2016 Formula 1 Top Ten Drivers
1. Daniel Ricciardo
1 win, 1 pole position, 7 podiums, 4 fastest laps (256 points 3rd in the Championship)
Following a disastrous season in 2015 in which the Red Bull Racing team were persistently hampered by the unreliability of their Renault engine, the Milton Keynes crew had very limited expectations heading into the opening fly away rounds of the season. Amidst an excitable local media whose appreciation for Formula 1 while genuine, often overlooks the harsh reality that the opposition in Formula 1 never stands still. Ricciardo was quick to dismiss any chance of a podium at Albert Park, seeking to gain points in the ideal scenario that the RB12 lasted the distance.
This pessimism was well-founded. After all, the team had finished last season well behind both Mercedes and Ferrari, whose engines were in the back of the same teams again in addition to the new United States sort of based ‘Haas’ team. Testing only solidified this fear.
For Ricciardo, a season that began with well-held trepidation, soon turned remarkable. From Round 1 in Australia to Round 3 in China, and Bahrain in between, the Ricciardo RB12 showed a consistent ability to not only last the distance but to beat Ferrari’s on merit.
Australia – Qualified 8th (1 second faster than teammate Kyvat in Q1) – Finished 4th
Bahrain – Qualified 5TH (1.1 seconds faster than teammate Kyvat in Q2) – Finished 4th
China – Qualified 2nd (0.5 second faster than teammate Kyvat in Q3) – Finished 4th
Even more impressive was Ricciardo’s ability to deal with any challenge thrown his way. Take 19-year old Max Verstappen, I meant it was one thing for Verstappen to arrive on the Red Bull Racing scene amidst enormous fanfare and hype, it was another thing when the youngster showed competitiveness in Spanish GP qualifying. Faster than Ricciardo in Q1, faster in Q2, faster after the first lap in Q3… with his near perfect start to the season on the line the honey badger awoke… across the line… BOOM!! 4 tenths faster than Verstappen!! In the analysis that followed Martin Brundle was quick to single out Ricciardo as the true star of the session. As impressive as the flying Dutchman’s performance was given his youth and inexperience, Ricciardo showed just who was boss. However, the next day a win would desert Ricciardo through an ineffective tyre strategy and sublime tyre management from Verstappen. In a result that would have brought about the mental unravelling of the likes of Vettel and Hamilton Ricciardo wasn’t heard to whinge on the radio, but instead remained cool and got entertaining, trying desperately to overtake Vettel for third. In the face of his teammates astonishing triumph Ricciardo remained resolute in the knowledge that he had been the superior driver all weekend.
But Ricciardo’s season was best encapsulated by his performance at the Monaco Grand Prix where he earned his first pole position, in a week where the Aussie threaded the needle neater than anyone knew how. On a circuit where driving prowess is best displayed, and rewarded greatest, Ricciardo was peerless. Not since Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren MP4/15 let go on the last lap of the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix, had a driver been so deserving of victory only to see it taken away for reasons outside his control. To show this performance was no fluke, Ricciardo would claim second on the grid in Singapore later in the season as well.
Ricciardo’s persistence and consistency would earn him podium finishes in Hungary, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, USA and Mexico. Having been so close to the top step on a number of occasions throughout the season, victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix was not only just, but following a side-by-side battle with Verstappen in the greatest duel of the season, it was well-deserved.
Despite a spectacular season for Ricciardo there were a few disappointing performances relative to Verstappen. Races in Canada, Azerbaijan, Austria, Britain, and Japan never went to plan, while the performance of Verstappen in the rain at Brazil have left many seeing him as a real threat for the title should the 2017 regulations allow for the Bulls to compete for the title.
While this top ten is not affected by the work of drivers out of the car so to speak, it is worth noting the contribution that Ricciardo has made in that regard. Were you to attend any race weekend and have been fortunate enough to see Ricciardo on the podium, you would’ve heard the admiration he receives from the fans. This is a champion in the ilk of Roger Federer, someone who could dominate the sport for years to come without complaint from its enthusiasts. His introduction of the now infamous ‘shoey’ to the Formula 1 podiums has created a genuine buzz around the ceremony and long may spontaneous acts of hilarity continue.
Any way you look at it, the performance of Ricciardo in 2016 has left few to doubt that if Red Bull produce a car capable of competing against Mercedes, then he will be the 2017 World Champion. If they don’t he’ll go down overtaking.
2. Lewis Hamilton
10 wins, 12 pole positions, 7 podiums, 3 fastest laps (380 points, 2nd in the championship)
10 wins, 7 podiums, 12 pole positions and 3 fastest laps. Never before has a driver achieved so much in the sport, yet received so very little, but for Lewis Hamilton, his 2016 season was ultimately crippled by his engine failure while dominating the Malaysian Grand Prix. Were it not for the failure, Hamilton would have been champion. Period. But where you could perhaps point to one or two incidents within past failed championship bids that were out of the drivers hands (Massa: Hungary ’08, Alonso: Japan ’12, Schumacher: Luxembourg ’97, Mansell: Hungary ’87) Hamilton’s were voluminous:
Round 2 Bahrain: Hit from behind by Bottas at the first turn.
Round 3 China: Gearbox change and turbo charger failure. Started from the back of the grid.
Round 4 Russia: Turbocharger failure in Q3. Started from 10th.
Round 13 Belgium: 15-place grid penalty for usage of extra engine components.
Round 16 Malaysia: Engine failed while leading with 16 laps to go.
Where Hamilton fails to achieve the coveted number 1 slot is found in the fact that for all those who say that Hamilton was the better of the Mercedes drivers in 2016, he certainly was not at every race, and on numerous occasions the cause of this fell squarely at the Brit’s feet.
The race that best encapsulates Hamilton’s greatest weakness was his performance over the Japanese Grand Prix weekend. Fresh from the disappointment of the Malaysian Grand Prix the weekend before, and desperately needing to regain ground on Rosberg, Hamilton appeared incapable of relinquishing his disappointment with the previous week. I’m never one to stress the effect that a driver’s mindset may have on their performance, Hamilton’s third place finish in Japan was largely attributable to his poor start, but he almost appears to revel in showing his emotion to the press, so much so in fact that it starts to seem played.
Whether you say that Hamilton allows his emotions to get the better of him; that he is too caught up in pushing/expressing an image to appeal to those outside the world of Formula 1; or that his words of humility belie a life of overwhelming extravagance and materialism, he remains one of the most gifted drivers of his generation and despite not taking home the title, 2016 did nothing to tarnish that reputation.
Nothing on his side needs changing if he is to claim the title in 2017.
3. Nico Rosberg
9 wins, 8 pole positions, 7 podiums, 6 fastest laps (385 points, 1st in the championship)
On too many occasions in 2016 Nico Rosberg was captive to the rear diffuser of Hamilton’s Mercedes W07 Hybrid, a description that at times would have been immensely generous towards the newly crowned world champion.
Despite not being considered the superior driver of 2016, it would be too harsh to say that Rosberg is not deserving of a World Championship, it is just fair to say that there are plenty more talented or equally talented drivers that have not won it. Rosberg’s championship reminds me of what it would’ve been like had Stirling Moss managed to have claimed a title in one of the years when Fangio was his teammate, because while Rosberg is no Sir Stirling, he has amassed an incredible performance record against a teammate regarded by many as the most gifted of his generation. In four seasons alongside Hamilton Rosberg’s stats read:
22 wins; 28 Pole positions; 28 podiums; and 16 fastest laps
Of his nine wins in 2016 Rosberg was the better driver in Australia, Europe, Italy, Singapore and Japan. In Singapore and Europe Hamilton failed to qualify on the front row, and when he did in Australia, Italy, and Japan, he was hopeless off the line. So despite a 21-round championship, Rosberg was never truly able to hold off Hamilton in second for an entire race distance, as Hamilton was able to in Hungary and Brazil.
In changeable weather conditions Hamilton once again displayed his superiority as Rosberg was at sea in Monaco, and just surviving in Sao Paoulo.
Most telling though was the final race itself. A race that showed just how superior Lewis Hamilton was in 2016 by not only taking pole position, leading from the front, but having the audacity to slow the race down in order to back his teammate into the chasing pack behind. In the three years of the V6 era, Rosberg never did such a thing to Hamilton, and as it turns out, he never will. His decision to retire was an enormous shock not only because he will almost certainly have a race winning car in 2017, but because despite winning the title, he is yet to prove that he is better than Hamilton, and with an opportunity to go at it again, you do get the feeling that once outside the F1 bubble, he may better understand that the job remains incomplete.
Where Rosberg can truly be proud of his championship is in the manner with which he took the title, which while not fabulous from an entertainment point of view, was done with the greatest of sportsmanship. He allowed Hamilton through in the wet at Monaco, didn’t attempt to shunt Lewis off at the final race in Abu Dhabi, and throughout the season never let his emotions get the better of him. His focus in 2016 was best summed up early in the seaosn when told of the records of other drivers that won the opening four races of the season. “None of the other drivers had Lewis Hamilton as their teammate”.
4. Max Verstappen
1 win, 0 pole positions, 6 podiums, 1 fastest lap (204 points, 5th in the championship)
Simply stunning!! Max Verstappen may rank fourth on this list but the young Dutchman provided the two greatest performances of 2016. The first was his astonishing victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on debut for the top tier taurans which, while dependent upon the demise of the Mercedes’, was made a reality thanks to Verstappen’s defiance of the Pirelli tyre technicians predictions (hard to say!!), who were certain a soft set of tyres would last 20 laps. Like many things in his career to date Verstappen proved them wrong and made them last at least 34. For those last 34 laps Verstappen resisted the presence of Kimi Raikkonen, and at the age of 18 years 228 days, Verstappen became the youngest driver ever to win a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix, a record that may never be broken due to new super licence age restrictions introduced by the FIA.
The second performance was his wet weather drive at the Brazilian Grand Prix coming from 14th after a late pit stop for wet tyres. In 16 laps Verstappen reminded everyone watching that for all the talk of technology in the sport today, there was still room for the driver to make a difference. Verstappen scythed through the field from 14th to third by race end, stunning the crowd not least with the frequency with which overtook his opponents but the manner with which he did it. Even before the final pit stop that put him to the back of the field, Verstappen had been spectacular, overtaking Rosberg around the outside of the exit of the Senna ‘S’. Later on in the race he would pull the same move on Ricciardo through the downhill left at Mergulho. After the race Verstappen’s performance was quickly compared to the likes of Senna in Monaco ’84 and Donington ’93, Schumacher in Spain ’96 and Monaco ’97, or Hamilton in Monaco ’08 and Silverstone ’08.
If Spain had declared that Verstappen had arrived, Brazil showed that he was well and truly here to stay. Much like Sebastien Vettel’s debut season at Toro Rosso in 2008, Verstappen does not yet have the consistency of speed like that of Ricciardo, but nor should he be expected to. Instead, Verstappen has shown to have a driving style that produces immense speed while ensuring impressive tyre management, best summed up at the final round in Abu Dhabi where he recovered from a disastrous first turn spin, by changing to a one-stop strategy on the back of a 21-lap first stint on the super soft tyre.
Like his team mate Ricciardo, Verstappen’s success has been a revelation for Formula 1. Not since the excitement surrounding the arrival of Michael Schumacher, has the sport seen such an influx of support from any single nation. The Dutch have arrived with voice and colour (albeit only orange), to cheer on their nations newest sensation. With that popularity has also come major investment from Heineken, reportedly in the region of $250 million dollars over six years.
All of which at the age of 19 years old, is phenomenal for a driver that many hope will be a title contender in 2017.
5. Sergio Perez
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 2 podiums, 0 fastest laps (101 points, 7th in the championship)
Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez continues to improve year-on-year and is beating down the door on a promotion to a front-running team yet again. Paired alongside the highly talented Nico Hulkenberg for a third season, Perez had surprised many commentators by his increasing competitiveness against his heavily-fancied teammate. After three years it’s fair to say that this surprise would have shifted to shock as Perez has now claimed five podium finishes (two of which were in 2016 at Monaco and Azerbaijan) to Hulkenberg’s none. It was not surprising that Renault came knocking on the Mexican’s door first when seeking a driver for 2017, and equally not surprising that Perez rejected the offer, choosing to stay with Mercedes power in a familiar package, and paving the way for Hulkenberg to take the position in his place.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that the story of Perez’s career may well rest with that decision. While Force India’s championship standing has continued to improve, its financial standing has hardly been assured by finishing fourth in the 2016 Constructor’s World Championship. After all, you need only look to Sauber, who finished fourth in the 2001 championship, to see how an independent team may produce a good car now and then, but rarely do they produce a world-beater. There is no doubt thta the young 26 year-old Mexican will be having the odd glance at what times the lemon yellow cars are setting come February.
Having said all that, should Force India build another competitive car under the 2017 regulations, a win for Perez will certainly be within reach.
6. Fernando Alonso
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 0 podiums, 1 fastest lap (54 points, 10th in the championship)
At first blush, Fernando Alonso’s season may not look like much, but let’s face it, with the second generation McLaren Honda as his arsenal, no one was expecting much in the way of results. Fortunately for the boys at Woking, 2016 was only a disaster compared to the right-off that was their 2015 campaign. Formula 1 always seems to be kicking an own-goal when the likes of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are left to labour at the back of the field with little to no hope of emerging in the top 6, let alone atop a Formula 1 podium.
Perhaps however, the best way to embrace his years at McLaren is much in the same way as many use to hypothesizer about Michael Schumacher while at Ferrari. I would constantly have people ask me just how well would Michael Schumacher have done if he was driving a Minardi, never considering that what if Ferrari would build a car with back-of-the-grid performance. Perhaps this can be McLaren’s gift to the Formula 1 fan; an answer to that very proposition!!
And what is the answer? Well to be honest the answer isn’t really that thrilling to watch most of the time, and it certainly does not appear to produce wildly unrealistic performance differences than had a mediocre driver been in the car. I think I remember Murray Walker making claims that Schumacher would have got a Minardi in the points and higher (back in the days where points only went to the top 6).
Off the track, Alonso has remained highly vocal about his love for Formula 1 but his growing disaffection with the current cars. Only just recently Alonso has come out and said the sport peaked in the 2000s when there was enormous manufacturer involvement, different tyre companies, and new nations being awarded grand prix. He has singled out the conservation style of racing that the current cars require, in sharp contrast with the flat out from start to finish style required in the 2000s.
2017 is crunch time for Alonso. His three year contract with McLaren is at an end, but his talent remains. For me Alonso’s future in the sport relies little on whether he is able to see the beginnings of an ultra competitive McLaren, or a seat being available at a top team, but whether he can find renewed enjoyment of the formula provided in 2017. Even if given a guaranteed race-winning car for 2018, I get the impression Alonso won’t accept the gig if the car doesn’t provide the thrill.
Perhaps the final akward pause in the Alonso/McLaren conversation is the recent Autosport headline ‘Honda to follow Mercedes’ Engine Philosophy’ which could equally have a subline saying ‘Alonso Reasoning was Wrong’. Can Honda build a Mercedes engine better than Mercedes? Alonso didn’t think anyone could when he signed for McLaren. If Honda prove Alonso was right, he’ll almost certainly be gone by season’s end.
7. Sebastian Vettel
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 7 podiums, 3 fastest laps (212 points, 4th in the championship)
He may not have been beaten by his team mate in 2016 but everything else about Sebastien Vettel’s season wasn’t great. His presence in the top ten was in some doubt until the very end, but it was hard not to acknowledge that this was a great driver simply letting the frustrations of an inferior car get the best of him. Before I say anything about the four-time world champion’s season perhaps it’s best summed up by saying that Vettel made the same mistake Ricciardo did in 2015 by thinking his Ferrari would only get better, a belief not helped by the fact he led the field through the opening corner of the first race.
For a four-time world champion, Vettel’s failures were numerous and glaring. Running into team mate Raikkonen after leaving the door open for Kyvat on the first turn at China; hitting Raikkonen at the start again after turning too sharply onto his teammate at the La Source hairpin in Belgium; and retiring after hitting Rosberg on the first corner at Malaysia. In Australia he ran wide on the second last corner trying to chase down Hamilton down for second.
But if there was anyone who came out worse from the re-introduction of pit communication it was Vettel. Whether it was the team, other drivers, or the FIA, Vettel had a word to say about them all. It became the norm to hear what Vettel’s opinion was on the actions of another driver following any close call. These comments reached a head in Mexico where he launched an expletive-laden attack directed at the in-race decisions of the FIA race director Charlie Whiting. Such was his demeanour throughout 2016, Martin Brundle commented at the Japanese Grand Prix that “I just watch him [Vettel] at work and he’s just lost his mojo”.
There is no doubt that Vettel remains a class act behind the wheel, if class were measured by lap times alone. For a driver who idolised Michael Schumacher as a young boy, and still to this day, he is shaping himself into the villainous character that the casual observer craves, but that the avid viewer knows he is not. Vettel needs to prepare himself for the ride at Ferrari to only get worse before it gets better, and to have Fernando whisper to him, “I know what you’re going through, but at least you don’t have my car.”
8. Carlos Sainz Jnr.
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 0 podiums, 0 fastest laps (46 points, 12th in the championship)
The most refreshing thing about being able to place a driver like Carlos Sainz Jnr. firmly within this year’s top ten is that he would appear to break a worrying trend. A second-best Toro Rosso driver still worthy enough to remain, contribute, and be sought out by other teams. The popular Spaniard had a very competitive start to the season in the 2015 Ferrari engine spec Toro Rosso, competing well against his teammate Max Verstappen in the opening four rounds. While no doubt disappointed not to be promoted to the senior team, Sainz performances against Daniil Kyvat were very impressive with three sixth place finishes in a field where the top two positions were frequently locked out. Sainz would out-qualify the Russian 11 to 5 and finish ahead 9 to 2 in race results when both finished. So dominant was Sainz over Kyvat that many believed GP2 champion Pierre Gasly would replace Kyvat for 2017.
The only thing that Sainz may not have done too well in 2016 was his contract negotiations, immediately re-signing with Red Bull for a third season, with limited hope of moving to the top team, and preventing him to move to Renault, who sought the Spaniards signature at seasons end.
Sainz races next year in the knowledge that a competitive season will almost certainly not get him a seat in Red Bull Racing but may well get him a seat in place of Joylon Palmer should the Brit fail to perform.
9. Valterri Bottas
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 1 podiums, 0 fastest laps (85 points, 8th in the championship)
‘Solid but not spectacular’ is perhaps the best way to sum up the Finnish drivers 2016 season. Unlike past seasons, there were few spectacular qualifying or race performances to steal the attention away from the performances of other drivers, but then again Williams really didn’t come to the party for the popular Fin in 2016.
A solitary podium in Canada, and a front row start in Russia were his stand-out results but it was his consistent qualifying and complete dismantling of teammate Felipe Massa that was most impressive in 2016. Bottas out-qualified Massa on 17 occasions and according to F1fanatic.co.uk, was on average .285 tenths faster per race across the season.
With growing speculation that Bottas will take up the seat left vacant at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton, his arrival increasingly resembles that of his countryman Heikki Kovaleinen to McLaren in 2008, who would not of been McLaren’s first choice, and drove two seasons only to prove why.
Should Bottas want to compete against Hamilton there may well need to be a little more spectacle in the way about he goes racing, if not for the future of his career, but for the popularity of the sport in general.
10. Romain Grosjean
0 wins, 0 pole positions, 0 podiums, 0 fastest laps (29 points, 13th in the championship)
2016 could’ve gone one of a number of ways for Romain Grosjean, and perhaps most daunting for the Swiss-born Frenchman, most of those outcomes looked to be well out of his hands. No doubt faced with a wealth of knowledge on the limited financial resources of the former Lotus operation and the state of disrepair with which the team would be left to Renault. Grosjean would’ve known the difficulties that were to face his team in 2016, with or without an injection of French Francs. Where the words “Works Renault Engine’ would once lure the likes of Mansell, Prost and Senna to successive seasons at Williams, Renault now couldn’t even lure the best of the local talent as Grosjean took the daring option of racing for Haas F1, a new American operation viewed by many as capable of producing either an ordinary or average racing car.
With heavy backing from Ferrari, utilising every cost cutting measure open to them in the regulations, Haas F1 were able to resource numerous common parts with Ferrari. Provided the Ferrari parts would ensure reliability, then perhaps the team could go some way to amassing more points than the combined solitary point amassed by the previous three teams to enter the sport in 2010. And so it was. As teams struggled to get their house in order, Grosjean quietly amassed the points. 6th in Australia, 5th in Bahrain, 8th in Russia and 7th in Austria, with a late season 10th at the teams home in the USA a fitting result.
These results ensured Grosjean finished the season with 29 points while his teammate Guitierrez was unable to score all season. Where Grosjean isn’t higher on the list is Gutierrez’s late season charge (something rarely feared by Gutierrez’s former teammates), which looked to dampen Grosjean’s early season charge, if his failing Brembo’s hadn’t already.
For a driver that came to Haas seeking to progress his career at a team further up the grid, Grosjean did more than enough in 2016 to stake his claim for a seat at Ferrari should they seek out an experienced driver to replace Raikkonen for 2018. As with everything in F1, in only gets harder for Grosjean in 2017 with the highly competitive Kevin Magnussen as a teammate in a car that may suffer as a result of Ferrari’s poor 2016 performance.
Other Top 10 Driver Lists
Autosport: Ben Anderson
1.Ricciardo; 2.Hamilton; 3.Verstappen; 4.Rosberg; 5.Alonso; 6.Sainz Jnr.; 7.Vettel; 8.Bottas; 9.Hulkenberg; 10.Perez
1.Ricciardo; 2. Verstappen; 3. Hamilton; 4. Rosberg; 5. Sainz; 6. Perez; 7. Alonso; 8. Vettel; 9. Raikkonen; 10. Hulkenberg
Motor Sport Magazine: Mark Hughes
1.Ricciardo; 2. Hamilton; 3. Alonso; 4. Rosberg 5. Vettel; 6. Verstappen; 7. Raikkonen; 8. Grosjean; 9. Sainz; 10. Bottas
Top Gear Magazine
1. Verstappen; 2. Hamilton; 3. Ricciardo; 4. Rosberg; 5. Raikkonen; 6. Vettel; 7. Alonso; 8. Bottas ; 9. Sainz; 10. Hulkenberg