8th – Carlos Sainz
Average poll score out of ten: 6.4
Scuderia Toro Rosso
12th out of 24
Carlos Sainz insists it was a coincidence that his form spiked in the wake of Max Verstappen's exit from Toro Rosso, but the Spaniard came into his own in 2016 as he stamped his mark on team leader status and exceeded the abilities of a car that didn't deserve to be securing top six finishes so late in the year.
Showcasing an evident step forward in race craft in 2016, Sainz flourished in the tidy handling STR11 when it could keep up with its rivals but continued to keep pushing away as his increasingly uncompetitive year-old engine negated his keen efforts.
With the gulf in performance between the 2015 and 2016 specification engines less evident during the early rounds, Sainz got his year off to a strong start with eight top ten finishes from the opening 11 races. They were results that nestled him comfortably inside the overall top ten, Toro Rosso at times an equal to Force India and Williams.
However, with the STR11's development potential hampered by the debilitating factor of a dated engine that would only send the car backwards, Sainz's form dipped markedly during a second-half lull that saw him crack the top ten only twice following the summer break.
Regardless, his top ten results – sixth place finishes in the USA and Brazil – simply underlined Sainz's quality as he took advantage of curve balls when they were presented, in this case a fortuitously timed virtual safety car in Austin and wet weather in Sao Paulo, to defy a run of form and notch up his best results of the season.
Finishing 12th overall, with just eight points denying him an overall top ten finish in a car that was barely faster than Renault and Sauber in the final races, his efforts were rightly applauded at the highest level of Red Bull's management team.
Carlos Sainz in the Crash.net F1 Driver of the Year poll
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About the vote:
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, progress and personality just as much as race results.
Over 70,000 votes were cast for the 2016 Crash.net
F1 Driver of the Year poll, where viewers awarded each of this year's full-time participants.