Carlos Sainz Jr. has found himself very, very comfortable with half of the top 10 in the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship. He has finished sixth or fifth in each of the last four seasons, a span of time which has included a move from McLaren to Ferrari. It means he should be in Formula 1 as long as he wants, but it also means he has the potential for a jump into championship contention that never came. Until last season he had never won a race.
This is the seventeenth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2023 Formula 1 season. This weekend we’ll be covering Ferrari. You can find the rest of our previews here.
Now the situation is complicated. Sainz spent 2021 battling teammate Charles Leclerc for a midfield position, but the Ferrari team briefly tasted championship contention in 2022 and Leclerc emerged clear ahead of his teammate for the most part. of the season. Despite him getting his first win, Sainz left the season in a worse position than he entered. However, he’s been in far worse places than this before. Sainz is now in a perfect position to once again improve his place in Formula 1.
HOW IT GOT HERE
Up until his decision to leave Red Bull’s junior program, the story of Carlos Sainz Jr. seems eerily familiar to a half dozen other similar stories over the past fifteen years. Sainz, son of rally legend Carlos Sainz Sr., raced in a variety of lower tier motor racing series with the backing of Red Bull until he won the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014. This led to a call-up in F1 2015 at Toro Rosso, which lasted two and a half seasons before it became clear that Red Bull had no real interest in promoting him to the senior team. Whether or not staying with Toro Rosso the following year was an option, he knew he would have to leave the team to move up the grid.
This led to a contract with Renault for 2018, but the team decided to act quickly and hire him for the rest of 2017 for the final four races of the season. Sainz left Renault after just one full season for McLaren, where he started in 2019. Two years of out-performing Lando Norris landed him a call-up from Ferrari, where he replaced Sebastian Vettel in 2021. Sainz continued to bat narrowly Leclerc to lead Ferrari in 2021.
HOW 2022 WENT
That lead over Leclerc didn’t last until 2022. Ferrari came out of the gates with the fastest car on the grid, a lead that didn’t last and was constantly undermined by the team’s tactical errors in the race. Sainz took a handful of podium finishes and won his first ever race at Silverstone, but Charles Leclerc emerged as a clear favorite with the team as he finished second in the championship, more than 60 points clear of Sainz.
GOALS FOR 2023
If he’s going to win a championship, Carlos Sainz Jr. may still be on the right team. Ferrari proved in early 2022 that they can still build a world-record car and pair it with a world-record engine, and most of those staff remain; the management team that oversaw so many mistakes in the race and so little development in the season, however, is now gone. If they want to win more races, Ferrari appear capable of putting together a winning car and appear capable of challenging for victory against the best in the series.
The concern is that he has fallen from grace in a team that has won so many titles by prioritizing a top driver. That was not the case in 2021, but if Sainz is to return to an equal footing with Leclerc he will soon and often need to perform at Leclerc’s level. If he can pick up strong results early on ahead of his team-mate, he will put himself in a position where Ferrari will have no choice but to back him for a potential championship push. His goal for 2023 should be to start that kind of departure.
A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LOOKS LIKE…
That said, Sainz has a long and respectful Formula 1 career ahead of him even if he will never beat Leclerc again. 2022 was still a relatively successful season even as he lost ground to his teammate, and 2023 could be too. Sainz is in no danger of being replaced by a potential Ferrari driver in the foreseeable future and he appears to be more than capable of winning when given the chance.
The question is whether Sainz can go further. He is already an outstanding professional Formula 1 driver, surpassing the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez. Will he be able to reach the level of the Verstappen and Hamiltons of the world? To do this, he must first prove once again that he is on the level of his own teammate.
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