Back in March, you could be easily forgiven to thinking that Toro Rosso may have found 2015 a struggle, however fast forward 19 races and the Italian outfit emerged as one of the biggest highlights in an otherwise drab 2015. Powered by a Renault engine severely lacking in umph, Verstappen, Sainz and Toro Rosso were a rare glimmer of hope for Red Bull in a season where the A team seemed on occasion, lost at sea. A Seventh place finish in the constructors table gives very little insight into the strength of Toro Rosso and both their drivers this season, but with Sainz and Verstappen retained for next year, and a new Ferrari power unit set to be bolted in, then Lotus (now officially Renault) and Red Bull could start the year with a new team for company if they fail to make the necessary improvements over the winter.
It’s remarkable considering he enjoyed a debut season as good as he did, that Carlos Sainz Jnr was often overlooked in the media frenzy which surrounded Verstappen. Still the the young age of 21, the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 series champ more than justified his appointment at Toro Rosso with numerous eye catching drives throughout 2015, especially in Russia until a mechanical problem halted his progress. 15th in the drivers standings with just 18 points fails to tell the accurate story of Sainz’s season, in which he seemed to have the lions share of Toro Rosso’s reliability issues. Indeed, his seven retirements to Verstappen’s four include a four race streak from Austria to Belgium where Sainz failed to reach the finish.
Sainz’s seven points scoring finishes however showed the F1 paddock just why Toro Rosso chose to appoint him as Verstappen’s teammate and should Verstappen move to either Ferrari or Mercedes (as is being predicted by some), then Sainz might just become Red Bull’s next star of the future. Qualifying inside the top ten and scoring points on his debut in Australia and his mature drive to seventh from last on the grid in Austin remained highlights of his successful debut season in Formula One.
Plenty has been said about Sainz’s teammate on the other side of the Toro Rosso garage, Max Verstappen. 12th place in the championship with 49 points represent a mesmerising haul of points for an 18 year old in only his second full season of open wheel racing. His elevation to F1 following his third place finish in the European F3 championship raised numerous eyebrows throughout the F1 paddock and wider community but come the end of 2015, his numerous Rookie and Overtake of the year accolades told the story of the remarkable rise of a driver who was unable to legally drive on the roads until September 2015. Verstappen’s audacious overtaking ability quickly became one of the most talked about aspects of race weekends, his moves on Nasr around the outside of Blanchimont and Perez going into the Senna S being two of the more memorable. Despite all the promise Verstappen showed, his season was not without error however, as his botched move on Grosjean in Monaco and his refusal to allow Sainz through in Singapore showed, the young Dutchman has plenty left to learn in F1, however there’s plenty to suggest that his refusal to do the latter is the hallmark of a future champion.
Indeed, such is Verstappen’s obvious talent, Mercedes and Ferrari are reportedly already circling like Vultures around Red Bull’s prized asset and Mateschitz and Horner will be desperate to cling onto their brightest star since Sebastian Vettel. Drivers of Verstappen’s calibre don’t come around too often in F1, and it’s surely only a matter of time before his name joins Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Button and many others on the list of world champions.
Sainz and Verstappen provided Toro Rosso with the ability to embarrass their big brother Red Bull Racing on more than one occasion this season. With an engine lacking the ability to take the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari, there were numerous occasions throughout 2015 where Red Bull and Toro Rosso found themselves in a midfield scrap with each other. Verstappen’s battles with Kvyat in Austin and Abu Dhabi amongst many others must have left F1’s fallen giants at Milton Keynes with plenty of head scratching between races and as I alluded to at the start of this article, come the start of 2016, there many be many more close battles between the two Red Bull teams in the not so distant future.