2017 F1 driver rankings #10: Sainz

2017 F1 season review

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Carlos Sainz Jnr produced some giant-killing drives for Toro Rosso but also committed a few howling errors.

There remains question marks over his qualifying pace too, as long-time team mate Daniil Kvyat was too close for comfort before he was dropped by the team.

Carlos Sainz Jnr

Beat team mate in qualifying11/20
Beat team mate in race6/8
Races finished12/20
Laps spent ahead of team mate457/658
Qualifying margin-0.03

Sainz’s highs included some awesome tyres gambles. Starting on slicks at a damp Shanghai looked like madness, particularly when he skated off at the start. But he persevered, profited when the rest had to pit and despite spinning came away with a fine seventh.

He did it again in Singapore. This time he preferred intermediates while most of his rivals started on wets before switching to the more lightly-grooved rubber. After tip-toeing past wet-shod rivals on the the still-damp parts of the track, Sainz saved himself a pit stop and rose to fourth where he finished. No Toro Rosso driver has done better than that since Sebastian Vettel’s Italian Grand Prix win nine years ago.

It wasn’t just in mixed conditions that Sainz impressed. On a dry track in Monaco he took one of his three ‘best of the rest’ finishes (no other Toro Rosso driver had any), quick enough in the early stages of the race to out-run a recovering Hamilton. He then withstood pressure from the eventual world champion.

Contrasting sharply with this were a trio of race-ending errors. He wiped out Lance Stroll in Bahrain, then did the same to the other Williams driver in Canada. In Japan, his last appearance for Toro Rosso, he crashed out on the first lap. Nonetheless up until that point he had almost single-handedly brought them within striking distance of fifth in the championship.

Having narrowly out-qualified Kvyat at Toro Rosso, Sainz found Nico Hulkenberg a much tougher proposition after his mid-season change of teams. He was always going to find it difficult against a driver who’s been at the team all season, of course.

Next year, without the impetus to over-extend himself in the hope of attracting attention from outside Toro Rosso, we will hopefully see a Sainz who is every bit as fast but a touch more restrained.

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Over to you

Made some mistakes in the beginning but was consistently fast enough to warrant an escape out of Toro Rosso making him the first to go from Toro Rosso to anything else but Red Bull. He’s already up on Hulkenberg his level, if you ask me, promising good things.

What’s your verdict on Carlos Sainz Jnr’s 2017 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than him? Have your say in the comments.

Add your views on the other drivers here:

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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53 comments on “2017 F1 driver rankings #10: Sainz”

  1. Oh now that is far too low… should definitely be ahead of Hulkenberg, Ocon and Bottas I’d say, and maybe Ricciardo as well. I had him at 3rd on my list. His races were almost all excellent, apart from the couple where he made silly errors, but plenty of drivers higher on the list made similar errors as well – Perez and Ocon on multiple occasions, Hulkenberg in Baku, etc. But Sainz carried his team more than any of those. Then he hopped into the Renault and was immediately on Hulkenberg’s pace, which I’d say is an ominous sign for Nico for next season.

    1. @tflb agreed, sainz had a storming season. his best drive for me was in austin. it really highlighted what renault had been missing with palmer in the car. i would put him on a par with perez and ahead of the guys you mention (maybe not quite as good as ricciardo)

    2. Don’t think he carried more STR than Hulk carried Renault

      1. @johnmilk We’ll have to disagree then… I think STR’s performance post-Sainz is a more accurate reflection of the car’s pace; this means Sainz punched massively above his weight. The Renault was a better car but Hulk still finished behind in the championship.

        1. @tflb To make that argument work, we would have to take Hulk out of Renault as well and see how that would have affected them
          The STR post-Sainz besides him leaving the team, the dip in performance was also due to their two new rookies and a string of technical failures that weren’t as common until that point (which made them start from the back of the grid). Therefore I don’t think the Renault was a better car than the STR, maybe at the end of the season, but surely not throughout.

          It is still give or take between the two

  2. A very exciting driver. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in a hopefully improved Renault. I’m expecting lots of great overtakes and points finishes in most races. I think by the end of the year he will have beaten The Hulk, who is no slouch.

  3. Next year, Sainz Jr. will face the biggest challenge. If he drives to his full potential, he will beat Hulkenberg, simple as that. Just things like Bahrain, Canada and Japan should be less and Monaco and Singapore should be more. I expect next year in Renault to be amazing.

    1. @godoff1 Both Hulkenberg and Sainz are very hungry drivers! Sainz wants to prove he’s as good or better than Verstappen and Hulkenberg wants to finally prove himself and the other teams wrong.

      These guys are going to push each other massively. I don’t think we’ll have a clear winner between them next year.

      Prost is very clever – he’s brought together 2 drivers who can score massive points and are very, very quick. If Renault is reliable, the order in the WCC standings is about to get a massive overhaul.

  4. There remains question marks over his qualifying pace too, as long-time team mate Daniil Kvyat was too close for comfort before he was dropped by the team.

    I don’t think Kvyat’s qualifying pace was ever in doubt, he’s fast but he just couldn’t put weekends together with the same regularity as Sainz. I wouldn’t consider this to be something to hold against Carlos though, he was magnificent all season.

  5. I still believe that Sainz are better than Hulkenberg but I can understand this rank. If only Sainz never jump ship, no one would place him lower than Hulkenberg who done nothing but prove that he was better than the worst driver in the grid.

  6. In previous years, I found the ranking of Sainz a little too high. This year, my first reaction is it is now a little too low. Being more or less on the same level as Hülkenberg since he moved to Renault mid season, makes me think he should be at least be ranked higher than Hülkenberg. Although he made a few more costly errors this year, true. So when Hülkenberg is ranked 9th, I am okay with this, I guess.

  7. Speed-wise he should be higher, but considering his race-ending mistakes in Bahrain, Canada and Japan plus race-destroying event in Mexico this is well in the range where he belongs.

    1. @bleu
      I agree. The worrying thing for him is that he hasn’t cut those big mistakes out yet. Canada in particular was a real shocker, although I personally don’t read much into his crash in Japan.

      He always had pace – you could see that from his comparison with Verstappen.

  8. I agree with this ranking, and it only goes to show how good this F1 field is. Sainz is somewhat stalling, but then again that’s only based on a third season at STR, which would cause anyone to stall. I bet this winter at Renault and the new impetus of facing someone like Hulkenburg will definitely stop his stall and kickstart him again. On the basis of his season it’s about right, but I expect him higher next season.

    1. it only goes to show how good this F1 field is

      Fully agree – I wouldn’t kick any of them out of my car. And also a nice mix of old ‘stayers’ and new talent.

  9. Given all the hype that Verstappen came in the sport with, i was a bit biased towards Sainz from the beginning of his career (I didn’t know much about his father’s success in Rally at the time), but he’s kindly proven me right. Still has to tidy some things up here and there but i see no reason that he can’t be a champion in the future. I believe he has the ability to fight off the very promising talents of Verstappen, Ocon and Leclerc, and will definitely be in the mix for world titles as soon as he’s given the car for it. Very excited honestly, the future of the sport seems to be in good condition driver wise.

  10. The midfield is obviously quite competitive, which makes it hard to judge both Sainz and Hulkenberg, who had the two lowest ranked drivers as their resp. teammates.
    I feel Sainz’ highs exceed Hulkenbergs highs, but he also has more lows during his season, so a case could be made for either being in front of the other.
    However, if you see how superior Sainz has been compared to Kvyat, and even outscoring quicker cars regularly, I find it hard to rate him lower than Bottas, who has much more experience and has been seriously outclassed by Hamilton during most of the season.

    My ranking of the midfield would be something like this:

    6. Pérez
    7. Ocon
    8. Sainz Jr
    9. Hulkenberg
    10. Bottas

    Leaving HAM/VER/VET/RIC/ALO as the top 5 (probably in that order)

    1. However, if you see how superior Sainz has been compared to Kvyat, and even outscoring quicker cars regularly, I find it hard to rate him lower than Bottas,

      Interesting point of view @actascedin. I think I concur.

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      13th December 2017, 11:25

      Yeah but Bottas drives a Mercedes so he’ll be in the top 5 regardless. I’d drop Perez and Ocon a couple of places as well. On pure performance, they have been great but considering a big part of F1 is working as a team, there is certainly room for improvement! Ocon will want to join a top team but initially, that’s going to be in a number 2 position – would Vettel, Verstappen or Hamilton be happy to have someone like Ocon as a team mate at the moment?

      1. I really hope bottas will NOT be in the top 5, it would be insane if alonso isn’t there and also I’m gonna hope at least one of ocon and perez can be in front of him, I think we can all agree he didn’t do better than every single midfield driver except alonso!

    3. @actascedin +1 I have exactly the same 6-10

    4. I agree but I’d drop Ricciardo below Perez, Ocon and Sainz. If you take away Verstappen’s bad luck this season would have looked really bad for Ric. (Which is part of the reason why I don’t think RB will be too bothered about his contract, if he leaves, well, they’ve got Sainz, who is just as good, perhaps better.)

      1. @tflb

        If you take away Verstappen’s bad luck this season would have looked really bad for Ric

        Not really. Sure, they would have been close, but Ricciardo retired 6 times this season and Verstappen 7. Out of those six retirements, I believe at least three-four were from promising positions. Ricciardo finished 32 points ahead of Verstappen…so yeah, Verstappen would have probably beaten him with equal good luck (like Ric had in Baku), but it definitely wouldn’t have “looked really bad” for him.

        Ricciardo had a pretty consistent season with some really good drives like in Austria and Italy.

        1. Indeed, verstappen comes out on top if you exclude reliability for both, but not by such a huge margin, ricciardo drove a great season, not as good as verstappen but definitely a top driver.

    5. @actascedin

      I don’t remember Bottas crashing out, especially three times.

      Perhaps he was motivated to take more risks than Bottas, but three DNF is too many.

      1. Fair point @slotopen. Especially his “collision” (driving into) with Stroll was a very clumsy one.
        Remains quite difficult, ranking & rating F1-drivers!

  11. @actascedin +1 I have exactly the same 6-10

  12. I think Sainz is likely to be remembered as one of the unluckiest timed careers in F1. I suspect Sainz is up on the level of Riccardo or Vettel. Without Verstappen as a team mate he’d likely be prepping for his 2018 promotion to Red Bull.

    1. @philipgb Thoroughly agree. He will get a race-winning car though, I’m sure of that, either with Renault or at Red Bull when Ricciardo leaves.

    2. @philipgb Much as I rate Sainz and agree with the underlying part of your argument, Sainz would not be comparable to Vettel. People really go out of their way to forget he’s a four time World Champion in an incredibly competitive field. Sainz will probably never be world champion.

      1. @hahostolze

        I’m not forgetting anything. He’s an awesome driver, who I would only place Alonso, Hamilton, and Verstappen ahead of.

        I’m also not allowing the 2014 blip of Ricciardo beating him factor to heavily and consider them both right up there just a smidge behind the top 3. And I’m speculating Sainz is there or thereabouts with them.

      2. Don’t see why sainz wouldn’t win a single championship, do you think vettel would win any title in the cars sainz drove so far?

        Conversely, do you not see sainz winning a couple of titles at least with vettel’s 2010-2013 cars?

    3. Without Verstappen as a team mate he’d likely be prepping for his 2018 promotion to Red Bull.

      I even think that without Verstappen he was already promoted to Red Bull Racing this year.

  13. Sainz saved himself a pit stop and rose to fourth where he finished. No Toro Rosso driver has done better than that since Sebastian Vettel’s Italian Grand Prix win nine years ago

    This fact looks a bit better without mentioning the two 4th places Verstappen got, back in 2015 at Toro Rosso.

    1. And if we were to be honest, Verstappen’s fourth at Hungary 2015 wasn’t that impressive, but his drive to fourth in Austin 2015 was one of the drives of the season.

  14. Contrasting sharply with this were a trio of race-ending errors. He wiped out Lance Stroll in Bahrain, then did the same to the other Williams driver in Canada.

    And yet the “other Williams driver” is ranked 3 places below him

    1. Probably because “the other Williams driver” spent the vast majority of the season driving like he had forgotten he hadn’t retired…

  15. The Grim Reaper
    13th December 2017, 16:14

    Sainz is, maybe surprisingly, rated first of the 2017 season in f1metrics which is not perfect, but is 100% free of human bias. Myself I wouldn’t have that high but quite surely in the top 4 (and mind you, neither 5 nor 44 made my personal top 4 this season, though they are 2nd and 4th in f1metrics)

    The main problem with the f1metric model is that the RB/TR cluster is thinly connected with the rest, the main connection was the 2014 pairing of Vettel and Ricciardo (thoroughly dominated by DR as you may remember) so it props up the whole cluster. But 2014 was an uncharacteristical bad season for Vettel, so the scores for Sainz, Verstappen, Kivyat and Ricciardo are may be a bit overcooked.

    f1metrics top 5: Sainz, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Ricciardo
    FWIW, my personal top 5: Verstappen, Alonso, Sainz, Ricciardo, Perez

    1. I’ve read f1 metrics one already and I think both your top 5s lack something! His lacks verstappen, who I think was better than sainz and ricciardo for sure, despite the car advantage on sainz.

      And his lacks hamilton, ofc he had a mercedes but he had a great season and I expect to see him in the top 3.

      1. I meant yours lacks hamilton.

        1. The Grim Reaper
          16th December 2017, 2:46

          The author of f1metrics goes to some lenght explaining why the model picked Ricciardo about Verstappen although this seems unfair. In a word, all DNFs are equally discounted by the model, but MV’s DNFs were more costly than DR’s ones.

          And well, like you say of course 44 drove a Merc. All I can say is that 44 did better than Valteri Bottas, but I can’t be sure about anybody else.

  16. I have a feeling the errors won’t go easily, they’ve been there his entire career. I watched the GP3 season where Kvyat destroyed him and won the championship, while Sainz didn’t even win a race, always getting into incidents. His drive in Monaco was outstanding, when he gets in a grove he’s massively quick and consistent.

    1. @jmc200 This is a very good point. Sainz is a very hot-and-cold driver. His youth career was like that. Winning the FR3.5 title he either won a race or didn’t finish on the podium. That is remarkably inconsistent (compare with, say, Esteban Ocon in GP3, who won the title by being so consistent) and his F1 career has been the same, peaks and valleys. When he’s hot, he is probably capable of challenging the very best in the sport. It’s just that he also blows cold, and when he does he’s a rather anonymous midfielder. His three years in F1 have shown no signs of that changing, and as long as it doesn’t, 10th is about right.

  17. Good driver, but with 3 seasons under his belt he still didn’t do anything as impressive as Verstappen on his first season.
    He was praised mainly because he isn’t bad enough to be dropped and this was to be the his last year with Toro Rosso since ever, so they needed to find him another seat and throw him a bone for his good work as being out of Toro Rosso and not going to the main team but staying at F1 is still a big achievement and he is the first one ever to do it.

  18. I think 10th is just right for Sainz. Those who think he should be just a bit higher, I don’t think I’d strongly disagree. But those who think he should have been rated much higher haven’t really taken into account his poor races. It has to be said that it is a negative to have been responsible for 3 of your own retirements. The only other driver who has been responsible for 3 of their own retirements is Ericsson I think who is often regarded as the worst driver on the grid (although I donb’t think that). And on top of this, Sainz has knocked out 2 other drivers as well. Resulting in him causing 5 retirements over the season. This is unfortunately more than any other driver on the grid. Even Kvyat has actually only been responsible for his own retirement once. He has knocked 3 other drivers out, but that still doesn’t add up to the amount of times his team mate was responsible for a car crashing out.

    The other area I would question about Sainz is his qualifying pace. Many say he’s on the level of Verstappen and Ricciardo. I personally don’t think he’s very close at all, although it could change. Kvyat has looked very even against Sainz in this area. And when Kvyat was with Ricciardo at Red Bull, Ricciardo simply dominated him in qualifying. I am quite sure Sainz will be closer than Kvyat was then, but nothing like as close as many seem to be suggesting.

    On the positive side, there are plenty of great performances by Sainz. And that is demonstrated by the amount of points he has even with the odd few poor weekends. This indicates he’s got lots of these big points in fewer races so he does seem to partly make up for this. I’d say he had about as many great weekends as Bottas. Bottas had plenty of weekends that were nothing special but he hasn’t had any disastrous races. And he hasn’t been responsible for his own or anyone else’s retirement, unlike Sainz. I struggle to understand the people who would rate Bottas behind Sainz this season. Bottas has on at leased 25% of this season done a better job that who many say is the best driver on the grid. He’s also managed to get 84% of Hamilton’s points. That is not bad for someone who is new to the team.

    If Sainz had just had just one of these poor races, I would rate him higher than I have and if he hadn’t been at fault for any at all, he would probably go up to 7th or higher on my list. He has had lots of good performances but his incidents have looked like some of the worst from any driver this year and the mix of both of these makes just in the top 10 a very realistic place to me.

  19. P9 in the championship, top 10 with the worst car!!!

  20. I might agree with some that he deserved more, but overall sainz, hulkenberg, ocon and perez had a good season and were the best midfield drivers, hard to separate them, however I think the fact kvyat was so close to him in qualifying wasn’t a minus point for sainz cause kvyat was lacking pace and made mistakes in races, in qualifying he could be as fast as he’s ever been.

  21. @esploratore, The Grim Reaper, in my opinion, F1metrics is interesting, but certainly not really without any bias.
    The bias is in what the model captures and wat not, and in weighing them against teammates to get a ranking. The author does try to explain the consequences and difficulties, but that does not remove them.

    Mistakes by sainz that ended his and other’s races, for example, aren’t taken into account at all,while Vettel is effectively rewarded for ending ahead of Hamilton in Mexico,and his Singapore is just a ‘dnf’ too, thus not counted. It also fails to capture Verstappen usually having been well ahead of Riccardo when he DNF’ed. And while the model for the first time now includes some attempt at understanding that drivers are not always as strong every year, it is very crude, and can’t capture things like Kvyat just choking after Red Bull. Pretty certain this elevates sainz a bit more. It might be bringing down Vettel (via Raikkonen).

    And then, the author mentions that his top four needed him to look at three digits to get distance between them, rather than conclude it was too close to call, given the data and the model uncertainty, not to mention those blindspots.

    So, a very interesting attempt, but it really misses a good feeling for the unknowns and inaccuracies that would give you reasonable uncertainty intervals to go with those driver points, to make it solid data.

    1. @bosyber No model is 100% accurate and this is no exception. However, I think it’s quite good given the data limitations. In particular Sainz is being overrated due to Kvyat’s under-performance, but that’s not something the model can possibly correct for. However, in the long run, the importance of Sainz’ results against Kvyat will diminish, so his rating will become more reliable (and probably lower too).

      Vettel is effectively rewarded for ending ahead of Hamilton in Mexico,and his Singapore is just a ‘dnf’ too, thus not counted.

      Drivers are weighted against their teammates, so both Vettel’s and Hamilton’s ratings were affected in Mexico, though Hamilton’s rating suffered more. Vettel’s Singapore DNF was self-induced, so the model did penalize him.

      1. @f1infigures Oh I agree with that, and think the model does catch most of the drivers pretty decently. As in all listings of drivers, the problem comes in how to judge race-affecting collisions, set-up issues/small reliability that hits one driver more than the other (which we don’t always know – ie. partly lack of data), I think.

        But, my biggest issue is, since the attempt at creating an algorithm that fits to the reality as well as possible given data and modelling limitations gives it a feel of scientific rigor (and I do see a lot of solid work went into creating it with a scientific approach), it really needs a better indication of confidence intervals to go with a drivers points.

        That might show Sainz on top, but with large uncertainty in the value of the points, which might bring Hamilton, Verstappen and Alonso, and probably Vettel effectively even with him, within the models accuracy. It certainly should address some of the Ricciardo vs. Verstappen issues – due to there just being less data on them, the uncertainty in their ranking would show their scores are actually closer together.

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