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F1 2016 Driver Review: Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen

Team: Red Bull Racing/Toro Rosso
Car No.: 33
Races: 21
Wins: 1
Podiums (excluding wins): 6
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 204
Laps Led: 42
Championship Position: 5th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

After such an impressive rookie season in Formula 1 last year, the sky appeared to be the limit for Max Verstappen – but few seriously thought he would go stratospheric as quickly as he did in 2016.

The Dutchman was always bound to make the move up to Red Bull’s senior F1 operation one day, but was given an early promotion as Daniil Kvyat’s meltdown in Sochi proved to be the excuse the team needed to make the switch.

Verstappen then delivered one of the shocks of the season by winning his very first race with Red Bull, picking up the pieces when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg crashed into each other and his team put Daniel Ricciardo on a dud strategy. The level of maturity and confidence he showed in the closing stages to fend off Kimi Raikkonen as he did was far beyond his 18 years.

The year was filled with similarly excellent displays from Verstappen, most notably in Brazil when he went on a late rampage with a fresh set of wet tires, taking 11 places in the space of 15 laps with some daring moves. It’s a drive that is already being talked about in the same breath as Michael Schumacher in Spain in 1996, or Ayrton Senna’s wet-wonders in the 1984 Monaco Grand Prix.

However, there is still room for improvement for Verstappen. His qualifying form still needs work, having lost convincingly to Ricciardo in that head-to-head, and he still has a few rookie errors in races to iron out (Monaco and Spa come to mind). That said, the excitement Verstappen brings to the grid cannot be understated. Let’s see what more he can do through 2017.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

The dynamic Dutchman was one of the stories of the season. You know the background by now; called up by Red Bull after Daniil Kvyat’s rough start, the epic win on team debut in Spain, the season-long spat with Kimi Raikkonen, and then that save and that drive in the rain in Brazil.

Max Verstappen’s 2016 season featured some incredible highlights. Yet it is also true that we must look at it as one of being a 19-year-old sophomore driver, who despite his undoubted World Championship-winning potential is still a driver with things to learn and areas to improve.

The most obvious is his race craft. Too often he pushed or exceeded the boundaries of normal racing lines and drew the ire of his competitors for it. The second is his attitude, which will develop with age. When you’re 18 or 19, you tend to care less and go about things with a cavalier attitude. I seem to remember Red Bull’s last “wunderkind,” Sebastian Vettel, being perceived as petulant at times when he didn’t get his way, and Verstappen was at times as well. But for sure he’ll get better as he gets older, and he’s already this good this early.

Daniel Ricciardo beat Verstappen 11-6 in qualifying and 8-6 in races where both finished. It was a great year for Verstappen, one perhaps where the hype sometimes exceeded the reality, but still one to remember.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.