To cleanse the palette after last week’s look at the underachievers from Formula One season 2016, it’s time to unveil the three drivers who left the greatest mark on the year.
The same rule applies as last week; both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are excluded on the grounds that they both had up-and-down seasons, and just generally to maintain public order.
So who drove above their station and surpassed expectations?
It was another stellar year for Daniel Ricciardo, who again proved beyond he is among the best drivers in the sport.
You could argue that Max Verstappen demonstrated individual moments of brilliance that out-shone his Australian wingman. The fact remains however, that Ricciardo out-scored Max during their time sharing a garage, despite Max winning his first race during that period, and the fact that Ricciardo was arguably denied race victories in Spain and Monaco.
Daniel also took line honours in the qualifying head-to-head 11-6. The Aussie had a better year, but for those who would argue Verstappen deserves greater recognition – especially in light of breaking the record for the most overtakes in a single season and phenomenal drive in the wet during the Brazilian Grand Prix – my rebuttal would include the fact that Max somehow managed to fall afoul off half the grid and single-handedly prompted a reclassification of the moving under breaking rules.
All the while Ricciardo effortlessly went about his business and excelled in his self-appointed role as a proud ambassador for the sport with his epic car-jam social media posts and iconic shoeys.
Secondly, and probably most controversially, is Kimi Raikkonen, who put together his best season for years and fully justified his place within the Ferrari squad.
As the team found themselves unable to answer Red Bull’s counterattack, suddenly the prospect of slipping back to third in the constructors’ championship and reaching the podium proved a difficult ask, let alone winning races, yet Kimi kept his head down and delivered solid results.
At times Sebastian Vettel, the Finn’s vastly more accomplished teammate, looked completely at sea. There’s little doubt that there’s something rotten within the team at the moment, yet Kimi maintained his legendary iceman composure to deliver far more than most expected.
Like Ricciardo, Kimi too is a fan favourite. In a year that we lost not only the newly crowned world champion but personalities the likes of Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, Formula One needs to recognise and celebrate the few remaining characters.
Lastly, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz was my third overachiever. Although finishing ahead of Daniil Kvyat in most races was little more than a fait accompli, Sainz again showed his class behind the wheel and made amends for the reliability issues that hampered him in 2015.
Not only was Sainz able to continuously find pace in a year-old spec Ferrari engine, but he pulled off some downright ballsy overtakes throughout the season, including some against his countryman and childhood hero, Fernando Alonso.
His overall quality throughout the season allowed the Spaniard to drive himself into contention for the vacant seat at Mercedes for next year – an impressive rejoinder from the guy some thought might fade into obscurity like so many Red Bull juniors before him.
Honorable mentions go to Romain Grosjean who had a handful of outstanding drives to ensure Haas F1’s debut season in the sport was a fortuitous one, and Sergio Perez who similarly had some standout performances, including two memorable podiums on the way to helping Force India displace Williams for fourth place in the constructors’ standings.
Both performed admirably this season, but apart from those rare moments of brilliance, both largely consolidated on the capabilities of the car without setting the world alight.
Thus concludes my look at the winners and losers from the season, and indeed my contribution to The Roar’s F1 coverage for the year. So, until things rev up again during the pre-season, leave a comment below outlining who made your list of over/underachievers and why.