Carlos Sainz Jr. on 2016 & Verstappen

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Can’t stop smiling: 2016 has been a good year for the Spaniard.

The Toro Rosso machine just keeps on churning, producing one exciting talent after the other for Formula One’s big leagues, and it looks like Carlos Sainz is shaping up to be their latest star in the making.

The 22-year-old Spaniard, named after his two-time world rally championship-winning father, was destined for a career in motorsport and he’s been doing himself – and his family name – proud with some impressive work for Toro Rosso over the past six months.

Driving for the team which has helped launch the career of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, Sainz Jr is yet another example of how the Red Bull development system continues to be a success.

And while Red Bull’s senior team looks set for the next two years with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, there’s no denying that Sainz is showing signs that he is a talent not to be overlooked.

Following a “frustrating” 2015 rookie season which was marred by reliability issues, Sainz turned a new leaf in 2016, and hit his stride in May when he clinched a valuable sixth-place finish at his home grand prix in Barcelona.

He has finished in the points 10 times this season, including three P6’s – the last of which came two weeks ago in a stormy race at Interlagos in Brazil.

Although the Toro Rosso car became less competitive as the season went on, Sainz grew in confidence with each race. His progress coincided with the departure of his team-mate Verstappen, who was promoted to Red Bull Racing after the first four races of 2016, with Daniil Kvyat relegated down to Toro Rosso.

Did Verstappen’s team switch have anything to do with Sainz’s improvement?

“I know there’s a coincidence there, that Max left and suddenly I started to show up. But I still think nothing would have changed,” Sainz said in Abu Dhabi where he starts today’s race 21st on the grid.

“I still think P6, or P7 if Max would have finished in front, would have been possible in Spain. I still think I would have fought for a podium in Monaco like I did…China pit stop with Vettel slowing me down in the pit entry while I was P6, didn’t happen in Spain.

“It’s very small details that suddenly stopped happening to me from Spain onwards that have nothing to do with Max and suddenly I could show better results.”

In a year where the title battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has grabbed the headlines, and teenage sensation Verstappen has stolen the show, Sainz insists he has plenty to be proud of, having amassed 46 points to lie 12th in the Drivers’ Championship heading into today’s season-finale.

“I’m very happy with 2016 and the way it went and I also feel like a completely different driver compared to 2015 – both in terms of results and in terms of feeling,” added Sainz.

“In 2015 I was probably a very frustrated driver with a lot of reliability problems, not being able to show my full potential and I knew that 2016 it was time to show it and time to discover it to F1 people.

“All of a sudden in Spain it clicked, I stopped having problems, stopped having bad pit stops, stopped having just stuff that was not allowing me (to perform), and all of a sudden everything changed.

“My perception, also the perception of the team, everything changed towards a much more positive environment.”

Sainz produced a stellar drive in Brazil earlier this month but it took a backseat to the acrobatic show put on by Verstappen, who fought in the wet from P16 all the way to the podium.

It is perhaps unfair that Sainz’s exploits did not get the attention they deserved but the Madrileno does not need outside validation to feel good about his drive.

“Maybe towards the outside, towards the media, the fans (don’t realise what I did) but inside myself I know that I qualified two seconds off a Red Bull on the dry and I know that in the wet the Toro Rosso doesn’t pick up two seconds of lap-time per lap, I know the Toro Rosso is still off the pace in the wet as it was in the dry,” he explained.

“I also know in the last stint fighting against a Red Bull, a Force India, a Ferrari and another Red Bull. I was at the end of the life of my tyre and I had a Toro Rosso; not a Force India, not a Red Bull, not a Ferrari.

“I was extremely proud about that drive. No regrets, super happy about it, not just because a guy did a very good job like Max did, it made my result any less. I was feeling as good as I could feel at that point.”

At 22, Sainz’s maturity and level-headedness stands out the most and it’s not surprising when he mentions a crash in qualifying as the most valuable lesson he had in 2016.

“I think a big boost for me was for example the race of Canada where I think I made one of my only mistakes this year – that was to crash in qualifying in the famous ‘Wall of Champions’ but then suddenly on Sunday I came back with a completely different mind and made I think one of my best races of the season to come up P9 from 16 on the grid,” he says.

“And that moment there when you go through a very bad moment but you come back stronger and do a good result it gives you a bit of confidence that even if you make mistakes in the rest of the year you can come back and that gave me a boost for the rest of the season.”

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IN PICS: Hamilton claims pole for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Sport360 staff 26/11/2016

The defending three-time champion dominated the session and clocked a fastest time in one minute and 38.755 seconds to beat the championship-leading German by three-tenths of a second.

Hamilton's performance gives him the ideal opportunity to claim a fourth consecutive victory in Sunday's race in which Rosberg can secure his maiden drivers title if he finishes on the podium.

It is Briton Hamilton's 12th pole of the season, a personal record, his third in Abu Dhabi and the 61st of his career. In the process, he ended Rosberg's hopes of a third consecutive pole at the circuit.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo produced a scorching late lap to take third for Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Dtuch teenager Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull.

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LIVE: Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton has no intention of trying to ‘back up’ his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg if he is leading this weekend’s title showdown Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The defending three-time world champion, who is seeking a fourth consecutive Grand Prix victory to keep alive his slim hope of overhauling Rosberg’s 12-points lead, said instead that he will try to win the race by as big a margin as possible.

“Nico has been on pole here for the last two years,” Hamilton told a pre-race news conference at the Yas Marina circuit on Thursday.

“Here, he has been very quick. This has been a relatively strong circuit for me, but I’ve not been delivering the last two years, so my sole goal is to do so.

“In terms of tactics in the race, that has to come on Sunday, but that (backing up) has never been in my thought process. If I am ahead, I want to be as far ahead as possible.”

FOLLOW ALL THE QUALIFYING ACTION LIVE:

Who do you think will take pole? Get in touch on social media, use #360 fans on Twitter and Facebook.

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