Signing with the right team at the right time is part of the skill set of successful race car drivers.
It looks like Carlos Sainz Jr. might have made a mistake by deciding to leave McLaren, which is on the rise, to join Ferrari, which was slumping through this year’s delayed Formula One season.
On the other hand, rare is the driver who can turn down an offer from Ferrari. Those offers are usually once in a lifetime.
Ferrari seldom invites a driver back for a second term as Kimi Raikkonen, Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni are exceptions.
Furthermore, Ferrari and Sainz began negotiating in 2019 when the car was fast.
“There’s no fear whatsoever on the future,” said the 26-year-old Spaniard. “For me, I find that Ferrari is a great opportunity to do another move in my career, and it allows me to drive for another great team. I have a two-year contract signed with them (2021-’22), and that also gives me the stability and the opportunity to build on the first year with them. That’s the kind of experience I personally like to have and I feel it’s going to be like a great challenge. And we still don’t know where Ferrari is going to be by 2021.”
It was back on May 14, while F-1 was still on lockdown because of COVID-19, that Ferrari surprised many by announcing Sainz would replace Sebastian Vettel in 2021. Among the surprised was Vettel who joined Ferrari in 2015, and who had been given no indication the team would not open talks with him for a new contract.
If Ferrari had not signed Sainz, he still would have had a good home at McLaren.
“That is totally true,” he concurred when told he looks very comfortable in the F-1 team founded by Bruce McLaren in 1966. “Since the first day when I arrived in the team, I knew that I could finally have a bit of stability after a few years where my future was not certain. I was changing teams in the middle of the season. Now I could finally settle into a team. That is a big benefit.
“I had a very warm welcome by the team. I have a very straightforward relationship with everyone. We are very focused to getting this team to work better and be stronger. So I felt at home very quickly. I have a very good understanding with the whole engineering team and with all the mechanics and the management.”
Sainz’s journey to signing with Ferrari began with having a famous father — Carlos Sainz Sr., who won the World Rally Championship in 1990 and ’92 and finished second in the points four times.
Obviously, there is no direct correlation between rallying and driving karts or a formula car, but the elder Sainz was able to give his son plenty of valuable advice.
“My father has never told me how to drive a car, how to brake, how to accelerate, how to do corners,” Sainz Jr. said during his rookie season in F-1 in 2015. “He always believed this comes with talent. He just has made sure that I have the right attitude toward racing, toward the sport, toward the team. It has been a great help.
“At the end what the real champions are — the world champions — is an attitude thing more than a talent thing. And to have the experience and the attitude of a world champion happens over a period time. He has been a great help for me.”
Sainz never wanted to follow his father into rallying. F-1 was always his goal ever since he saw fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso competing in F-1 races on television.
Ironically, Sainz eventually drove for Renault and McLaren, both former Alonso teams, as is Ferrari.
“F-1 misses Fernando because we all know that he is one of the best drivers F-1 has had over the last few years,” Sainz said. “Not to have him is a big loss for F-1. I am fighting another very talented 19 guys that are very, very good, and so on track, I don’t miss Fernando.”
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