Formula One: No longer hiding in shadow of legends, Carlos Sainz Jr is making racing world take note

All through his racing career, Carlos Sainz Jr. has been hiding in the shadow of legends. The comparisons began early and at home, with Sainz carrying the legacy of his father, two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz Sr. As is true for any driver coming from a racing family, the comparisons were continuous. Moreover, Sainz Jr. had the task of proving himself (and his talent) decisively, irrespective of his famous surname.

In his debut Formula 1 season at Toro Rosso in 2015, Sainz was racing alongside another rookie — Max Verstappen. We all know how that season went for Verstappen, as he captured the heart of the sport with his daring overtakes and spunky performances. Verstappen solidly outperformed Sainz, scoring 49 points versus 18 for Sainz. While Sainz did showcase glimpses of his own talent, everything looked pale in comparison to Formula 1’s prodigy child, Verstappen. Through all this, Sainz also had to live in the shadow of another superstar — compatriot and two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso. An enthusiastic fan asked how he could get Alonso’s autograph. “I love Fernando!” he exclaimed, adding, “Sainz is second — he is not bad, but first is always Fernando.”

Carlos Sainz Jr. has been hiding in the shadow of legends. AP

Carlos Sainz Jr. has been hiding in the shadow of legends. AP

When Sainz was overlooked for a promotion to Red Bull Racing (and Verstappen moved up) many bemoaned what that meant for Sainz’s career — especially since Red Bull has a notoriously clogged driver pipeline and a cut-throat ‘move up or move on’ policy. He became the highest points scorer for Toro Rosso of all time — an achievement also thinly veiled as an indication of his career stagnation. But in the middle of the 2017 season, the fickle Formula 1 grid dealt Sainz a surprise wildcard. He moved to Renault thanks to an arrangement between the two constructors.

The move to Renault could well be the best thing to have happened for Sainz’s career. For one, he finds himself at a works team — a World Championship winning works team, to be precise. As he had said when the move happened, “To be a Formula 1 driver for a manufacturer team is an honour.” If the team does indeed develop as per promise and potential, Renault could be challenging for a ‘best of the rest’ position this season, and for greater glory in the seasons to come. Renault helped one Spanish driver achieve World Champion status (Alonso, 2006 & 2007), could Sainz be the next?

There is also a sense that Sainz is coming into his own as a driver. His performance at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was exceptional — in an emotional outcome, he brought the car home in fifth place, scoring Renault’s best result since the team’s return to F1 in 2016. Of course, the comparisons continue — this time, with his Renault teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, who has been outperforming Sainz consistently. It’s fair to say that Hulkenberg is quick enough to motivate Sainz, but crucially, not that much quicker that it makes Sainz look bad. At the Spanish Grand Prix media session, Sainz admitted that a part of this deficit could be because he wasn’t involved in the car design last year (he was still at Toro Rosso) and it’s hence more suited to Hulkenberg’s style of driving.

It’s not easy to say what lies next for Sainz — whether he stays on at Renault for the 2019 season will depend on the negotiations between Renault and Red Bull Racing. Renault have confirmed that they are happy to have him. But will Red Bull Racing let him go? If negotiations with Daniel Ricciardo fall through, they could well pull Sainz back alongside Verstappen in the second Red Bull Racing cockpit. Adding further complexity, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff recently spoke glowingly of Sainz to the press. “Carlos is a very special boy, very intelligent, with the right values, the right family and very fast piloting. If he performs well against Nico it will be on the radar of all the teams.” Wolff clarified subsequently that Mercedes will not be looking outside their existing drivers for 2019.

It’s also easy to forget that despite already being in his fourth Formula 1 season, Sainz is only 23-years-old. Time is on his side, and for any team looking to develop ‘proven’ young talent, Sainz is a good consideration. He will also continue to learn and grow. “As the team develops, I am also going to develop,” he told the press. If anyone’s betting on future championship showdowns, here’s some money on Max Verstappen vs Carlos Sainz in 2025.

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Updated Date: May 12, 2018 21:06:54 IST

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