Team: Red Bull Racing/Toro Rosso
Car No.: 33
Podiums (excluding wins): 6
Fastest Laps: 1
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.