Has Ferrari signed the right man?
Yes, it probably has. But Carlos Sainz Jr. has clawed his way into one of the most coveted positions in sport by the most circuitous of routes. Still only 25, the Spaniard has already logged up 102 F1 starts – but has also been rejected by both Red Bull and Renault. Christian Horner and Helmut Marko lacked faith in promoting him from Toro Rosso to the Red Bull ‘A-team’ following his graduation from an unremarkable junior single-seater career, and his subsequent switch to Renault lasted all of one season. Yet now he’s a Ferrari driver.
A fairer reflection highlights what a well-rounded racing driver Sainz really is, and his stock rose considerably last year thanks to his accomplished form for a reviving McLaren. Fast, intelligent, a savvy racer, multi-lingual, experienced, adept at dealing with pressure… no wonder Ferrari has judged he’s just what it needs right now.
Also, as odd as it sounds, Sainz might have won his prize drive by not being too good… Ferrari has placed all its chips on the soaring talent of Charles Leclerc, tying him to an unprecedented five-year contract following a single season in which he effectively ended Vettel’s spell at the team. Leclerc is Ferrari’s man, and as history shows, the team’s philosophy is to centre its focus on one driver at a time, be it Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso or Vettel himself. Sainz is the perfect foil to Leclerc: quick and consistent enough to qualify and score well, while also nicking the odd victory, but unlikely to threaten Leclerc’s team leader status. Think Valtteri Bottas to Lewis Hamilton. Whether Sainz has it in him to be more than ‘the good number two’ remains to be seen.