There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Toro Rosso announced they were opting for a 17-year-old as one of their two drivers in 2015, but it's probably fair to say the youngster proved he belongs in Formula One after an impressive rookie season in the sport. Ending his first season in F1 12th in the drivers’ standings with 49 points, finishing 31 points ahead of Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, the Dutch youngster more than held his own against much more experienced drivers.
While Max Verstappen has agreed to remain with his current team for 2016, there is a growing feeling that Ferrari have singled out the teenager as a future driver, although that could all change if Red Bull decide to stay in the sport. But at just 18 years of age, the youngster has admitted he is happy learning his trade in the relatively pressure-free surroundings of Toro Rosso, although there is no denying Verstappen will one day be driving for one of the bigger teams on the grid.
Fourth-place finishes in Hungary and the USA showed that the rookie can mix it with the best in the world when in a competitive car, and his 10 straight race finishes to end the season went a long way to making up for his four retirements in the opening nine races of the year. One of the most eye-catching aspects of Verstappen's debut season was his overtaking, with the Dutchman finishing the year as Formula One's most successful driver in terms of overtakes, edging team-mate Sainz Jr into second place in the list.
Showing the aggressive driving that has played such a key role in his rapid ascension into Formula One, Verstappen recorded 49 successful overtaking manoeuvres during the season to finish at the top of the list, narrowly ahead of his team-mate, who racked up 45. Toro Rosso's poor performances during qualifying played a big role in the duo finishing well about the rest of the field, with the average being 26.8, a 10% drop in overtaking from last year.
The amount of overtaking manoeuvres might have dropped in 2015, but the quality in driving has arguably been better this season than it has in a while, and the younger drivers on the grid have been an important part of that. Mercedes, who cruised to both titles while also being 2/9 at the time of writing to win next season’s constructors’ championship, might not have had to do much overtaking in a year where they have led from the front ever since the opening race, but there has been some thrilling action further down the field.
While the Malaysian Grand Prix witnessed a thrilling 60 overtakes during this year's race, Australia and Singapore were at the other end of the spectrum, with both managing just 11 overtakes each. Sebastian Vettel's incredible performance in Canada saw the Ferrari driver overtake 13 cars on his way to a fifth-place finish having started 18th on the grid, but Verstappen's impressive overtaking figures highlight just what a talent he is.