If this year’s Formula 1 season has proved anything to anyone, it is that Carlos Sainz is very much the real deal, and has champion potential.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the light hearted Spaniard was more of a gentleman racer than an F1 driver, by his laid back nature, but once the helmet goes on, Sainz’s persona completely changes, and he becomes incredibly focused on one thing – getting the job done to the highest standard possible.
2019 was always going to be a stand-out year for Sainz, with the 25-year-old moving to McLaren after Renault signed Daniel Ricciardo, and whilst it was a gamble after McLaren’s difficult few years, it is definitely one that has paid off.
With both Sainz’s and fellow stablemate, Lando Norris’ bubbly personalities lifting the team spirit at Woking, McLaren has found a spark that has enabled them to improve, and Sainz proudly took on the leadership role as the team forged their way to fourth in the constructor’s championship.
After an initial few months integrating himself well into the team, Sainz has grown in confidence and has consistently extracted the maximum from his car, especially in the latter half of the season, where he pulled off some outstanding recovery drives, including Brazil, where he ended up with a podium result, after Lewis Hamilton’s penalty, despite starting the Grand Prix from last.
If performances like these were a one-off, the hype surrounding Sainz would be nowhere near as much as it is today, but it is the fact that he has been so consistent, pulling off results like the one in Brazil on multiple occasions, that has created the buzz currently surrounding him.
Not all of the results are as striking as Brazil, for getting a podium in a team other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull is unheard of, but the fact Sainz finished outside of the top ten on only five of the races he finished shows how incredibly consistent he has been.
It may seem like that Sainz has made a huge improvement this year, and while he has improved, it would appear that he was simply forgotten about during his time at Toro Rosso and Renault.
At Toro Rosso, it was a young Max Verstappen who stole the show and made the headlines, but it was Sainz who edged out the qualifying head-to-head 10-9 over the course of the season.
Everyone is talking about Verstappen as a future champion, and rightly so, but Sainz has proven he also has the same ability, but until now, most of his success has taken place in the shadows.
But, with McLaren currently on the path of recovery, and now the next fastest car after Red Bull, Sainz has been able to shine, and prove to the world that he is a top line driver.
The final race of the season at Abu Dhabi summed Sainz up perfectly. A driver that never gives up until the race is over.
He was desperate for sixth place in the driver’s championship, but with the race strategy not playing out for the McLaren driver, he found himself outside of the points in the closing stages of the Grand Prix.
But with fresher tyres and his dogged determination, Sainz managed to make a great pass on his old Renault team-mate, Nico Hulkenberg, to take 10th place and secure sixth in the standings.
In all reality, sixth place in the championship compared to seventh doesn’t change anything. Sainz won’t suddenly be taking home a trophy for that result in the standings, but it is his principle of maximising the most out of any situation that would not allow him to settle for anything else.
Next year will now be another big year for both McLaren and Sainz as they look to build on their promise of 2019, and close the gap to Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, but if they can get a car capable of getting closer, the Spaniard will be the man to lead the fight to the front.
That’s no disrespect to Norris. He has had a great rookie year in Formula 1, but while he has shown he has the pace to be one of the best, he still needs to learn and improve on his race-craft, having being caught out too many times in the season by not being aggressive enough in race battles.
That will come, and Norris will learn and master the skills he needs, but Sainz has the qualities and abilities right now, and is ready to mix it with the big boys.
It’s a tough ask for any team to catch the top three, but with regulations remaining stable for one last year, it is the perfect time to close the gap, and if that does happen, then Sainz could be stealing more of the limelight and could finally achieve his goal of having more of his overtakes shown on live TV as they happen.