F1 2016: A massive season ahead for Verstappen


Last season in Formula One, a 17-year-old by the name of Max Verstappen took the paddock by storm and there seems little doubt he can go on to better things.

However, as the weight of expectation grows 2016 will prove to be a crucial one in the teenager's career.

Verstappen, son of former F1 driver Jos, was signed by Toro Rosso in 2014 when he was just 16 and made his debut in the opening round of the 2015 season in Australia.

That race ended in a retirement for the Belgium-born Dutchman due to an engine failure, but from that point on he went on to capture the imaginations of motorsport enthusiasts.

He put in a stunning performance in the second round of the season in Malaysia to qualify sixth before finishing the race in seventh, consequently breaking Daniil Kvyat's record for the youngest driver to score world championship points.

While the next few races did not go to plan due to reliability issues, as well as some bad luck on the track, Verstappen went on to finish fourth at the hectic Hungarian Grand Prix and announce himself as a future star.

Verstappen made the overtake of the season in Belgium, moving past Felipe Nasr through Blanchimont corner at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

That kind of risky manoeuvre coupled with his natural speed saw him claim the rookie of the season as he finished a respectable 12th in the standings with 49 points, 31 more than team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Verstappen must now aim to improve on his debut season with one eye on moving to a bigger team. There is no doubt the leading manufacturers have an eye on the 18-year-old, but consistent performances are crucial for him to show he has the potential to compete for a world championship.

Sainz did not have a terrible season by any means, but the exploits of Verstappen overshadowed some of his performances throughout the campaign. The Spaniard, who is the son of former double World Rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr., finished in the points seven times - with a best result of seventh at the United States Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old has shown he has the mettle to compete in the field, but while he is not at the level of Verstappen, he should comfortably be able to keep his seat at Toro Rosso - especially if Verstappen is picked up by Red Bull. 

The only issue is, if Red Bull decide to promote Verstappen, who do they get rid of? The team have two valuable drivers in Daniel Ricciardo and Kvyat, with the latter finishing above his team-mate in last year's standings. Kvyat managed to finish in the points 14 times, while also claiming second in Hungary. 

Kvyat has proved he more than deserves his spot at Red Bull, but he needs a consistent season and will have to keep beating his Australian team-mate if he is to secure a long-term future with the team. Red Bull are predicted to improve their pace in 2016, and Kvyat will be expected to show that he can compete for podium finishes.

Each of Verstappen, Sainz and Kvyat have shown they have the talent, but this season is likely to offer significant clues as to what path their respective careers take.