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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.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.