Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Interlagos, 2019

2019 F1 driver rankings #3: Carlos Sainz Jnr

2019 F1 season review

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After moving to a team which struggled badly at the end of last season, and being paired with a much-hyped new talent, 2019 could have gone badly wrong for Carlos Sainz Jnr.

When his Renault power unit packed up on its 10th lap of the season-opening race, condemning him from the outset to grid penalties later in the year, it seemed things were indeed starting go pear-shaped. Or, given he’s a McLaren driver, perhaps that should be ‘papaya’.

But this story was destined to end very differently. Although his faltering start to the season continued over the next two races, which were spoiled by clashes with Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat, once Sainz got a grip on the situation he became the midfield’s most formidable force.

The McLaren driver scored points in all bar one of the remaining races before the summer break. This included Austria, where those engine penalties left him 19th on the grid, yet he climbed to a superb eighth. A recovery drive like this is routine if you’ve got a Mercedes or Ferrari at your disposal, but a different matter entirely in McLaren – and it wasn’t the last time Sainz performed such a feat.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Hockenheimring, 2019
Sainz deserved more in Germany
He spun off early on in the rain at Hockenheim but recovered well – so much so he chose not to gamble the fifth place he was holding late in the race by pitting for slick tyres. Had he done so he might have taken his first podium, but given the team’s championship situation it was completely understandable that they took the safe option.

Sainz began ‘part two’ of the season much the same way as he started the championship, with three poor results. Technical problems spoiled his race at Spa, and he was hit by Hulkenberg in Singapore, but in Italy he created his own problem by leaving his pit box before being released.

However he hit his stride again soon after and re-established himself as the leading force in the midfield. Had the Safety Car not come out in Russia he probably would have beaten Albon’s Red Bull; He did manage to beat Leclerc’s recovering Ferrari in Japan.

Carlos Sainz Jnr

Beat team mate in qualifying 10/20
Beat team mate in race 9/14
Races finished 17/21
Laps spent ahead of team mate 600/982
Qualifying margin +0.5
Points 96

In Brazil he overcame ill luck in qualifying – a power unit left him last on the grid – and charged up to the sharp end of the field. Though aided by retirements and a couple of Safety Cars, Sainz’s skilful defence from Raikkonen at the end of the race on badly-worn tyres earned him a superb podium finish.

His confidence high, Sainz gambled on a two-stop strategy to fight his way back into the points places at Yas Marina. A last-lap lunge on Nico Hulkenberg secured the final point and an expected but fully-deserved sixth place in the drivers’ championship.

This was fitting, and not just because Sainz led the midfield home six times, more than any other driver. He also ended the season ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon, the Red Bull and Toro Rosso drivers who swapped seats at mid-season.

Red Bull ought to reflect on how they managed to let Sainz slip through their fingers following his stint as Verstappen’s team mate at Toro Rosso. As this year showed, he measures up better against him than either of the drivers Red Bull have promoted since he left their junior team.

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What’s your verdict on Carlos Sainz Jnr’s 2019 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.

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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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56 comments on “2019 F1 driver rankings #3: Carlos Sainz Jnr”

  1. Amazing year, although I rate Leclerc’s one more outstanding. I would have swapped these two, but doesn’t change too much.

    (Long story: McLaren should have aimed to fourth from the beginning and to do so their drivers should have been best of the rest. So I think he’s well positioned inside the range of its target. On the other hand, Leclerc’s poles and victories are a over what one could have expected from him)

  2. Sainz would have been a perfect partner for Verstappen…ehm.
    Wish him all the luck at McLaren, if he can stay beyond 2020, he surely has grown as a driver.

    The 2019 season was good and based on maximizing results P3 is impressive, but to be honest, he’s probably not a top 5 driver based on potential.

  3. Sainz had a superb season for sure, easily his best in f1. I would put Leclerc adove him still as the pressure to perform at McLaren is nothing compared with Ferrari. Interesting comments about red bull and I agree he would be their best number 2. No one of the quality of sainz or riciardo want to put themselves in that situation though so while max is there, I think they’re stuck with 2nd tier drivers in their 2nd car.

    If McLaren can close the gap to the top 3 I suspect we’ll start to see Carlos’s limits more clearly, as its obvious with bottas for example. Definitely a top driver and worthy of a top team, I’m just not sure he’s WDC material. Would love it if he proves me wrong!

  4. I find it hard to rate Sainz. Last year he was outraced and outqualified by teammate Hülkenberg, while the same Hülkenberg lost out to Ricciardo this year. Assuming Hülkenberg was a constant factor (which is debatable), then Ricciardo is still a fair share better than Sainz and losing Ricciardo was worse for Red Bull than losing Sainz. I can only wonder what Alonso could have done with this year’s McLaren…

    1. @matthijsI honestly find it bizarre when seeing this whole of driver A was slower than B, and now C is beating B, so driver A must be slow argument. These are world class drivers that are extremely specific in how they like their handling dealing with extraordinarily complex machines. That Renault was built around Hulkenberg and it’s obvious that Sainz has a different style. Seeing Ricciardo fare better shows nothing more than the fact that Ricciardo adapted better to that specific car.

      1. “That Renault was built around Hulkenberg” — didn’t seem to bother Ricciardo, who is ranked far below Sainz this year because his car happens to be worse.

        1. That’s why I said it shows nothing more than the fact that Ricciardo adapted better.

        2. @krommenaas, the larger number of accidents that Ricciardo had during the course of 2019 is a justifiable reason to rank him lower than Sainz (whichever way you cut it, reversing into Kvyat in Baku was a pretty bad mistake by Ricciardo).

    2. Also @matthijs that question about Alonso is exactly why I rate Sainz high this season. If you switched Sainz with Alonso this season, it would have been the exact same story. Alonso might have produced some more fun moments but overall it would have been very similar in the points and standings.
      If however, it was Sainz WITH Alonso, then Sainz would have been right behind him the whole season (which is pretty good too)

      1. Those are just your speculations. It’s also possible that Alonso would have outpaced and outscored Sainz as much as he did Vandoorne, or even as much as he did Raikkonen.

        1. Impossible, sainz was excellent; alonso is strong but he can’t do miracles, as in beat ferrari or red bull with that mclaren, he’d have just got a few more points overall.

        2. Trust me I rank Alonso really really high (so much that I’d create controversy in the comments lol) but like I said a couple of more points and 6th in the standings is the absolute limit

    3. What Alonso could have done? Easy: “Poison the well” with his toxicity and keep the entire team from performing, and improving, for fear of angering/displeasing the crybaby.

      If there’s anything to be said that has changed at McLaren for 2019, it is that their drivers have brought in a huge amount of positivity and naivete of youth. Both drivers are more concerned that they get the maximum performance out of their own cars, not that they get preferential treatment compared to their teammate, while simultaneously fuming with jealousy that there are faster cars on the grid.

      1. Cranberry, from what ex-McLaren staff have said about the attitude of the management before Zak Brown was hired, it sounds like the real problems with “toxicity” came from the senior management within McLaren and from Ron Dennis’s attempts to cling on to power against the complaints of the other shareholders in the team.

        In particular, people had been complaining about McLaren’s technical department for years before Alonso joined – complaints go back to at least 2012, and indeed many had been commenting on the internal politicking and infighting when Perez was there in 2013.

        Those problems could stretch back into the mid to late 2000s even – Newey didn’t leave McLaren on great terms after repeated clashes with Ron on how to run the technical department, suggesting there were already signs of friction within McLaren that went back to 2005. Complaints of there being too many “yes men”, combined with interfering and overbearing managers overworking their staff, were circulating in the early 2010s, long before Alonso went there.

        To me, the rot had set in at McLaren long before Alonso joined because the senior management didn’t want to engage in long overdue reforms, knowing that it would place their own roles at risk – McLaren simply papered over it for a long time with Mercedes’s money and then, when they withdrew, used Honda’s funding to try and cover up the cracks.

        Rather than causing that toxicity, it looks more like Alonso moved to McLaren at the point where the whole rotten edifice started to collapse due to internal strains that had been there for years and could no longer be hidden by throwing more money or resources at it.

    4. Well have you considered that in 2018:

      1. Sainz first year in Renault while it’s Hulk 2nd year. Obviously the car is made to suit / according to Hulk suggestions more.

      2. Sainz is only loaned from Red Bull, not a true Renault driver. Thus they don’t have any incentive to investing in him.

      3. Related to above, we don’t know if the team is 100% backing / supporting him, especially since there’s a big possibility he can bring some Renault engine secret to Honda and to make matter worse the relation between Red Bull and Renault already nuked to oblivion.

      Judging Sainz vs Hulk in 2018 without considering those factors that heavily against Sainz is just misleading.

  5. It’s difficult to say with no proper comparison though. He struggled to beat a rookie. So how much of Sainz’ “great performance” is simply the result of the McLaren being the clear best of the rest rather than Sainz’ own performance?

    1. Struggled? He got twice the points Norris got. They were evenly matched on qualy performance but come race day Sainz was a quantum leap ahead.

      1. Yes struggled. The points don’t say much. He was outqualified and Sainz wasn’t tyhat much better on race day. Sainz didn’t finish ahead that much more often.

    2. My instinct is leaning towards thinking that both Sainz and Norris were flattered by the competitiveness of the car and by the fact neither of them are top level. Sainz beat Norris, Norris wasn’t embarrassed by Sainz… very different to Leclerc beating Vettel (despite his apparent decline) or Bottas not being embarrassed by Hamilton.

      But I did put Sainz equal #5 in my own little list, so I don’t think his season is being over-inflated too much… just enough to raise my eyebrows.

      1. @neilosjames Perhaps they both were flattered yes. At the very least I would put Russel above both of them.

        I don;t get this one though:

        Bottas not being embarrassed by Hamilton

        He was though. Bottas is not a rookie and yet he finished ahead only in one third of the races. Even worse, Hamilton took 75% of the wins for Mercedes

        Do you ascribe that much to rookie status of Leclerc that you then categorize Vettel and Leclerc performing pretty much on par as “Leclerc beating Vettel”

  6. Looking at the horror show that is Renault, the massive consistency issues HAAS are having (both in driver and machinery…), the entire financial saga’s of Force India/Racing Point and Sauber/Alfa Romeo – McLaren have no excuses for being well clear of the mid-field now.

    Did Sainz make the most of that? Absolutely. Did he have much in the way of competition/pressure? Not so sure…

  7. It is the overall progress of McLaren that’s the source of optimism here. Sainz Jnr is a part of that.

  8. If you put Sainz in a Ferrari, I doubt he would have done as well as Leclerc … so in my opinion Leclerc should be #3

    1. when justifying your opinion, you can’t just state another assumption as a reason. My question to you is why you think Sainz would not do as well as Charles – I don’t disagree, just wondering what your premise is.

    2. If we could transfer Sainz’s performance on the Midfield to the top three, I guess he would be 3rd in the WDC, isn’t that about right?

  9. Red Bull ought to reflect on how they managed to let Sainz slip through their fingers

    They loaned him to Renault and then unceremoniously dropped him for absolutely no good reason. All their own doing so not much to reflect on, just bad management.

    1. I believe Marko and Horner thought they could keep Danny Ric or that Gasly can get to the same level as Carlos, so they let Sainz go. Also, Carlos didn’t want to stay at TorroRosso for too long and tried to find his own path (the other RBR seat seemed locked in by Riciardo back then). The combination of these things made it the way it is now, not sure that was bad management or just how things go in F1.

      1. @gechichan, I would agree that they seemed to be caught completely off guard by Ricciardo signing for Renault – even Renault seem to have been a bit surprised that Ricciardo accepted their offer.

        The attitude Red Bull seem to have had when going into those negotiations was that they thought Ricciardo wasn’t prepared to leave the team, giving them the upper hand. From the statements they made afterwards, it sounds as if they had no contingency plans and Gasly wasn’t really being prepared as a potential replacement, as it seems they’d assumed they’d have at least another year to train him up.

    2. Sainz was destroyed by Verstappen though. So I guess it makes sense they felt no need keeping Sainz around. They just wanted him in the program still so they could collect the “education payoff” if someone wanted to scoop up Sainz.

  10. He is not a strong qualifier, but definitely one of the most consistent on the grid. Largely underrated by many F1 fans…

    1. About the exact opposite what people said about him before.

  11. Last year Sainz was beaten by Hulkenberg, who is now ranked #15.

    Option 1) Sainz’ skills massively improved and/or Hulkenberg’s massively deteriorated in just 1 year.
    Option 2) These aren’t really driver ratings, these are mostly car ratings.

    Apply Ockham’s razor.

    1. …or Option 3) Some drivers thrive in different cars and / or environments.

      eg, compare HH Frentzen in a ‘97 & ‘98 Williams (poor) v a ‘99 Jordan (excelled). Or G Fisichella in a ‘09 Force India (excelled) v a ‘09 Ferrari (poor).

      Direct comparisons based on previous seasons don’t tell the full story.

      1. Historically this is what we have always seen in non-expert driver ratings: if a car improves unexpectedly, they think it’s the driver. (see also: losing to a great driver means you’re not good)

        Sainz is too old and too experienced too improve considerably and we know from all the previous driver matchups that he is probably performing close to Hulkenberg level, be it above or below.

        Option 3) works as an idea, but not so much in practice.
        Drivers don’t exactly thrive in different cars or environments as they’re driving near their potential most of the time. A driver can’t suddenly give more than he’s got, but occasionally drivers do underperform and can’t give it their best due to circumstances.

        In your example ’99 Jordan was a case of Hill underperforming and Frentzen just going back to the form he had for most of his career.

        1. P. S. There is also the case of Norris, a rookie who still has a lot to learn and yet is already matching Sainz in speed, if not in racecraft. Given the average rate of improvement with age and experience (and the fact Sainz is probably near his peak) the only logical conclusion is that Norris will dominate the sport in a few years time.

          1. No, norris is NOT gonna dominant the sport in a few years time at all.

          2. I’m afraid you’re making a lot of conclusions and logical leaps that don’t necessarily reflect the truth in most cases. Driver performance is affected by many variables and can’t be quantified/characterized quite so objectively. Gasly is an excellent example of the chaos theory.

    2. @krommenaas I’m going for option 2. Although it’s also generally true that the better drivers will end up in the better cars.

  12. Race winner soon.

  13. One of the worst preconceptions some get about Sainz’s season is that “he was simply flattered by the car”; “he couldn’t beat a rookie over the season and therefore he just profitted from clearly the most superior machinery in the midfield.” I disagree with those assumptions simply because McLaren didn’t have a great nor a superior car compared to the midfield – their car was the most balanced and performing well within the widest spectrum of the tracks, but even on some of their “stronger tracks” there were cars quicker than them. I can recall several instances when Toro Rosso, Renault and Racing Point were visibly quicker, but then were nowhere the next race; and even when McLaren had a great weekend, there was still someone from the midfield threatening them. Sainz has great drives in Austria, Brazil, could have got a podium as early as Bahrain and his drive for the final point to secure him the 6th in the Driver’s is just memorable for me. All these moments weren’t about car, he wouldn’t have got in front of Hulkenberg on the last lap in Abu Dhabi if he hadn’t tried the dive, an it was hell of impressive in that moment. And it wasn’t the only time this season. I’d simply say McLaren suits him way better than his previous outfit.

    1. Agree 100%
      Sainz had a great season and showed his skill. No need to sell him short.

    2. @pironitheprovocateur I guess you just say this stuff to troll/provoke, but whatever it is you are doing you are wrong as usual. McLaren clearly did have the 4th best car. Sainz has never really been impressive (destroyed by Verstappen and Hulkenberg). Norris is an unkown and most likely simply not that good.

  14. Fully deserved a top 5 ranking in my opinion, very few mistakes and maximised his opportunities. A lot of drivers below him in this list made a lot of mistakes that cost them points. I think some of you need to assess what you take from these lists. For me they’re a ranking of a drivers performance across this season and for that you have to take into account raw performance level, consistency, maximising your potential opportunities and minimising errors. When taking that into account its hard to argue that anyone is more than a couple of places apart from where they should be. Sure some drivers rank High every year it seems but thats because they are the most consistent performers in cars that allow them to shine. Ever consider part of a driver make up is being able to get yourself one of those seats.

  15. GtisBetter (@)
    24th December 2019, 0:38

    Personally I rate leclerc higher this season. He jumped in the crazy world of ferrari F1 and showed everybody how it’s done. That takes tremendous skill and confidence. Sainz did good most of the time, but he is like Perez and Bottas. Great for midfield, not for a world championship. That is why RB dumped him. It might look that RB let him slip, but they are kind of weird that way. You are either a world champion or you are filler till they find the next world champion.

  16. Sainz isn’t a top 5 driver. If he was still a Red Bull driver, he might not even be in their top 5.

  17. Unbelievable! How can Sainz Jr be 3rd yet the team mate that demolished him be out of f1. How can you rate a steady driver higher than druvers that have actually proved to have exceeded their cars capabilities. The McLaren is an unknown quantity, and McLaren was a bit patchy. Hulk dropped the ball yet he has proved to be far quicker than Sainz jr and so has Verstappen hence why RB llet sainz jr go. Not good enougb for RB, dropped by Renault because he was too slow, often as was the case with str, 20s slower than his team mate over race pace. Mclaren hired him because he has good sponsors and McLaren was well outside the points last season, Sainz jr was the best mclaren could get. people rate Sainz Jr based on McLaren’s perceived lack of quality and perceive his steadyness as solidity. you get beaten in Q by a rookie, have a bad track record in f1 yet you are 3rd best driver of the season… Spanish bias, is the only reason, the most overrates f1 of the past 30 years is loved by media. I’m sure Zak is still wondering what can the new McLaren do with a top driver.

    1. @peartree, so, now the sport has to be biased towards Spaniards in order to fit with your prejudices?

      Funny how the sport always seems to be biased in a different way when you need to find a reason for a result that you don’t like. Firstly it must be biased towards the Brits, then towards Germans, then towards Spaniards – at this rate, you seem to be on course to claim that it is biased towards every single nationality and team under the sun.

  18. McLaren has quite a good pair of drivers now. Good for them.

    I disagree with 3rd rank though. He does not seem that good. More like 5-7.

  19. Am I the only one who’s noticed that almost every entry on this list so far includes “tangled with Kvyat” or similar?

  20. I find it weird that some people criticize this standing on the basis of percieved talent based on previous year. Whether Sainz is WDC material or not, he just had a great year, made fewers mistakes than most and got some stand-out features, including a podium, some great moves and 6th in WDC. And being tied in quali may look bad but let’s remember that even Alonso praised Norris speed. Sainz 2019 has been outstanding in my book, fully deserved and I wouldn’t swap him with other drivers bar maybe Leclerc.

    1. @spoutnik

      he just had a great year

      The thing is, why would a driver suddenly be great when he never shown much greatness before? So it’s more likely due to him having a relatively great car.

      1. @f1osaurus I’m more thinking about other’s seasons and tend to appreciate Sainz’s one. He is probably not the new Hamilton and had a good car but he had a very nice season nonetheless. He exceeded expectations and hardly put a foot wrong, cumulating standout features to end up the year in the best position possible despite some bad luck. So to me, just a great car doesn’t explain all that but I understand your point.

      2. @f1osaurus, the thing is, a lot of comments from people here almost seem to treat driver performance as if it is fixed and, if a driver was good one year, he would always outperform that driver to the same extent.

        Now, whilst it is certainly true that the rate of improvement of performance tails off after a few years, most statistical studies have shown that driver performance can still vary quite noticeably from year to year – maybe as much as 10% either way from what might be considered an approximate “baseline” performance.

        It’s why I have a certain question over whether relying on performance over a single season is necessarily the best thing, as individual seasons may show one trend whilst multiple seasons together might show a different trend.

        1. F1oSaurus (@)
          26th December 2019, 9:38

          He can have a better or worse year than before, but is Sainz suddenly justifiable #3 ranked better? No.

  21. Carlos impressed a lot this season and he deserves all the praise the can get. He’s proof that you can shine if you’re given the chance and he hadn’t had that chance till now.
    I always find it odd the weight some people give to qualifying battles. Unless it’s a Williams situation in which you have nothing else to rely on for comparison, I find qualifying battles to be at most a curiosity.
    You can beat your teammate black and blue on Saturday but if he got the best of you on Sunday he beat you. There’s no getting around that.

    1. Leria Va , I suspect that the “qualifying battle” is given prominence because it is a simple metric to understand and it appears to give a single definitive answer.

      It appears to answer the question of which driver is faster over a single lap than the other, and is used as a proxy for who is quicker – though it has to be said that it is an incomplete assessment and one that does tend to be quite often oversimplified, particularly when compared to the rather messier evaluation of performance over a race distance.

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