The world championship may have gone to Nico Rosberg and no doubt his retirement was a big talking point at the end of the season but the biggest talking point throughout the season was that of teenager Max Verstappen.
It’s not without good reason that the world was talking Max. The youngster had the most passes in the season, was the youngest Formula 1 race winner and race leader ever. While his impact was felt around the F1 world, perhaps his two teammates during 2016 felt his presence the most. The narrative is clearly about his impact on Carlos Sainz at Toro Rosso and now Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull. In fact, both teammates are probably tired of continually speaking of their efforts as a footnote to Verstappen’s season.
Today’s news is, once again, about Sainz and Ricciardo but through the lens of Verstappen. First up, the sudden increase and performance of Sainz after Verstappen left Toro Rosso to replace Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull. Sainz seemed to immediately flourish and come to the forefront of the Toro Rosso effort but the Spaniard says that’s all just a coincidence.
“It’s a question I’ve been asked the whole year. I know there’s a coincidence that Max left and suddenly I started to show, but I still think nothing would have changed [if he stayed].
“I still think P6 and P7 if Max had finished in front in Spain. I still think I would’ve fought for a podium in Monaco, and a P8 in Canada.
“I don’t think a piece of Kvyat’s front wing wouldn’t have come into my radiator like it did in Russia, China, a pitstop with [Sebastian] Vettel slowing me down in the pit entry while I was in P6 didn’t happen in Spain. Small details stopped happening to me after Spain that had nothing to do with Max.”
In the mind of Carlos, it is coincidence and not the fact that Verstappen was overshadowing his performances, that made the difference in his new-found competitiveness.
For Daniel Ricciardo, the more people heap praise on Verstappen, the better it will be for him when he beats the youngster.
“The way that I see it, it is quite cool – because the more highly regarded he is, then if I can go out next year and beat him, it doesn’t make me look bad,” Ricciardo reckoned.
“If everyone was saying he was crap and he doesn’t deserve the seat, and I am just managing to beat him, then it doesn’t make me look very good.”
“So, I would say he is twice as good as Senna!” the Aussie joked.
Regardless, the Red Bull organization has a tiger by the tail in Verstappen and at 19-years-old, he’s becoming the measuring stick for the other Red Bull drivers. To be fair, I do think measuring Ricciardo to Verstappen could be a bit premature as the Australian is a tiger himself and without a competitive car, I don’t think we’ve seen the full potential of the “honey badger”.
Even so, Verstappen is a talent that is rare and only comes along once in a generation of drivers who are seemingly born to drive in F1. Schumacher, Vettel, Hamilton, and Verstappen all just seem born for the job but there is little doubt that Ricciardo and Sainz would say they are also born for the job. Time will tell.
Hat Tip: Motorsport