As the 2016 grids begin to form the search starts for the next emerging four-wheeled superstar, from the junior formulas to rallying and across to glamourous world of Formula 1.

With much to look forward to - not least whether a rival will be able to break Mercedes' asserted stranglehold on the top spot in F1 - we look to drivers across all series who could be making the headlines and have selected six who we think are the standout candidates to breakthrough in the new year.

Carlos Sainz - Toro Rosso, Formula 1

After a rookie F1 campaign spent largely overshadowed by his Toro Rosso team-mate Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz will be hoping he can get heads turning towards his side of the garage in 2016.

Despite beating Verstappen in qualifying, the 21-year-old's season was hampered by mistakes while Sainz also suffered an unfair share of unreliability from his Renault power unit. Nevertheless, seven top ten finishes, with the highlight of seventh place in Austin, meant the Spaniard enjoyed a solid first year in F1 but much more will be expected this season.

With Toro Rosso opting to use year-old Ferrari engines and ditching Renault time will tell how competitive his car might be, but the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 champion will be hoping for more consistency with a year's worth of experience.

Sergey Sirotkin - ART Grand Prix, GP2

After the disappointment of losing his place as Sauber's F1 test driver in its set-up changes 12 months ago, Sergey Sirotkin made sure he didn't fall by the wayside with an eye-catching rookie campaign in the GP2 Series, ending 2015 third in the drivers' championship.

The 20-year-old Russian holds an FIA Superlicence and is therefore able to jump straight into an F1 drive. After signing for ART Grand Prix for 2016, the team which helped Stoffel Vandoorne to the GP2 title last year, Sirotkin has naturally set up a title challenge in his second campaign.

Having claimed a race win at Silverstone in 2015 along with four additional rostrum results, Sirotkin will be looking to start the season on the front foot and rack up consistent podiums to attract potential F1 suitors.

Pascal Wehrlein - TBA

After becoming the youngest-ever DTM champion, Pascal Wehrlein's stock rose to new heights but to date his racing plans for 2016 are yet to be announced. Mercedes is still to confirm its driver line-up in DTM for the upcoming campaign while the 21-year-old has also been linked with a Manor F1 drive after the team signed a deal to receive Mercedes power units in 2016.

Whether it is a defence of his DTM title, rookie campaign in F1 or a move across to GP2, Wehrlein looks destined for stardom having consistently impressed as reserve driver for the Mercedes F1 team and also testing with Force India.

Interestingly, after persistent in-house squabbling between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg forced team boss Toto Wolff to threaten them with the drop, it could open the door to the mild-mannered German.

Hayden Paddon - Hyundai Motorsport, World Rally Championship

Hayden Paddon's breakthrough campaign in the World Rally Championship last year saw the Kiwi secure his maiden premier class rostrum at Rally d'Italia, an event he also briefly led and took multiple stage victories.

The Hyundai Motorsport driver became a regular top five challenger in 2015 and when transferred into the team's first string squad he notched up three fifth place finishes and demonstrated he could compete against the more experienced duo of Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville for a manufacturer championship drive.

This year Paddon keeps his place at Hyundai despite the WRC driver market intensifying after Citroen's factory effort stepped out the of world championship for 2016. Paddon will be hunting another step up this season and with it more stage wins, regular podium appearances and Hyundai's first WRC victory since 2014's Rallye Deutschland.

Pedro Piquet - Van Amersfoort Racing, European Formula 3 championship

Coming from a family with a wealth of talent Pedro Piquet looks set to follow in the footsteps of his father Nelson, a three-time F1 world champion, and older brother Nelson Piquet Jr, reigning Formula E champion.

The 17-year-old has already been making a strong impression in his homeland by taking back-to-back Brazilian F3 titles with an incredible 19 wins from 26 starts in 2015 along with three Brazilian karting titles.

Signing with Dutch squad Van Amersfoort Racing, who teamed up with a certain Max Verstappen in 2014 before he stepped up to F1, the Brazilian teenager joins a squad with title-winning pedigree who is switching to Mercedes engines for 2016, which powered the top three finishers in last year's championship.

Oliver Rowland - TBA

Last season ended on a massive high by claiming the Formula Renault 3.5 championship and heightened Oliver Rowland's status as one of the most promising young drivers in the world.

The 23-year-old enters 2016 at an awkward time. With almost all F1 race seats currently occupied Rowland will be forced to look elsewhere for a full-time drive, despite the predeceasing FR3.5 champion Carlos Sainz taking his place at Toro Rosso last year. A GP2 drive looks odds-on after enjoying a handful of wildcard appearances in 2015 with MP Motorsport and Status Grand Prix, while the Brit also made his debut in Formula E as stand in for the injured Nick Heifeld at Mahindra Racing.

If Rowland wants to achieve his dream of making it into F1, the 2011 McLaren Autosport Award winner needs another standout campaign to show he is too good to be ignored any longer.

 

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