Carlos Sainz Jr. Made It Here All by Himself
In Formula 1, every serious 2022 championship contender but one is either a former champion poached by another elite team or a homegrown talent developed from the ground up by a major program to eventually win a title. That one exception is Carlos Sainz Jr.
This is the sixteenth installment of our driver-by-driver preview of the 2022 Formula 1 season. This weekend, we will be covering McLaren. You can find the rest of our previews here.
Sainz took destiny into his own hands in 2017, leaving Red Bull's Scuderia Toro Rosso junior team in the middle of a season to join Renault's F1 program early in an attempt to rewrite his fate before Red Bull cast him off to find a new prospect. Then he left Renault for McLaren, then McLaren for Ferrari. In one season in Rosso Corsa, he's beaten a homegrown star in the standings and proven that he deserves a shot to fight for a championship.
HOW HE GOT HERE
Until his decision to leave Red Bull's junior program, the Carlos Sainz Jr. story looks eerily familiar to a half-dozen other stories just like it throughout the past fifteen years. Sainz, the son of rallying legend Carlos Sainz Sr., raced in a variety of lower-level car series with Red Bull backing until he won the 2014 Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014. That led to a 2015 F1 call-up 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 next year was an option, he knew he would have to leave the team to move up the grid.
That led him to a contract with Renault for 2018, but the team decided to move quickly and hire him for the remainder 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 outperforming Lando Norris got him a call from Ferrari, where he replaced Sebastian Vettel last year.
HOW 2021 WENT
Despite being teamed with Ferrari's most recent race-winner in Charles Leclerc, Sainz led the team. He scored all four of the program's 2021 podiums on the way to fifth in the championship, his career-best finish and one spot ahead of his result the last two years at McLaren.
Sainz beat Leclerc by just 5.5 points, but it was enough to prove that he and Leclerc belong on equal footing heading into a 2022 season where Ferrari has some real hope. A new set of aerodynamic rules has forced a major reset for every team on the grid, giving them another roll of the dice to catch Red Bull and Mercedes. The team that has been the third-best of the hybrid V-6 era should have a shot to once again fight for wins and championships this year; if they do, Sainz will have a shot early in the year to prove that he is the one Ferrari should be backing for a title.
GOALS FOR 2022
Those lofty ambitions leave Sainz with a few lofty goals. He has six career podiums, but no wins. That will need to change quickly if he wants to fight for a title. If Ferrari has a fast enough car to win races, both he and Leclerc should win a few this year.
In stark contrast to Leclerc, he has zero career poles. That may prove to be a harder hill to climb. Sainz was close to Leclerc in head-to-head qualifying, but he has never reached the highs quite as high as his teammate that led the series in poles in his second year in F1. If Sainz wants to prove that he is a contender, he needs to make qualifying his strength, too.
A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LOOKS LIKE...
Like McLaren, both Ferrari drivers will have trouble setting a par score for themselves until the season gets underway and they have a clearer understanding of just how competitive their new car will be. Expectations are that both teams will move closer to Red Bull and Mercedes, but there are no guarantees. If that happens, a successful season for Sainz is one in which he wins at least one race and stays in contact with Leclerc all year.
If it does not, Sainz will be left again overperforming in a high-end mid-field car. The last two times he did that, he ended up leaving a team to find opportunities at a what was expected to be a better program. Maybe Ferrari is not so immune from that, either.
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