By Sanjay Suri
When you first think of Carlos Sainz, the first word that comes to mind for many people is underrated. Although he has been getting much more recognition recently, he is never talked about in the same bracket as Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc or even Norris or Gasly. I firmly believe that Carlos Sainz is in pole position to become Ferrari’s first World Champion since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.
Carlos Sainz entered F1 in 2015, as part of the Red Bull junior programme, paired with Max Verstappen. He has since moved from Toro Rosso to Renault to McLaren to Ferrari; each time he has managed to settle into his new seat very quickly.
He has three podiums to boast in his debut season for Ferrari as well as recently taking P3 in the Sao Paulo sprint race – a drive that went under the radar as Hamilton stunningly scythed his way through the field.
His ability to settle into a new car quickly will be vital for the 2022 season as the adaptability of drivers will be put to the test as they drive machinery that is completely different to the F1 cars that they are used to.
As Sainz is now more settled into the team, he will be able to have more of a say in how the car is developed, making it more tailored to him.
As for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Sainz is only 8.5 points off his teammate and has the longest points streak of any driver. This kind of consistency will be vital if he is in a championship fight and, whilst Leclerc is undoubtedly a very fast driver, he has been known to be aggressive with some of his moves which has cost him big points in the past.
A lot of eyes will be on testing at the start of the 2022 Formula 1 season. This is due to the huge regulation changes for next season, designed to promote closer racing, cleaner air, and a smaller performance gap between teams.
Although the budget cap has been in place since the start of this year, development of the 2022 car will have started as early as 2019. This will mean that wealthier teams will still have a slight competitive advantage.
Enter Ferrari. Ferrari are by far the richest team in F1 and are long overdue a world title. After an abysmal 2020 season, Mattia Binotto has brought stability to Ferrari and has them challenging for P3 in the Constructors Championship. He also has arguably the strongest driver pairing on the grid in Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Ferrari will also have been helped by the ferocious title battle between Mercedes and Red Bull who have been pouring resources and money into the 2021 season to try and secure the world title.
Of course, Ferrari have been in a battle with McLaren, but the stakes are lower, and their main upgrades have been to their engine – the one thing that will be carried over to next year’s car.
In addition to this, Ferrari’s poor 2020 season has actually allowed them more time to use the wind tunnel compared to their rivals. This is due to the new sliding scale introduced this year. The most successful teams get the least time in the wind tunnel and vice versa.
These are all marginal gains which could propel Ferrari to the front of the grid. Whilst teams like Aston Martin and McLaren will also benefit from this to an extent, they might get held back by the fact that they are engine customers of Mercedes, and so their engine will not be made with their car in mind. Once again, it is a small factor that plays into Ferrari’s hands.
Although I back Sainz to be a World Champion in just over a year’s time, I also believe it will come at a cost. He is not Ferrari’s golden boy – that title belongs to teammate Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc was a Ferrari junior who was so good he managed to earn a callup to Ferrari after just one season in F1, outperforming his teammate and four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Meanwhile, Sainz was arguably just a temporary replacement, brought in as a second driver to support Leclerc whilst Mick Schumacher gained more experience.
Yet Sainz has proven to be so much more and, should he be battling with Leclerc, it will cause friction at Maranello. Ferrari will almost certainly back Leclerc as their number one driver, but Sainz isn’t in F1 to be a second driver, he’s here to win.
This is why I believe Sainz will leave Ferrari at the end of 2022 due to the notoriously political atmosphere within the team. I am sure that, as a World Champion, he will have plenty of options for a seat for 2023 and so the future would look pretty rosy for the Spaniard. Who knows, this may not be his last title either.
Image: Jaimie Wilson via flickr