Another race weekend and another good weekend for Carlos Sainz, despite much of the attention in the Red Bull stables being on Max Verstappen (whom I am a big fan of) I think Carlos deserves as much love as Max, and with that a seat at a major team who can give him a platform to compete for wins and titles, Here’s why.
He pretty much matched Max last year, but with 7 retirements compared to 4 for the Dutchman, combined with Verstappen producing in races where others around him had dramas (4th in Hungary and USA) in many ways the points gap which sat at 31 in the teenagers favour when the sun went down on their debut campaigns in Abu Dhabi was hugely exaggerative compared to their actual performances.
It is incredibly easy to forget that they both were making their debut in F1 last year, of course Max got most of the attention with the famous name and the history books having to be ripped apart as he smashed many “Youngest to” records in the sport, but whilst the hype-train rolled in and out of race tracks across the world, Carlos Sainz was doing just as good a job, calm and composed and very fast without much attention going his way, I won’t lie I feel this actually suited him in the sense there was a little less pressure and he was able to enjoy himself rather than be expected to do incredible things every time he got into the car.
The one thing which I noticed about Carlos last year is that he was very consistent for a youngster enjoying his first year in F1, a stat that may highlight this as well as his pure rotten luck is that none of his retirements were purely down to driver error but instead his car letting him down, admittedly he was second on the list of drivers given penalties due to driver action with 7, but in general he has always looked a safe and reliable pair of hands.
Friction in the team was only natural given the pressure cooker environment of the Red Bull junior team where both drivers are aiming for a seat with the senior team, it came to a head in Singapore with team orders being disobeyed by Max, despite this Carlos was mature (a quality highly appreciated by senior F1 teams) there was no throwing his toys out of the pram as many rattled young drivers may do, he knuckled down and got through the rest of the season, with a season best finish coming at Austin where he crossed the line to take P7.
2016 has undoubtedly been the breakout season for Sainz, I would personally say he should be up there for Driver of the Season, which may be surprising considering his much talked about team-mate, rather than Carlos, got the call to join Red Bull Racing after 4 races due to the decline in form of Daniil Kvyat, who had now stepped back to Toro Rosso with a lot to prove, but for me the only one proving a point in that team this year has been Carlos.
To make Q3 in a Toro Rosso is no mean feat, so it shows a lot that Carlos has achieved this in 6 of the 11 race weekends so far this year, even when he has started outside the top 10, he always seems to be able to race well, finishing in the points 8 times including a career best P6 drive at his home race in Barcelona, perhaps what I find telling though is his form after Verstappen got the move, it is almost as if Carlos has used this as extra motivation and it would certainly show with 6 top ten placements in the last 7 races, picking up 24 points, 6 more than he managed in the entirety of 2015, he keeps impressing and doing great drives and rightly has earned another season with the team, here lies my problem..
It is hard to see where he goes from here.
Red Bull are unlikely to offer Sainz the opportunity to make the step up, with both Ricciardo and Verstappen looking tied down for the long-term, the only potential prospect of the Spaniard getting in that team is if one of those two left the team, Verstappen is unlikely to, having secured the seat and with it a long term arrangement to remain with Red Bull whereas there is potential movement with Ricciardo, long time rumours have linked him with Ferrari although no deal will happen in the short-term with the 27-year-old extending his contract until the end of 2018, but contracts mean increasingly little in F1 and so a move may well happen sooner allowing Sainz his chance to step up, unlikely though.
Mercedes recently secured Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg until the end of 2018 and with both drivers sitting in the dominant team in F1, they are unlikely to be pushing for moves away, even if developments were to happen here it would not benefit Sainz, due to the academy prospects Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon being almost certainly lined up as their next driver pairing.
Whether you judge it on form or history it depends, but McLaren is a top team as well, with ageing drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso certainly in the latter years of their career, however like Mercedes they have young talent, Stoffel Vandoorne will certainly drive for the team sooner rather than later and Honda may want to push through Japanese GP2 talent Nobuharu Matsushita, the one thing I do think here is that Alonso and Sainz are quite close so could Fernando suggest they sign his fellow countryman? in all honesty it depends entirely how McLaren develop because as it sits, moving from Toro Rosso to McLaren is a backwards step admittedly with a much bigger potential than STR.
Another team that could offer Carlos a drive is Williams, they may not be at the top of the game fighting for wins or championships but it would represent a forwards step for Sainz before potentially a further move later down the line, it is entirely possible as well given that Felipe Massa could be reaching the end of his career and with young British talent Alex Lynn not doing anything of note in GP2, there is no natural successor although that said there is every possibility that Massa could stay or even that rumours could prove true and see Jenson Button return to the team, despite all this, I wouldn’t rule out Sainz to Williams although I doubt it will be a popular line in silly season speculation.
So, that leaves one option… Ferrari.
The fact they re-signed Kimi Raikkonen for another year may have disappointed many who wanted something to talk about over the summer break but it is hard to argue against it, he has upped his game this year and has proved more than a handful for Sebastian Vettel, the question remains though whether 2017 might be the final year for Kimi, with a host of attractive options needing a seat such as Ricciardo, Bottas, Perez, Grosjean and of course Carlos Sainz, it is anyones guess who Ferrari would choose with all being good top tier drivers.
Is it a career defining shortage of seats that may stop Carlos Sainz realising his potential as a future world champion? No, absolutely not, we all know how crazy the driver market can be in Formula 1, But will he have to wait a while longer at Toro Rosso for his big chance? definitely, however if he continues to drive like he has done so far in his career then that wait could be shorter than we all think.