F1 2016 Season Review: MotorSportsTalk’s Driver Rankings

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Following on from the first part of our review of the 2016 Formula 1 season published on Friday, the second feature profiles the entire grid in the driver rankings.

Deviating from championship order in a bid to try and see who was really the best driver in 2016 is always a challenge, but perhaps more so this year than in previous ones.

There was a definite top five that, in reality, could be ordered a number of other different ways, with each variation having a strong argument in its favor, such were the fine margins between 2016’s outstanding performers.

23 of the 24 drivers who raced in F1 this year have been included in the ranking, with Stoffel Vandoorne being excluded. Despite putting in an almighty display on debut in Bahrain, with just one race under his belt, it is impossible to accurately rank the McLaren driver against the rest of the field.

Without further ado, here are MST’s rankings for the season.

23. Rio Haryanto – Manor (new entry)

Rio Haryanto may have been the latest pay driver to grace the F1 grid, but he did himself no disservice during his half-season with Manor. The Indonesian ran highly-rated teammate Pascal Wehrlein close in qualifying, but suffered a whitewash in the races against the Mercedes junior across the garage.

Season Highlight: Nearly reaching Q2 in Baku, finishing 17th.

22. Esteban Gutierrez – Haas (re-entry, 17th in 2014)

So much promise surrounded Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 with the new Haas team after a year away, but it faded into disappointment. Sure, there were unlucky moments, yet misfortune is not enough to explain the 29-0 loss to teammate Romain Grosjean in the points standings. A tough year for the Mexican.

Season Highlight: Making it through to Q3 at Monza and Suzuka.

21. Felipe Nasr – Sauber (-5 from 2015)

Times were hard at Sauber through much of 2016, with financial issues limiting any real progress in the early part of the year. The rebuilding program is now well underway, and Nasr played his part in that by charging to P9 in Brazil to take two crucial points for the team (and the prize money along with it).

But Nasr lost out in the head-to-head battle with teammate Marcus Ericsson in both qualifying and races, making it a disappointing campaign given the buzz around the Brazilian.

Season Highlight: P9 at home in Brazil, albeit aided by a perfect strategy.

20. Esteban Ocon – Manor (new entry)

Esteban Ocon finally got his long-awaited shot in F1 when Rio Haryanto’s backing fell through, making his debut at Spa. The Frenchman was immediately on-pace with teammate Pascal Wehrlein, beating him 5-3 in races both finished and even flirting with the points on occasion. A good first half-season in F1 by all accounts.

Season Highlight: Spending much of the Brazilian GP in the points before ending up P12.

19. Marcus Ericsson – Sauber (+1 from 2015)

Marcus Ericsson was one of the quiet successes of 2016. Like Nasr, he was hamstrung by Sauber’s financial struggles, yet Ericsson managed to outclass his better-rated teammate through the year. Ericsson will now be hoping to carry this form through to 2017, when hopefully he will make a return to the points.

Season Highlight: A brave one-stop strategy in Mexico that left him 11th, agonizingly close to the points.

18. Jolyon Palmer – Renault (new entry)

Expectations were mixed for Jolyon Palmer’s debut F1 season with the returning Renault team, but the Briton failed to impress as many had hoped. Palmer struggled to adapt to life in F1, with a miserable weekend in Monaco being a low point where he crashed three times. However, signs of progression were impossible to ignore later in the year as Palmer picked up his first point in Malaysia. He needs this steady improvement to carry into 2017.

Season Highlight: P10 in Malaysia, marking his first F1 point.

17. Pascal Wehrlein – Manor (new entry)

Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein arrived in F1 off the back of a title-winning DTM campaign, and quickly set to work impressing the grid. The German scored just the second point in Manor’s seven-season history in Austria, and reached Q2 six times through the year. He may have failed to blow Rio Haryanto away or beat Esteban Ocon, but it was nevertheless a good rookie season by all accounts.

Season Highlight: P10 in Austria, keeping his cool for a breakthrough point for Manor.

16. Kevin Magnussen – Renault (re-entry, 12th in 2014)

K-Mag’s F1 comeback was a good news story given his hard-luck McLaren departure, but the Dane didn’t exactly light things up (except for when his car did in practice at Malaysia). Yes, Renault had its struggles through the year, but just two top-10 finishes remained a disappointment for all. Let’s hope Magnussen finally gets his shot in a semi-decent car with Haas next year.

Season Highlight: Dodging early chaos to finish seventh in Russia.

15. Jenson Button – McLaren (-3 from 2015)

As much as we’d like to say that Jenson Button’s (probable) final F1 season was one packed with memorable on-track displays, it just wasn’t. Button was firmly in Fernando Alonso’s shadow at McLaren, scoring just five more points than he did in 2015, a year that most at the team have wiped from memory. He did have one stunning weekend in Austria, where he qualified third and finished sixth, boosting an otherwise-measly points total.

Season Highlight: Qualifying third and running second early on in Austria, before winding up P6.

14. Daniil Kvyat – Red Bull/Toro Rosso (-7 from 2015)

A really tough year for Daniil Kvyat. After early heroics in Bahrain and China, the latter race yielding his second F1 podium, the Russian’s star fell when he crashed into Sebastian Vettel twice at Sochi, giving Red Bull the excuse it needed to swap Kvyat with Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso.

From then on, Kvyat’s season was about fixing himself after appearing rather lost mid-season. Much-needed respite in the summer break led to a series of good results to close out the season despite the engine struggles Toro Rosso had with the 2015-spec Ferrari power unit. Singapore stood out.

Season Highlight: Kvyat’s ‘torpedo’ act in China and his thug life line to Vettel: “I’m on the podium so it’s OK!”

13. Felipe Massa – Williams (non-mover from 2015)

Like Button, we’d like to say that Felipe Massa’s final season in F1 was one to remember. But like Button, we just can’t. Massa made a strong start to the year, picking up P5 finishes in Australia and Russia, but finished no higher than seventh from then on. Bringing home 32 points less than teammate Valtteri Bottas showed the gulf in class between the two this year.

That said, Massa gave us more emotional memories to end his career. His walk down the pit lane in Brazil will surely go down in F1 folklore as one of the most tear-jerking goodbyes.

Season Highlight: Massa’s final show of heart in Brazil as the paddock said farewell.

12. Nico Hulkenberg – Force India (+3 from 2015)

Nico Hulkenberg is a frustrating driver. Despite his great ability, as evidenced by his debut Le Mans victory in 2015, Hulkenberg is still yet to score a podium finish in F1. Admittedly, some of that this year came down to strategic misfires, but Spa and Sao Paulo stood out as the latest lost opportunities.

Force India once again proved itself to be F1’s best pound-for-pound team in 2016, scaling to P4 in the constructors’ championship. Hulkenberg played a huge role in this success, but was in Sergio Perez’s shadow through the year.

Season Highlight: Coming close to a breakthrough podium at Spa, running P2 early on before ending up fourth as Lewis Hamilton fought back.

11. Romain Grosjean – Haas (-6 from 2015)

Romain Grosjean’s move to Haas was always regarded as a risk, but when he took the American team to P6 in its debut race in Australia, it appeared to be a masterstroke. Another excellent drive followed in Bahrain, going one better to finish fifth, but the points then dried up as the reality of life in F1 bit the rookie operation.

Through it all, though, Grosjean kept fighting. For all of his ‘teenager raging on Xbox’ radio calls and complaints, Grosjean was the outstanding star for Haas in its debut season, winning arguably the most one-sided teammate battle against Esteban Gutierrez.

Season Highlight: Fifth place in Bahrain with a masterful display.

10. Valtteri Bottas – Williams (-2 from 2015)

Valtteri Bottas was one of the unsung heroes of the 2016 season. Williams clearly struggled this year as engine performance converged through the field, minimizing the advantage of its Mercedes unit. However, Bottas plowed on regardless, often taking the best result realistically possible for the team.

Williams was, at times, sixth-fastest through 2016, yet Bottas was able to push to eighth in the final championship standings and even take a podium in Canada. A good campaign for the Finn.

Season Highlight: Third in Canada, an opportunistic but well-taken result.

9. Sergio Perez – Force India (+1 from 2015)

Sergio Perez’s 2016 season was another quietly impressive one, building on his achievements last year. The Mexican scored two superb podiums: one thanks to good strategy in Monaco, and one thanks to outright pace throughout the weekend in Baku, where Perez nearly took a shock pole and qualified second on merit.

Force India’s rise to fourth in the constructors’ championship was undoubtedly a team effort, with Nico Hulkenberg matching Perez for much of the year, but the outstanding results were once again down to Checo.

Season Highlight: The Baku weekend, ending with third place in the race.

8. Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari (+6 from 2015)

2016 was much better from Kimi Raikkonen. Gone was the inconsistency of 2014 and 2015, instead replaced by a solid pace and performance throughout the year. Raikkonen ran teammate Sebastian Vettel very close in the points race, and came close to his first win for the Scuderia since 2008 in Spain, but tailed off later in the year, failing to score a podium after Austria. Bwoah.

Much like Bottas or Perez, Raikkonen often took the best possible result given the pace of the Ferrari. Let’s see if he can continue this improvement in 2017, 10 years on from his World Championship.

Season Highlight: Second in Bahrain, splitting the Mercedes drivers with an impressive display.

7. Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari (-5 from 2015)

For all of the expectation on both Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari following pre-season testing, 2016 proved to be a tough year for both parties. Victory opportunities were fleeting – Australia and Canada come to mind – but passed by as Ferrari snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Vettel’s form was still solid through 2016, taking P4 in the drivers’ championship, but we may be starting to see the early cracks in the much-heralded relationship with Ferrari…

Season Highlight: Second in Canada, where Vettel ran Hamilton very close for victory.

6. Carlos Sainz Jr. – Toro Rosso (+3 from 2015)

Carlos Sainz Jr. is a driver that could arguably be ranked higher, such was his excellence throughout the year. Max Verstappen’s departure from Toro Rosso helped to defuse much of the tension at the team, leaving Sainz to become team leader amid Daniil Kvyat’s struggles.

The Spaniard was quick early in the year, and despite Toro Rosso falling back in the pecking order with its 2015-spec Ferrari power unit later in the season, Sainz continued to flourish. P6 finishes in Austin and Mexico in difficult circumstances proved the quality of the youngster.

Season Highlight: Nearing a podium in Brazil through torrential rain and red flags.

5. Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso/Red Bull (-1 from 2015)

Verstappen? Down one place from last year?! Yep, really. Not because Verstappen was worse than he was in 2015. Far from it. Just because there were four more outstanding drivers through the year.

Verstappen was nevertheless incredible during this campaign. His move up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso may have been sudden, but the Dutchman dealt with it perfectly and answered his critics in the most convincing style by winning on debut.

It was a year filled with magic drives from Verstappen, with Brazil likely to be an iconic memory in years to come. However, there were also mistakes: the start at Spa, for one; his Monaco weekend for another. Verstappen’s qualifying form was lacking compared to Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and he lost 9-7 in races both finished – so there’s still room for improvement.

Season Highlight: Verstappen’s wet weather magic in Brazil – his car looked like it was in a different class.

4. Fernando Alonso – McLaren (+7 from 2015)

2016 was typical Fernando Alonso. As he has done for about the past eight years, Alonso took his sub-standard car and worked wonders with it, leading McLaren’s charge and even taking a top-10 finish in the drivers’ championship.

After escaping a horrific crash in Australia and missing one race through injury, Alonso quickly made up for the lost ground with P6 in Russia and a superb outing in Monaco, finishing fifth. Another P5 was chalked up late in the year in Austin, with a series of P7s mid-season – all while McLaren had, realistically, the sixth-fastest car.

There were few (if any) weekends where Alonso seemed off the boil and not at the peak of his powers. If this kind of improvement continues through 2017, then maybe his move to McLaren won’t seem so crazy after all.

Season Highlight: P5 in Monaco, having kept Rosberg at bay for much of the race.

3. Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull (+3 from 2015)

Daniel Ricciardo always works with a smile, but in 2016, you could really see why. The Australian rarely put a foot wrong this season, and really should have won two races, with a sure-fire victory in Monaco being lost after a dud pit call by the Red Bull team.

Ricciardo did not crumble under the pressure that Max Verstappen’s arrival at Red Bull created, either. Instead, he did his talking on-track, proving himself to be ahead in the teammate battle – a big statement ahead of a possible championship charge next year.

Like Alonso, Ricciardo rarely failed to max out the potential of the Red Bull RB12 car, and was massively consistent with points in 20 of the 21 races.

Oh, and he brought the shoey to F1…

Season Highlight: Dominating proceedings in Monaco before his tough and undeserved defeat to Hamilton.

2. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes (-1 from 2015)

More wins and pole positions than any other driver wasn’t enough to give Lewis Hamilton the World Championship, and nor is it enough to give him P1 in our driver rankings (we imagine he’s more upset about the latter…).

Let’s not dress Hamilton’s season up as being anything less than an unfortunate one. Had it not been for his setbacks in China, Russia, Belgium or Malaysia, he would most likely have been World Champion ahead of Nico Rosberg.

But the same is true of his poor start in Australia. And his poor start in Bahrain. And his anonymous weekend in Baku. And his poor start in Italy. And his struggles in Singapore. And his poor start in Japan.

When Hamilton was on it, he was on it. But there were too many weekends this year where he was clearly second best to Rosberg. That’s why he was left in the situation he was from Suzuka onwards, where four straight wins to close out the season weren’t enough to take the title.

Season Highlight: His demolition of the field in tricky conditions in Brazil. Hamilton made something very difficult look very easy that weekend.

1. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes (+2 from 2015)

Nico Rosberg’s championship success in 2016 is probably one of the most peculiar in F1 history. Despite winning nine races, questions remain regarding the legitimacy of his success given the comparisons to Hamilton, and the misfortune that the Briton suffered through the year.

So yes, Rosberg got lucky at times. Many of his victories were taken without any serious challenge. But he had to be in the position to seize that opportunity in the first place. So let’s not slight the German simply because Hamilton wasn’t there to put up a fight.

Because there were plenty of occasions where Rosberg proved himself to be a very different and more adept racer to the one that lost to a gust of wind in 2015. He still had poor weekends  (Monaco being the strongest example) and thought rashly at times (the clash with Hamilton in Austria being the biggest flashpoint), but was on the whole much better this time around.

Rosberg didn’t choke. Even when Daniel Ricciardo was bearing down on him in Singapore; even when Verstappen was charging through the Interlagos rain; even when Hamilton was backing him into the pack in Abu Dhabi – every step of the way, Rosberg kept his cool.

His one race at a time mentality may have been infuriating to many, but it did the trick. Rosberg is World Champion. As the now-retired German said many a time through 2016: “That’s it!”

Season Highlight: Holding on in Singapore to beat Ricciardo by half a second, a crucial win in the title race.

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Tom Blomqvist keeps eye on IndyCar during impressive rise: ‘ I would love to give it a go’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In between two of his latest superstar-driver-in-waiting performances, Tom Blomqvist walked through the Daytona International Speedway garage in anonymity.

“Nobody knows who the (expletive) I am,” he said to a team member with a laugh (and without a trace of being miffed), evincing the cheeky humor of someone born in England, raised in New Zealand and also of Swedish descent.

The lack of recognition in the garage might have been because he was clad in a relatively nondescript shirt, hat and sunglasses instead of a colorful firesuit covered by sponsor logos. But he also was on the way to a Friday race eve media availability where his entrance was greeted by only one reporter (after a few minutes).

During a news conference a day earlier, he sat patiently on the dais while his Indy 500-winning teammates and car owner fielded nearly all the questions – even though Blomqvist had turned maybe the most impressive lap of the month to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position in the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category.

The Meyer Shank Racing driver still might lack the attention commensurate with his already world-class CV (which expanded Sunday with his second consecutive Rolex 24  victory for MSR), but Blomqvist, 29, clearly isn’t bothered by it.

He carries the quiet confidence of knowing his immense talent will ensure results that will make him impossible to ignore.

“To a degree, I guess, it’s definitely ramped up a lot for me,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports. “In America, I’m starting to get a lot more (attention). In the last year, I’ve quite often got a lot of maybe what you’d call the glory moments. It’s been fun. And within the paddock, there’s a lot of respect for me anyway. It’s been good.”

There have been several moments of acclaim since he joined MSR barely a year ago in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. In his first start for the team at last year’s Rolex 24, Blomqvist turned in a Herculean performance to position the No. 60 Acura for the victory (giving way to Helio Castroneves because he was too “cooked” to complete the last 74 minutes).

He was even better this year at Daytona.

He ripped off a monster “one and done” pole-winning lap to beat the clock in qualifying on the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course. During the race, Blomqvist was as dominant in his first stint as his last in the ARX-06 while taking the checkered flag. He set the mark for the fastest time on Lap 6 that no one topped over the final 755 laps.

The 10 fastest laps in the race belonged to Blomqvist, carrying over his speed from the 2022 when he won the Petit Le Mans season finale to clinch the premier prototype championship at Michelin Road Atlanta.

A year earlier at the same track, he had burst onto the radar of car owner Mike Shank, who was intrigued by Blomqvist’s results as a BMW factory driver in the Formula E and DTM series. In 2014, Blomqvist also finished between second in F3, between champion Esteban Ocon (now with Alpine’s F1 team) and Max Verstappen (who has won the past two Formula One championships).

“He did a lot of high-level stuff, and then kind of fell out of favor, or I don’t know what happened, but he was a free agent,” Shank said. “I started looking at his numbers, and I’m like, ‘We should test this guy. So I take him to Road Atlanta in the fall of ’21, and he got in the car and just slayed it.”

Within minutes, he had called co-owner Jim Meyer.

“I’ve got our guy,” Shank said. “This is our guy. There’s no question about it.

Honda Performance Development president David Salters hugs Tom Blomqvist after the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

“Now what’s happened, though, and I think if you look back at the Rolex here last year (and) what he did, he’s a gold nugget. He reminds me a little bit when (Robert) Wickens came into IndyCar out of DTM (as a rookie in 2018).

“He truly believes he’s the fastest guy out there, and he proved it (at the Rolex 24).”

Said David Salters, president for Honda Performance Development: “We love Tom. He’s the real deal, isn’t he? Immensely talented, super smart, and on it.

The great thing about our teams, the strength in depth is tremendous. But if you look through the sports car racing now, that’s the standard you have to have. Tom, brilliant, Filipe (Albuquerque), brilliant. Ricky (Taylor). You can go through that list. They’re all superstars. Tom is awesome. His lap in qualifying quite frankly was unbelievable.”


Having conquered one of the world’s greatest endurance races twice with Acura, Blomqvist could be ticketed for the world’s biggest race next – the Indy 500 — with HPD’s primary brand.

He tested a Dallara-Honda for MSR last October at Sebring International Raceway, and while he plans to focus solely on IMSA this season, he remains very intrigued by IndyCar.

And with Castroneves, 47, beginning a one-year deal with MSR’s IndyCar team, there could be an obvious opening in 2024.

“Obviously, it’s not in the cards this year,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports the day before the Rolex. “Yeah, I would love to give it a go. To be honest, I think that would be an amazing step for me in my career. I enjoy the sports car stuff so much. It’s been really good to me lately. I really enjoyed the style of racing.

“But I feel like IndyCar would be a step up for me and my career. It would be fantastic if I could get that opportunity. But yeah, I guess I have to keep pushing Mike or something to give me a shot. But obviously for now, the focus is here in the sports car stuff. It’s not really down to me at the end of the day. And I’ve got to do my job and then the people who pay the bills and make the decisions obviously have to decide if that’s something worth pursuing.

“But yeah, I’d love to give it a go, and I definitely would be up for it.”

Tom Blomqvist after winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole on the final qualifying lap (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

A transition from IMSA to IndyCar naturally would be easier than switching teams, but it also would be comfortable because Blomqvist already seems such a good fit at MSR.

It might have seemed an unusual pairing given his European-heavy background, but Blomqvist likes the Midwestern culture that’s been built at MSR. Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the team’s shop has “no egos, and that just enables each and every one of to reach our potential.

“Obviously, with Honda, we obviously have some great resources, but we’re up against Porsche, BMW and some big heavy hitters in the motorsports world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve got a huge team compared to them, but we’ve obviously got a very capable team, and I think that’s what has been so impressive and really, really nice to see about the work that’s been done. No stone has been left unturned.”


Blomqvist still is living in Europe and planning to commute for the nine-race GTP schedule (which has a nearly two-month break after the Rolex 24 until the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring). But though he’s “got good friends in America, so I do have places to stay,” he seems open to being based more permanently near MSR in America.

“Let’s see what the future brings, and if that means me spending more time over here,” he said. “It’s a fantastic team. It’s a different environment to what I’m used to. It’s obviously now a hugely successful team, but it is a small team. It does feel like a very small family-operated team, which it is.

“I think Mike’s really just built this thing. It hasn’t happened overnight. Mike’s a great guy and put a lot of trust and faith in me, and I played a relatively good part in some of the success last year. I was able to reward him and give him my all every time I’m on track, and he respects that. But we are still a small team. In the grand scheme of things, we still are a really, really small team.”

Blomqvist said the BMW factory program would have two or three times the staffing of MSR – just on one of its two GTP cars.

“But it’s not the number of people that makes a difference, it’s the quality of people, and obviously Mike and HPD are a fantastic operation to go racing,” Blomqvist said. “We’re racers at heart.

“I’ve been part of some big outfits, and the European way of working is very, very different to how people go about racing in America. I’d say it’s more seat of your pants. A lot of emotion and kind of rides on that competitive spirt, competitive nature and on their personalities. It’s a lot more pure. It feels very pure. You want to win, so we go out and don’t cut corners on trying to win.”

Though it’s aligned with Liberty Media and has big-budget backing and support from Honda Performance Development, MSR also is much less corporate than most GTP teams.

A longtime and respected team owner who has built a sponsor portfolio, Shank also describes his maniacal dedication to success as “messed up,” and he’s known for dropping vulgarities into postrace interview with his blunt and self-deprecating sense of humor.

Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Mike Shank congratulates Tom Blomqvist on the Rolex 24 at Daytona pole position (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).

With a more laid-back but sometimes just as biting demeanor, Blomqvist has become the team’s unquestioned leader behind the wheel

“I definitely feel a lot more immersed,” he said. “Within the team, I was a bit more of an unknown quantity the start of last year. Obviously after last season, the team trusts me a lot. And that gives me a lot of pleasure, pride and confidence. In this sport, confidence is a huge aspect of drivers’ psychology in a way. We’re in extremely high-pressure moments where my job is to perform under the pressure of these organizations and the brand as well.

“It’s just a good, healthy team to be a part of. It’s a high-pressure environment, but the team obviously have put a lot of faith in me, and I’ve been able to deliver for them on occasions.”

Rolex 24 starting lineup
Tom Blomqvist celebrates after winning the pole in the No. 60 Acura ARX-06 (Mike Levitt/LAT/IMSA).