Carlos Sainz, the ultimate survivor - Hindustan Times
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Carlos Sainz, the ultimate survivor

Apr 11, 2024 09:34 PM IST

He is the only driver in 2024 to have reached the podium in every Grand Prix he has taken part in.

It must be a terrible feeling to not be retained by your team. The sentiment gets worse if the news breaks out a year in advance. That's what Carlos Sainz must have gone through when Scuderia Ferrari decided to replace him with Lewis Hamilton for 2025. Formula 1’s driver market is as cut-throat as it gets. Drivers are sometimes dumped by teams for not delivering in a couple of races despite having existing contracts. Hence, it is important to develop a thick skin as soon as you step into the pinnacle of motor racing.

Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr holds his trophy on the podium(AFP)
Ferrari's Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr holds his trophy on the podium(AFP)

Sainz is not averse to disappointments. In the nine seasons he has spent in F1, the 29-year-old has had to experience more lows than ups. At Toro Rosso where he partnered Max Verstappen, he saw the Dutchman, three years his junior, being promoted to Red Bull. He moved to Renault in the hope of becoming the team No.1 but as luck would have it, the French manufacturer decided to replace him with his old Red Bull driver academy mate Daniel Ricciardo. Now by Hamilton at Ferrari.

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But Sainz is a strong character with his USP being resilience who understands the business more than others on the grid, having survived four teams in nine seasons. The Spaniard may not be wicked fast like Verstappen around a lap but knows how to deliver quick laps after laps, never falling too behind the driver in front. He isn't the No.1 driver of a team like Charles Leclerc but is the ultimate survivor, delivering performances that outwit the preferred driver of the team with ruthless consistency.

Never the talked about driver, Sainz has emerged as the dark horse who has grown slowly into the sport. Ever since his move to Ferrari in 2021, replacing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, Sainz has reached the podium regularly, in fact outperforming Leclerc that year. Even though he finished behind Leclerc the last two seasons, he was never too far behind in points (Leclerc 206 in 2023, Sainz 200).

Since the start of 2023, Sainz is also the only non-Red Bull driver to have won a race – in fact he has won two – with the last one coming following a scintillating overtake of reigning world champion Verstappen down the back straight in Melbourne. This season he has been on a mission, as if to prove something. He is the only driver in 2024 to have reached the podium in every Grand Prix he has taken part in, sending his Ferrari to the fore of the grid with solid drives. His will to deliver his best for himself and the team was also witnessed at the Australian Grand Prix last month.

After missing out on the race in Saudi Arabia due to a sudden appendicitis surgery, a not-100-percent Sainz turned up at Albert Park to clinch his third career victory with his stitches not even completely healed. Last Sunday too, he made multiple overtakes – including a certain move over teammate Leclerc that made his point to Ferrari – to finish third in Japan behind the two Red Bulls to be fourth in the championship despite missing a race.

“Very happy because it was quite tough out there. I had to overtake a lot of cars out there and overtaking was tricky. Always at Suzuka you really have to nail the last chicane to get a good run into Turn 1. I could finish my moves, but it was tough out there," Sainz was quoted as saying by F1.com. “I thought it was going to be very difficult to get back into the fourth or P3, (with) how tricky it was to overtake and how difficult it was to follow. In the end we managed. I was quick on that hard tyre, I really liked how the hard gave me a good feeling to push, and I could get the moves done and get that podium.”

With his consistent performances, Sainz has clearly made himself a hot property, a wanted driver for teams in 2025. The logical step would be to make a move to cars at the same pace or faster than Ferrari which means either Red Bull, Mercedes or McLaren. While McLaren have Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri confirmed for 2025, the only good options are Red Bull and Mercedes, both of which have one vacant seat. If he goes to Mercedes, it will be a direct swap with seven-time world champion Hamilton. But the best option for him would be to join Verstappen at Red Bull, a setup he knows, people he has grown up with, having been part of their driver academy.

"I'm talking obviously to a few (teams), because that’s what my management team and myself should do when I don’t have a job for next year yet. We’re talking to pretty much all of them. It’s just a matter of obviously going more into detail and seeing the more realistic options, and what are the best options for me and for my future,” said Sainz.

“The only thing I would say is that obviously it’s time now to speed up a bit everything and hopefully we can get it sorted sooner rather than later.” Sainz will now try and make a mark at the Chinese Grand Prix too on April 21, a race that is returning to the calendar for the first time since 2019. Shanghai will also host the first Sprint race of the season.

“It’s going to be a tough weekend for everyone. Going into a Sprint, to a track that we haven’t been in four or five years, only one hour of practice, is going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a good one. Let’s get a couple of good weeks to keep training and keep recovering, and I’ll get back in China flat-out,” said Sainz.

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