The title fight between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton has dominated the headlines, but there have been some brilliant and underrated performances further down the Formula 1 grid.
With the Mercedes duo battling at the front and impressive drives from those at Red Bull and Ferrari, it casts a bit of a shadow over what drivers in the midfield have done.
So, with the dust now settling on the 2016 F1 finale in Abu Dhabi, we’ve taken a look at the most underrated drivers of the season:
Manor made big strides in 2016 after a tough previous season, properly cementing itself as a midfield runner as the year progressed. Which is awesome news for the small team. Despite its lack of resources, it challenged the likes of Sauber, Renault, Haas and (at times) McLaren with its plucky young rookie drivers.
Pascal Wehrlein has spent the last few years racing in the DTM series, but has been trusted by the likes of Mercedes (he’s part of its junior programme) and Force India to test their F1 cars. So, he’s had a good amount of F1 experience and was highly rated before debuting in F1.
He didn’t disappoint either. Making it to Q2 five times during the season and scoring Manor’s first top 10 result (10th in Austria) for the first time since Jules Bianchi’s ninth place in Monaco 2014, he showed the speed we all expected him to and did a brilliant job throughout the year. But because he drove for Manor, his performances didn’t get the attention they really deserved.
Carlos Sainz Jr.
Toro Rosso’s pace dropped over the course of the season, not helped by having a 2015 Ferrari power unit with no real development. But Carlos Sainz Jr. did a great job all year with the car at his disposal, properly making the most of it at the start of the year to score eight top 10 results in the first 11 races.
He proved to be a good match to Max Verstappen at the opening four rounds, before regularly out-pacing and beating his new team-mate Daniil Kvyat when Red Bull made the switch around. Consistently strong in qualifying and quick in races, he had a tougher time towards the end of 2016, but did a great job overall.
Joining a F1 team mid-way through the year is never easy but Esteban Ocon handled the pressure and change of scenery very well, having been on loan from Mercedes to Renault as its reserve driver for the start of 2016.
Another Merc youngster, Ocon proved his worth and was a great match for Wehrlein in the second Manor when he replaced Rio Haryanto from Spa onwards. It was a difficult situation but he did a very solid job, which he deserves a lot more credit for. Nevertheless, he was snapped up by Force India for 2017 and we’re excited to see what he can do in a quicker car.
Moving from struggling Lotus to Haas was still a big risk for Romain Grosjean, a new team being run differently to others on the grid. Would it work? Well, initially, it did. The Frenchman did a wonderful job at the start of the year and benefitted from some awesome strategy calls to finish sixth in Australia and fifth in Bahrain.
Brake troubles and other reliability woes meant it was far from a straight-forward season for Grosjean and he vented his frustration on quite a few occasions. No one likes angry Romain, do they? But a few more top 10 results meant he finished a solid 13th in the standings, well clear of his team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, who didn’t even score any points at all.
Force India’s pattern for moving up the grid or matching its position almost every season since it took over Spyker in 2007 continued this year. Despite limited resources and a much smaller budget, it proved to be a team to look out for and finished fourth in the championship, well clear of Williams.
Nico Hulkenberg has been highly rated for some time but once again, it was Sergio Perez scoring podiums and most of the points at the plucky Silverstone-based outfit. He was incredibly consistent throughout 2016 and put in some great drives, including finishing P3 in both Monaco and Baku. Seventh in the standings was the perfect reward for a strong but slightly underrated season.
We all know Fernando Alonso can wrestle good results out of poor F1 machinery and he did just that in 2016. McLaren made good strides forward but remained a midfield outfit, with a few reliability issues creeping in. But Alonso kept his chin up, knuckled down and put in so many amazing performances.
Particular highlights include his feisty performance to sixth in Russia, a gutsy fifth in Monaco and epic drives to points in Singapore and Brazil. His 10th place in the standings, five positions ahead of Jenson Button, has to be one of the achievements of 2016. It wasn’t all that surprising from Nando, but it remains an incredible season. And we even got part two of #PlacesAlonsoWouldRatherBe too.