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ESPN's driver of the year - Part Two: 5th to 1st

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Which drivers impressed in 2016? (1:36)

ESPN F1 experts discuss which drivers impressed them the most throughout the 2016 season. (1:36)

In the second part of ESPN's top ten drivers of 2016, we name numbers 5-1. Read 10-6 here.

5. Nico Rosberg

In one sense Nico Rosberg's season was perfect. Given the circumstances that unfolded over the course of the year, he beat every other driver on the grid and took the championship. Yet it's still hard to argue that he was the best driver out there -- especially when you look at the achievements of the other drivers on this list. That should not be confused with the somewhat tedious debate of whether he is a "worthy champion", of that there is no doubt. But was he the most exciting, brilliant, jaw-dropping talent on the 2016 grid? The answer has to be no.

Singapore was the crowning achievement of his season. On a track where Mercedes was on the backfoot, he outperformed everyone by a significant margin, including teammate Lewis Hamilton. But the staple of his championship success were the solid, no-thrills performances, such as the first four races of the year, Monza and Japan. At those rounds he did everything that was needed of him and nothing more -- and the same was true at the end of the season when he secured four consecutive second places to seal the title.

It was a gritty year, built on sacrifices in his personal life and rewarded with his childhood dream of becoming world champion. But as impressive as that was, there were also days when he simply looked outclassed -- a wet Sunday in Monaco being the prime example. For that reason, the reigning world champion is only fifth on our list.
LE

4. Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz could so easily have become a footnote in the Max Verstappen story in 2016 but the Spaniard's performances throughout the year were enough to warrant his place at number four on this list. Overlooked for the promotion to Red Bull, Sainz appeared to rise to the situation - with his consistently impressive performances made even greater when compared to the struggles of Daniil Kvyat alongside him.

Sainz's first standout result, not coincidentally, came in Spain - the first race since Verstappen's promotion - as he drove to sixth, a result he then repeated in Austin and Interlagos. He qualified brilliantly throughout the season in a car constricted by a 2015 engine - making Q3 nine times - and demonstrated a fiery side in battle with other drivers. His form was so good through the year that Renault came calling for his services in October, forcing Red Bull to offer a firm rebuttal. Sainz might appear to be stuck in limbo at Red Bull's junior team but another year like 2016 next season will make him well worth the money to prize him free of his contract.
NS

3. Lewis Hamilton

On his day Lewis Hamilton is undoubtedly the best driver on the grid. His ability to find an extra 0.2s in qualifying, pull a surprise overtaking move 150 metres before a corner or put in a succession of quick laps to win a race is unparalleled, but at times this year he appeared to be taking his talent for granted. Yes, he had reliability problems, but Hamilton had the pace and the ability to overcome them and he still fell five points short over 21 races. A quick glance back at his season's results shows a series of opportunities where he could have easily made up that margin with a little more consistency.

His biggest problems were his starts. In Australia, Bahrain, Italy and Japan, Hamilton lost multiple positions when the lights went out, and at all four races he dropped points to Rosberg. After spending additional time at the factory after Japan -- something Rosberg had done earlier in the season -- Hamilton miraculously got on top of the issues and made consistent getaways at all of the final four races. Could the issue have been solved earlier?

Another missed opportunity came in Baku, where two uncharacteristic mistakes in qualifying saw him start from tenth on a track where he had dominated all three practice sessions earlier in the weekend. It was the one blip in a potential seven-race winning streak during the middle of the season and resulted in more dropped points.

Regardless of his reliability woes, the opportunities were there for Hamilton to win the title this year. That in itself is a huge testament to his immense skill level, but the fact he didn't secure it means he is not our Driver of the Year this season.
LE

2. Max Verstappen

Verstappen announced himself to the big time in 2016 -- winning on his Red Bull debut in Spain and turning in a wet-weather drive for the ages in Brazil. The latter felt like a coming-of-age performance and seemed to confirm many of the lofty comparisons made about Verstappen since his arrival on the F1 scene at the end of 2014.

The teenager's racecraft is sublime: his relentlessness in battle matched by his penchant for pulling off remarkable overtakes. His pass on Nico Rosberg at Silverstone stands out as one of his best from the year, and there were plenty more. But Verstappen is far from the finished article. His aggression courted controversy and led to a clampdown on his habit of moving in the braking zone. Qualifying was a weak point earlier in the year before an upturn in the latter rounds, one he will look to continue in 2017.

Verstappen confirmed to the F1 world he is the real deal this year -- but he is not quite the finished article Red Bull wants him to be. That accolade goes to a man he shared a garage with for most of 2016....
NS

1. Daniel Ricciardo

Crack open the champagne and take off your sweaty racing boot, because Daniel Ricciardo is ESPN's Driver of the Year 2016.

A combination of consistency and pure pace made him the standout driver of this season, as well as the ability to hold an edge over Max Verstappen during their time as teammates (Ricciardo finished had an 11-point advantage over the Dutch teenager during their 17 races together). On seven occasions (equal to one third of the season) he finished ahead of at least one of the Mercedes, which is a hugely impressive achievement given the car advantage Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton held over him. Sure, he only won one race in Malaysia, but a quicker final pit stop in Monaco and a better strategy in Spain would have made that three -- not to mention a puncture that robbed him of an early lead at the Chinese Grand Prix.

There were off days as well, but there was always a reason to explain his lack of pace. In Russia his car was damaged by an incident triggered by teammate Danill Kvyat; in Japan a fuel-flow metre inconsistency and a rubbing floor left him down on top speed; and in Brazil a fogging visor hampered his visibility in appalling conditions. They may sound like racing driver's excuses, but it was rare to see Ricciardo make a mistake this season and his inspiring moments far outweighed his mediocre ones. Add to that his upbeat personality and we can't think of a single driver who offered a more complete package in 2016.

Now, where did I leave that shoe ...?
LE