7th – Carlos Sainz
Average poll score out of ten: 6.2
Scuderia Toro Rosso
STR Renault STR10
15th out of 21
In many ways, Carlos Sainz came into his first season of F1 competition facing the bigger challenge in establishing himself than his high profile team-mate Max Verstappen, whose headline-grabbing youth and inexperience served to divert much of the attention away from him pre-season.
Granted, in terms of races raced, Sainz was a relative veteran to Verstappen, but at 20 years-old it was easy to forget he was also coming to the series as one of its youngest ever starters. Indeed, with Verstappen almost given the grace of error to (rapidly) develop his skills, Sainz was perhaps rather unfairly elevated into a more responsible assumed leading role despite having barely turned the wheel of an F1 car. Given Verstappen had taken in some FP1 sessions in 2014, ironically Sainz began with fewer F1 miles under his belt than his counterpart.
A glance at the end of season standings – 15th out of 21 drivers - would therefore indicate disappointment, but perhaps more than any other driver in 2015, Sainz's numbers don't tell the full story.
In terms of raw pace, Sainz and Verstappen enjoyed relative parity in terms of lap times and would more than once find themselves in battle with one another, with the only evidence of inter-team strife coming from confusions over team orders in Singapore.
Taking advantage of the tidily-packaged James Key-designed STR10 – which even Red Bull admitted was probably better than its chassis initially -, Sainz and Verstappen reeled off a number of impressive showings early on in the season before the inevitable development plateau, with the Spaniard keeping his nose clean to score in four of the opening six races. Of these, his charge from the back of the field in Monaco was a particular highlight.
However, the tide of momentum would ultimately turn mid-season as Verstappen's campaign snowballed just as Sainz's was interrupted by repeated technical dramas, four of which came consecutively between Austria and Belgium.
Unsettled, only three more top ten finishes would follow, with a best of seventh coming in the United States. leaving him with a rather meagre 18 points – less than half of Verstappen's tally.
Though the odd error didn't help his cause at times – namely his crashes in Russia and USA -, when viewed in the context of a rookie effort and reading between the lines, Sainz can take plenty of positives from his first season in the top flight whilst under a fair amount of pressure.
If Verstappen is being touted as F1's future, Sainz could very well join him..
Carlos Sainz in the Crash.net F1 Driver of the Year
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Rather than repeat the Drivers' World Championship standings, the F1 Driver of the Year poll asks viewers to take into account factors such as machinery, performance relative to a team-mate, driving style, experience, injuries, progress and personality just as much as race results.
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