Ferrari News – At Ferrari, Carlos Sainz Jr. Has The Opportunity He Waited For
When Carlos Sainz Jr. left Red Bull Racing’s development program for Renault in 2017, he had a dream of a bright future on a growing team that could take him further than Red Bull’s opportunity to eventually partner with Max Verstappen ever could. He surprised at Renault, then impressed in another good opportunity at McLaren. Last Summer, he got the opportunity of a lifetime: Ferrari chose to move on from four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, and Sainz got the call to join Formula 1’s most storied team.
This is the fifteenth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2021 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering Ferrari. You can find the rest of our previews here.
Ferrari, of course, is not what it was. The team behind 16 constructor’s championships finished just sixth in last year’s standings, failing to score a win or a pole in a season highlighted only by two podium finishes. Combined with 2021’s one-year limitation on car development, those relatively disastrous numbers are likely to continue into the coming season. Sainz did not join Ferrari for that, though. Sainz is here because both he and Ferrari expect the program to bounce back when new regulations force every team on the grid to develop a radically different car in 2022. If things go right, both the driver and the team think they will again be in position to have a shot at winning everything.
HOW HE GOT HERE
Sainz came to Formula 1 in what has quickly become one of the most popular ways to get on the grid, Red Bull making a mistake.
Carlos Sainz Jr., the son of the legendary rallying and rally raid driver Carlos Sainz, joined Red Bull’s development program at 16. The energy drink giant took him to cars, where he stacked up race wins across a variety of Formula 3-level categories before being moved to full-time GP3 and part-time Formula Renault 3.5 seats in 2013. Neither yielded particularly impressive results, but a full-time Formula Renault program in 2014 led to seven wins and a championship won handily over his eventual replacement at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Pierre Gasly. Red Bull had seen enough, and, rather than give Sainz a year in GP2 to acclimate to F1’s intricacies and fight against his future competition on a bigger stage, chose to promote him to Toro Rosso alongside fellow inexperienced rookie Max Verstappen immediately.
Verstappen, promoted outlandishly early after a third place finish in a regional Formula 3 series, outpaced Sainz, and the writing was already on the wall. Red Bull was smitten with Verstappen, likely before he ever got to F1, and he was to be the face of their entire program going forward. This left Sainz fighting for the chance to, at best, replace the extremely successful Daniel Ricciardo as Verstappen’s clear second teammate for the next ten years. He ran with Toro Rosso for all of the 2016 season and most of the 2017 season before making the in-season jump to Renault.
Here, Sainz was finally free of the burden of a preferred teammate. He was beaten out in the series standings by teammate Nico Hulkenberg, but he had shown enough to land at one of two open seats at McLaren. Here, his career finally took off.
Sainz finished sixth in the 2019 standings, scoring nearly double the points of rookie teammate Lando Norris. He did not outpace Norris as comfortably in 2020, but he repeated his final position in the standings. He got the call from Ferrari in the middle of the season, signing quickly to replace Vettel. Now, he has a better opportunity than any Red Bull could have offered since the day they selected Verstappen, the opportunity a driver spends a career building up to.
GOALS FOR 2021
Carlos Sainz Jr. had an entire offseason to revel in the fact that he is a Ferrari Formula 1 driver. Now, it is time to get to work.
Scuderia Ferrari is coming off a disaster, their worst finish in the constructor’s championship since 1980. Formula 1’s most celebrated team has a significant climb back to relevance ahead of it, and 2021 likely will not provide them the immediate jump back to relevancy they may be expecting. McLaren’s long winless streak shows that even the powerhouses of Formula 1 are not guaranteed, and the long fall from grace Williams has suffered since the mid-90s shows that McLaren’s current struggle is far from the worst fate a great F1 team can suffer.
Ferrari cannot let this happen. This season may be lost by Ferrari standards before it even begins, but next season cannot be. This year, the team must use its precious on-track opportunities to prove they can function as a cohesive operation and prove that their two current drivers, Sainz and Charles Leclerc, are who will guide them to their eventual return to championship form.
In other words, Sainz is not here to succeed with Ferrari so much as he is here to prove alongside Ferrari that both can succeed in the future. This is a reclamation project, but it just so happens to be the highest profile and highest stakes reclamation project in recent history. Whether or not 2021 is a disaster, Ferrari will again be expected to contend for race wins and championships the moment the calendar rolls again to 2022. Sainz has done well to come back from the brink of an early departure from the sport, now he needs to prove he is ready for that level of pressure.
WHERE TO IMPROVE
Sainz is here, very specifically, because Ferrari thinks that he has less to improve on than they do. However, he only has this one opportunity to prove that he deserves equal footing with incumbent teammate Charles Leclerc.
Sainz handily out-raced Lando Norris at McLaren in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but his qualifying record is notably less impressive. He out-qualified Norris in 8 of 15 relevant sessions, but did so by an average margin of less than half a tenth of a second. Leclerc, meanwhile, took advantage of Vettel’s poor form in a lame duck season to crush his celebrated teammate, winning 14 of 17 relevant match-ups by a margin of 8/10ths of a second. It would be perfectly reasonable for Leclerc, an ace with exceptional one-lap speed, to outqualify Sainz throughout the season. However, he cannot afford to lose those battles to Leclerc so consistently and by even one third of that margin if he expects to remain on equal footing going forward.
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL SEASON WOULD LOOK LIKE
By their standards, it is already clear that Ferrari’s form will not be good in 2021. How bad the car is remains to be seen, but anything less than a week-to-week contest for race wins with Mercedes and Red Bull will be a disappointment that the program already expects. Whether the car is as relatively poor as it was in 2020 will determine whether or not Sainz is looking at any external goals at all.
If the car is quick enough to fight McLaren, Alpine, and Aston Martin Racing for third in the constructor’s championship, Sainz will be expected to again finish sixth or better in the driver’s standings and may even have a real opportunity to get Ferrari back to winning ways for the first time since the team won three straight in the Summer of 2019. If not, Sainz will be fighting for what will likely be just one or two podiums over the course of the year and focusing all of his energy on being competitive with his internal competition, Charles Leclerc. Although Ferrari has not historically used its junior drivers to put pressure on their top-level talent in the way Red Bull so famously does, he will also have to keep an eye on the two Ferrari-affiliated pilots further back in the field, Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi. Neither should be a serious threat to replace Sainz next year, but they should provide yet another reason to take what could otherwise be seen as a lost season very seriously.
Sainz likely wants to be in the Ferrari not just in 2022 but for the rest of his career. In 2021, he will have his best-ever opportunity that he proves not just on the grid but in its most high profile seat. If he does that, he should never have to worry about having to prove himself ever again.
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Ferrari News – At Ferrari, Carlos Sainz Jr. Has The Opportunity He Waited For
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