Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Interlagos, 2019

‘There’s been plenty of good performances – but there’s also other years I’ve performed at my best’

Driver performance analysis: Carlos Sainz Jnr

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Carlos Sainz Jnr enjoyed a tremendous 2019 season, and snatched an unlikely career-best of sixth in the drivers’ championship.

He did it by wielding what was probably McLaren’s best car since the V6 hybrid turbo era began, rising above its occasional technical glitches, and out-pacing a highly-tipped young team mate. Sainz also capitalised on a mid-season driver swap at Red Bull – the team which should perhaps have taken a more serious look at his potential before letting him slip through their fingers.

Sainz and Lando Norris were very closely matched in qualifying over the season. But on race day Sainz’s greater experience told, and his consistent points-scoring meant that by the end of the season he had almost twice his team mate’s tally.

Qualifying: Lap time

The lower the lines, the better the driver performed

By RaceFans’ count – which excludes occasions where a driver failed to set a time – Sainz and Norris ended the year tied 10-10 in qualifying. If Sainz’s inability to set a time in the Brazilian Grand Prix is counted against him then Norris emerges as a narrow winner.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Landio Norris, McLaren, 2019
Sainz and Norris tied 10-10 in qualifying
Sainz was quick to praise Norris, whose qualifying performances were often a strength in his junior career. “For my side it’s not frustrating,” said Sainz. “Actually I think it’s great news for a team to have a guy that pushes you all the way through the year.

“Lando has done a great job in qualifying this year. He’s been very quick at every point during the season.”

The lap time difference matters more, Sainz argued, and by the second half of the season he had a clear upper hand here.

“I think you guys look a bit too deep into these numbers because there’s always two or three qualifying [sessions] a year where someone is unlucky, you don’t even take part in qualifying because you have an engine penalty.

“So honestly, these 21 races, there’s so many things that happen I think you guys give this battle a big hype and sometimes you don’t even take part in three qualifying [sessions] and you put it as three-zero for someone. You try and hype it up. What is important is that Lando and I have been within a tenth or within a couple of times with each other. And I think that makes [team principal] Andreas Seidl here happy.”

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Race: Start versus finish

McLaren steadily built on their performance during the year, and by the latter stages of the season the orange cars were even spotted in among the front runners at the start of races. They didn’t have the pace to stay with them, however, and beating their closer midfield rivals was always the priority.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Red Bull Ring, 2019
Sainz charged forwards in Austria
Sainz said that reflected the car’s slight weakness in race performance compared to over a single flying lap in qualifying.

“I am super happy to overtake [the front runners] and give them a bit of a run, but then I’m obviously also frustrated to not be able to hold on to them for very long,” he said.

“That’s why I say that also in qualifying we are eight tenths, one second [away]. In race pace that translates into a bit worse tyres management, a bit worse feeling with the car and that gap probably increases.

“It just shows that we need to keep working in this direction and keep making the car stronger mainly also for a for race pace, because that’s what’s going to allow us to hold onto them.”

Sainz regularly capitalised on his top 10 qualifying positions to deliver the points finishes which were available. And on two notable occasions – Austria and Brazil – he recovered superbly from technical problems in qualifying to score some of his best results of the year. In Brazil, aided by Lewis Hamilton’s penalty, he took a superb third place, his best result to date and McLaren’s first top-three finish for five years.

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Race: Share of points

Race: Results versus other drivers

Sainz was the driver to beat in the midfield this year, and showed every sign of being able to start troubling the ‘big three’ teams if McLaren’s new car is quick enough. While many saw it as a breakthrough season for him, he believes he’s shown similar potential earlier in his career.

“This year there’s been plenty of good performances,” he said. “Good starts, good first laps, good qualifying laps. I would pick a lot of this year. But there’s also been other years where I’ve performed at my best.”

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Author information

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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14 comments on “‘There’s been plenty of good performances – but there’s also other years I’ve performed at my best’”

  1. With a track record of being beaten by teammates, I would try to bury “other years”.

    1. Heh @peartree – I do think Norris will aim to clearly beat Sainz in quali this season, and not let him run the race just one place ahead in the race as they often ended the first stint this year (which then translated into Sainz having a better strategy, and/or tyre management to hold on to that position while Norris held or dropped off).

    2. Dutchguy (@justarandomdutchguy)
      6th February 2020, 11:45

      One of these teammates was Verstappen, and TBH, he didn’t exactly get completely blown away by him (or Hülkenberg) either. He also beat the more experienced Kvyat by a fairly massive margin in 2016/2017.

      1. it’s true that he wasn’t that far off of Max at Toro Rosso, but Max was only 17 then.

      2. @justarandomdutchguy @tflb close in Q with Max, far slower on race pace, sestroyed by Hulk on both Q and race yet you thunk kvyat is actually a good reference point…. sainz jr is a pay driver, don’t understand why everyone loves him.

    3. @peartree guess who’s in there immediately with a negative comment…

      And actually, he did of course demolish Kvyat, and was almost neck-and-neck with Verstappen in performance terms (let down by bad luck and Sochi crash). Against Hulkenberg was the only blip, but it was close.

  2. The bragging of Sainz is becoming seriously grating

    1. The dislike of British fans to anyone other than their sweethearts is becoming seriously obnoxious.

      1. What’s that got to do with anything?

        1. I don’t think he’s bragging, he seems quite a down-to-earth guy in interviews and other content.

          1. @pironitheprovocateur If he was anywhere near as good as he says he is. Frankly the British love the Spanish, I call it the Ibiza connection, that said this guy is just like his father, massively over rated and most of that comes from his mouth, he should do politics, he has brainwashed many f1 fans.

    2. @balue I see no bragging. Saying you’re pleased with how things are going is not bragging. What do you expect him to say – ‘nah, I’m pretty rubbish actually’?

  3. He did fantastic season and I do not think he is saying something that is not true! We will see but if he continues like last year it will be difficult for LN. WDC future!!

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