “like a grandma” in the opening stint his rear tyres began to go off sooner than his team mate’s. This was doubly problematic as Ricciardo ahead had pit stop priority, leaving Verstappen unable to keep Vettel behind. He also got caught behind Raikkonen at one point, but when the roles were reversed he fended the Ferrari driver off superbly in the closing stages on older rubber.
Germany – Attacked the Hockenheimring with gusto when track limits were not enforced in first practice, running wide at turn one on 14 occasions. That knowledge of the grip levels at the corner served him well at the start, where he passed a surprised Ricciardo with millimetres to spare. However his race pace wasn’t quite as good and he came under attack from Rosberg, who incurred a penalty while passing the Red Bull. Verstappen therefore reclaimed the place but yielded second to his team mate: “taking one for the team”, as he put it.
Belgium – The only driver in the top five to start on the super-soft tyres, Verstappen got a surprisingly poor getaway then tried to re-pass the Ferraris at turn one. But the space vanished and the result was a three-way collision which spoiled his race. Although his front wing was replaced he also had significant floor damage and spent much of the race having to defend position as he tried in vain to climb into the points. As usual he explored the limits of legal defensive driving.
Italy – Not as happy with his car as Ricciardo in qualifying and further hampered by radio problems, but backed his team mate up on the grid. He could count himself fortunate to avoid a reprimand for impeding Rosberg in final practice. Verstappen didn’t get off the line well, his car going into anti-stall, but despite Red Bull’s top speed disadvantage he passed a Mercedes-powered Force India in his first stint, and Alonso’s McLaren too. He took the second Force India at the end of the race for seventh – a decent recovery.
Singapore – Like his team mate he made it through Q2 on super-soft tyres, but he qualified two spots behind Ricciardo. He made another of this recent starts, this one relating to a problem with his clutch, and inadvertently triggered chaos behind. His subsequent fight back to sixth was first-rate, however.
Japan – Enjoyed “one of the strongest Fridays so far” and was consistently the quickest driver through Suzuka’s maximum-commitment first sector. Penalties promoted him to third, and Hamilton’s slow start handed him second, but he was quick enough to thwart the recovering Mercedes driver’s efforts to beat him to second place. He once again played it to the letter of the law when it came to defending his position.
Malaysia – Beat Ricciardo to third place and kept a lightly-used set of softs from Q1. He also made a much better start than he has in recent races, though he was delayed by the Vettel/Rosberg collision. However he pounced on Raikkonen at the restart and took Perez soon afterwards, bringing himself back into contention for a victory. He used the second VSC period to explore a different strategy, but a later VSC period meant we never got to see if it might have brought him victory.
United States – Led final practice but was shaded by Ricciardo in qualifying. Nonetheless he chose to start the race on the soft tyres having been pleased with his car’s long-run pace on Friday. However he lost a place at the start (to a car on softer tyres), and although he re-passed Raikkonen his pursuit of Rosberg appeared to cost him and then he spoiled his race by making the strange mistake of pitting when he wasn’t told to. He did follow the team’s instructions when it came to parking his car; the fact is was jammed in neutral hindered the marshal’s recovery efforts and prompted a Virtual Safety Car period.
Mexico – Missed some of the first practice session after his brakes caught fire. Couldn’t replicate his Q2 pace in Q3 – a session where everyone seemed to struggle – but nonetheless took third. He took the fight to Rosberg when a chance appeared in traffic and came close to snatching second, but after that fell into the clutches of Vettel. He was judged to have overstepped the mark cutting the first corner with Vettel but it was a borderline call – Rosberg had gone unpunished for a similar move on the first lap.
Brazil – Was third after his first run in Q3 but an error on his final effort dropped him behind Raikkonen. However the dire conditions provided a perfect showcase for his talents. During the course of the race he explored every millimetre of the Interlagos track in pursuit of extra grip and had overtaken the likes of his team mate, Rosberg and both Ferrari drivers. The gamble on intermediates was understandable, though it cost him second.
Abu Dhabi – Had to abort his last race simulation run in second practice due to a problem with his car. He was frustrated with himself after errors in Q3 left him sixth on the grid, then made another mistake at the beginning of the race and fell to last. However thanks to Hamilton’s slow driving Verstappen was able to catch up and converting to a one-stop strategy recovered fourth place which rather flattered his efforts.
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