From the midfield to Ferrari: Eight races which showed Sainz’s star potential

2020 F1 season

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Carlos Sainz Jnr has been handed the chance of his career after landing a move to Ferrari for the 2021 F1 season.

He’s spent the first five years of his F1 career in the midfield but on several occasions he’s demonstrated he has the potential to rise above it. Here are eight of his most eye-catching performances so far.

2015 United States Grand Prix

Sainz made his F1 debut alongside the heavily hyped Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso. While his younger team mate tended to hold the upper hand, Sainz put in some fine drives too when their too-often unreliable machinery permitted it.

The very wet United States Grand Prix did not begin well for Sainz: He crashed in qualifying and lined up 20th. But from there he produced his best finish of the season.

After gaining ten places in damp conditions on the opening lap, Sainz rose further into the points by exploiting an aggressive three-stop strategy. He ended the race a wholly creditable seventh.

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2016 Spanish Grand Prix

For the fifth round of his second season, Sainz had a new team mate at Toro Rosso. Red Bull promoted Verstappen to their top team in place of Daniil Kvyat in their top team, ending the often tense partnership of Sainz and Verstappen.

At his home race, Sainz was eager to prove that he deserved a promotion as well. From eighth on the grid, Sainz claimed third at the start after the Mercedes drivers collided.

Sainz ran fourth in closing stages at wet Interlagos
He kept the Ferrari drivers in check following the Safety Car period, while ahead Verstappen pursued Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo. Sainz ultimately finished a career-best sixth, though his fine drive was overshadowed by Verstappen’s historic win.

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix

Another great drive by Sainz which was overshadowed by Verstappen’s heroics. At a soaked Interlagos, the Toro Rosso driver started 15th and showed off his wet weather savvy again.

This was aided by a well-judged strategy. Sainz stayed on wet tyres for the whole race and never had to make a pit stop, using the red flag periods to fit fresh rubber.

With five laps to go he was fourth but Vettel and Verstappen predictably charged through in much quicker cars. Sixth was still an excellent result under the circumstances.

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2017 Monaco Grand Prix

Hamilton hasn’t finished behind a Toro Rosso too many times
A tidy qualifying effort in his third visit to Monaco for Toro Rosso didn’t just put Sainz ‘best of the rest’ and within a second of Kimi Raikkonen’s pole-sitting Ferrari, it also put him well ahead of Lewis Hamilton who unexpectedly stumbled in Q2.

Could Sainz do enough in the race to keep the recovering Mercedes behind? Indeed he could. A faultless drive saw Sainz hold his sixth place, none of the faster cars ahead dropping out, and Hamilton in his mirrors when the chequered flag fell. No wonder RaceFans readers named him Driver of the Weekend.

2017 Singapore Grand Prix

At a damp Singapore, Sainz’s Toro Rosso briefly went into anti-stall mode when the lights went out. But his decision to start the race on intermediate tyres made up for the error.

Sainz nursed his rubber until the track was dry enough for slick tyres, which he stayed on until the end of the race. He crossed the line a career-best fourth on the same weekend he announced his impending move to Renault, which happened three races later.

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Eight races into his Renault spell, Sainz needed a result. He delivered it in a typically chaotic race on the streets of Baku. From ninth on the grid, Sainz put in an outstanding first stint passing both Red Bull drivers before coming in for fresh tyres.

That early stop dropped him behind his rivals but he was able to make up ground slowly during his second stint. He gained two places when the Red Bull drivers collided and fended off Charles Leclerc’s following Sauber the Safety Car period to secure fifth place.

2019 Russian Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Sochi Autodrom, 2019
Sochi was one of many top-drawer drives by Sainz in 2019
McLaren was Sainz’s third team in as many years. Slipping into the seat previous occupied by his hero Fernando Alonso, Sainz delivered an assured campaign which saw him become the first driver from outside the ‘big three teams’ to score a top-six finish in the drivers championship for four years.

His performance at Sochi Autodrom was typical: He had the midfield under control the whole weekend, qualifying sixth and starting fifth thanks to a gearbox change penalty for Verstappen.

His race pace was good enough to keep the delayed Red Bull of Alexander Albon behind, but a Safety Car tipped the balance in favour of the Red Bull driver, and Sainz couldn’t stop his rival from taking fifth place late in the race. Nonetheless, RaceFans readers again voted Sainz as Driver of the Weekend.

2019 Brazilian Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Interlagos, 2019
Sainz was promoted to the rostrum after the race
Relegated to last due to an engine problem in qualifying, Sainz brought himself into content through a long opening stint on soft tyres which ultimately allowed him to make one fewer pit stop than those around him. Late Safety Car periods brought rivals on fresher tyres onto his tail, but Sainz held a quicker Raikkonen at two restarts.

On many previous occasions Sainz had delivered top-drawer performances but had to follow a full complement of faster cars home. Not this time. Three front-runners dropped out ahead of him and a post-race penalty for Hamilton handed Sainz his first podium in F1 and McLaren’s best result for five years.

Over to you

Which other performances by Sainz in F1 – and other categories – impressed you most? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Josh Holland
USA-based Josh joined the RaceFans team in 2018. Josh helps produce our Formula 1 race weekend coverage, assists with our social media activities and...

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45 comments on “From the midfield to Ferrari: Eight races which showed Sainz’s star potential”

  1. Sainz has had some amazing performances that are not posted here. In Malaysia 2015 (his second F1 race) made up nine positions to finish next to Verstappen, after scoring points in his debut with a TR. In Monaco 2016 he was in front of Perez in the only stop of the race, would not TR have screwed up that pit-stop, he would’ve scored his first podium the next race after Max’s win in Spain. In his first session in wet with a Renault, in Hungary 2018 he qualified in P5. And during most of the 2019 season he was P7 or the best of the whole midfield consistently and without making mistakes, that has a high value. Not to mention the last lap overtake on Hulkenberg in Abu Dhabi to clinch the P6 in the standings, in front of two Red Bulls.

    1. ColdFly (@)
      21st May 2020, 8:54

      clinch the P6 in the standings, in front of two Red Bulls.

      That’s truly amazing; even FIA missed that one ;)

      1. I think you are missing this one mate. Check out the 2019 championship, Sainz ended P6 with 96 points, Gasly had 95 points and Albon 92.

        1. ColdFly (@)
          21st May 2020, 9:26

          I’m missing nothing.
          Those are not ‘Red Bulls’ as you write, but drivers contracted by Red Bull. It is actually 3 as Kvyat is also a Red Bull driver.

          Well done to Sainz though that he scored more points than the second Red Bull (singular) driven by two drivers (plural). This has been mentioned various times by Keith.

          1. Yes mate, he finished ahead of two Red Bulls. The number 10 and number 23. That is not one, that is two different drivers. Sainz got more points = finished ahead. In a McLaren.

          2. Finishing ahead of a ‘car number combination’ which only participated a half season is not that special.

            Finishing ahead of the second Red Bull (singular) would be good though. I thought he did that, but looking at the numbers he only got to some 70% of that number. Quite a bit less impressive than I first thought.

          3. @coldfly It remains impressive, as Red Bull 2 regardless of who was driving it at the time was 1.5+ seconds quicker per lap than the Mclaren.

          4. Yes, I agree it’s impressive, red bull was a tier 1 car in the last years, mclaren tier 2, it takes a lot to overcome such a car pace differential.

    2. Also his drive in Austria in 2019, the most memorable for me…climbing all the way into top 10, being p14 or p15 after the pitstop and still being able to clinch 8th…that was outstanding performance on a track like Red Bull Ring.

      1. Absolutely! That was starting P20 yet again, shame that TV did not show all of his overtakes because it was an absolute masterclass.

    3. This is actually misleading. In Monaco 2016, Perez leapfrogged the whole pack because it stayed in track longer and Massa blocked the others. Had this not happened, it would have been Vettel clinging 3rd place and not Sainz. In fact, Perez finished the race some 30-40 seconds ahead of Sainz.

    4. Sainz is a decent midfield driver just as the Irvines, Barrichellos, Bergers, Massas before and therefore suitable as second driver to support Charles

  2. I agree with the author, it is pretty clear that Sainz has showed his talent, reliability and intelligence throughout his five seasons in F1 and not only in 2019 as some may think. He was good at the start, but has become even better each season. He looks extremely mature and experienced and he is 25 years old. No wonder why top teams want him.

    1. I do not mean to pick on you for this, but there does seem to have been a number of accounts registered here solely for the purpose of putting out pro-Sainz messages.

      You seem to have registered your account on the same day as “Dom Kelly” and “Mark Russell” and, like those other two accounts, the only threads you are interacting with are those about Sainz and every single post has been a pro-Sainz post. It does also feel as if all three accounts are repeating certain comments about Sainz in posts as well, with frequent repetition of how Sainz is “amazingly fast” and “intelligent” in a way that feels systematic.

      It may be that it is entirely innocent, but the way that we are seeing accounts that were registered in quick succession now spamming out nothing but pro-Sainz posts is starting to give the impression of a certain amount of sock puppetry to push a specific agenda.

      1. Nice sleuth work anon.

        Carlos has shown us some nice drives. The real shame is Nico Hulkenberg who was shown to be on balance a superior driver (at least with the Renault car, and Renault people, in 2018) has no drive in f1.

        Carlos does show good ability to learn from his race engineers and is very well managed by his team including his legendary father.

      2. Hey mate, don’t bring my name into this. Why would you do that? Do you even know me? I could say the same about you and “Alex Roy”. You even share some letters of your nickname.

      3. What do you want me to do? I am a Ferrari and Sainz fan, that is why I don’t go to comment on Hamilton’s or AlphaTauri’s posts. I don’t care about them. Are you better than me because you comment on all the posts? Well, maybe not because you are not even registered here. If I am a Newcastle fan, don’t expect me to be doing some West Ham comments, I think that makes sense, does it not? If I have an opinion about Sainz and I feel like sharing it I will just do it. If it happens that there are other users that feel the same they are free to do it as well. 21st Century it is.

        By the way, I don’t see you complaining about the fact that the user trib4udi was created yesterday afternoon and only has hate comments about Sainz in this post. Same as AR or Alex Roy or Matn or yourself, Mr anon. You never appeared before and you all just pop here and all say the same about “misconceptions” about Sainz. Suspicious right. Suspicious and systematic.

        Wanna go into language analysis? I don’t like a sentence of your comment: “the way that we are seeing accounts that were registered”. Who is we? Are you seeing something “registered“? Are you someone from Race Fans management trying to go undercover as an anonymous nickname without registration maybe? It is clear that editors here don’t like Sainz that much and they would rather have Ricciardo or other drivers in Ferrari. But maybe this is going too far.

        I don’t mean to pick you up on this, but it is rather suspicious the way you have the time and the energy to stalk on me and my profile and try to create an illusional connection between users that don’t share the same opinion as you. Do you do the same with every Hamilton fan? How suspicious is that more than one person likes Hamilton right, maybe there is some specific agenda to push there.

  3. His performance at Sochi Autodrom was typical: He had the midfield under control the whole weekend, qualifying sixth. His race pace was good enough to keep the delayed Red Bull of Alexander Albon behind“.

    This, this is Carlos Sainz. Fast, reliable, mistake-less, smart… and young.

    1. His start on Sunday was insane as well. Ahead of a Merc, challenging another, no qualms at all.

  4. Sainz has a knack for fighting his way all the way from the back of the field. That alone speaks of his qualities.

  5. His Renault debut also deserves a mention (although I forgot about it until I saw a video of him on the F1 channel last week), he qualified 8th and finished 7th in a new car for him, battling the Force Indias which had a better car that year.

    1. Yes, liked that race, I think it was at austin, or in any case that’s the one I remember.

  6. Sainz is very good and drives very maturely for his age, fully agreed, but he only had middfield cars underneath him and almost no pressure, ever (outside of Verstappen’s indirect pressure). With Ferrari, you get to the highest of pressures: from the team, from Charles, from fans, from the media, etc. It’s only next year that Sainz will finally be able to prove if he’s really masterclass or not.

    1. I see your point, but I don’t think you are completely right. Sainz always tells that when he was a kid he had the highest pressure in Spain because other karting drivers would want to take him off track because of his surname. In 2014, as a rookie in the 3.5 World Series by Renault Red Bull told him that if he didn’t win the title he was out. He did it. He outqualified Max in 2015. He was amazing in his Renault debut in Austin 2017. He was amazingly good in his first year in McLaren leading the team to a P4 in the WCC. He is used to pressure although Ferrari is the top pressure spot, that will not be an issue I believe.

      1. i don’t understand why people stick to a ‘Carlos outqualified Max’-narrative.
        In 2015, there were 14 qualifications where Carlos and Max participated without technical issues. it ended 7-7. In 2016, it was 3-1 for Max. so overall 10-8. More importantly, it was about the gradient. Max, in 2015 being in his 2nd season of single seats, you’d expect Carlos to lean on bit more experience. After 7 races it was 5-2 in quali for Carlos. Since then Max had the measure: 8-3. The rate of improvement of Max was way steeper.

      2. sorry, looked at the data again. i mentioned 7-7 for the 14 races, where both dirvers participated withut problems.

        Guess what happened in the other 5 races?
        Russia: Carlos didn’t participate in quali – own fault as he made an unforced heavy crash in FP3 so needed a hospital check
        USA: Carlos didn’t set a time in Q1 – own fault as he crashed in the wet conditions.
        Italy: Max didn’t set a time in Q1 – team fault as the engine cover blew up in outlap.
        Japan: Max didn;t set a time in Q2 – engine issue, needed to park the car in Q2, while progressing out of Q1 with 0.35 sec ahead of Carlos
        Belgium: Max didn’t set a time in Q2 – team wanted to save tyres, because they had a gridpenalty due to engine change.

        So actually, from these 5 qualis you could argue that we should count the ones where Max ‘won’ because it was caused by Carlos’ own mistakes…
        that makes it 9-7 for Max in 2015.

        So yes, if you want to count the bad luck of 3-0 towards Carlos, it’s 9-10…
        But no objective F1 follower would argue that Carlos was better in quali than Max.

        1. I mean… If you want, I can go through each race of 2015 and will show you how Sainz was faster than Verstappen although the Dutch got more points. Numbers are numbers and they show a clear 10-9 win for Sainz. Go to Hamilton and explain to him why he was better than Rosberg in 2016, but is the German who has that title at his home, right?

      3. A very large misconception is Sainz beating Verstappen 10-9 in quali 2015…. he did not although the number are shown in Sainz favor on some sites. Verstappen started 10 times in front of Sainz who took a penalty in Monaco.

        The question is, who was faster on Saturdays? That imo the only way to ‘beat’ your team mate….
        Verstappen did not take part in Q2 at Belgium due to a gridpenalty.. he set his mandatory time in Q1 and saved his engine. Saving his engine didn’t help…the next race in Italy another gridpenalty and the same procedure… setting a mandatory time in just Q1. Than 2 races later Verstappens car stopped on track in Q1 due to an electrical failure.

        Overall the drivers competed 16 times in which Verstappen was faster 9 times versus Sainz 7.

        In his amazing Malaysian GP you mentioned above, Sainz was faster than his team mate just 19 versus 36 laps…
        The early SC put his right back in the race after a poor quali sessions.
        To RB great frustration both TR driver did beat both RBR drivers…. that was kind of unplanned for.

        1. How can it be a misconception “although the numbers are shown in Sainz favor”. If the numbers say so, Sainz outqualified Max, no argument. You can say that it was unfair or whatever but is not an opinion.

          1. If a driver had an issue it’s not counted as a “win” in a qualifying competition. You can win the title thanks to misfortune, like you mentioned rosberg 2016, but you can’t win an objective comparison of stats: outqualifying stats are computed excluding techical issues, and same goes for outracing, this isn’t just a regular “points scored” contest, you need to do some analysis.

  7. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    21st May 2020, 12:51

    He’s pretty good but generally I found his team-mates generally a little better. Red Bull were obviously right to go for Verstappen, Hulkenberg had generally better performances at Renault and Norris is not far behind him on pace & racecraft despite being a rookie. The only team-mate Sainz comprehensively destroyed was a demoralised and demoted Kvyat.

    I don’t mean to bash the guy because you don’t luck into being best of the rest, like the guy’s a very good driver. But so far I’m not convinced he’s on the same level as Leclerc in the least, let alone Verstappen/Hamilton, etc. Moving to Ferrari may be the making of him and he’ll step up, or he’ll be controlled and dominated by Leclerc and the team and become Barrichello mk.2, or a Massa to Leclerc’s Alonso. Not all drivers that excel in the midfield seem to do that well at the front, but I kinda hope he bothers Ferrari’s golden child a lot.

    1. But Sainz outqualified Verstappen and was clearly quicker than Hulk between the Spanish GP until 2019 plans were announces. Thing is that Ricciardo lost agains JEV and Kvyat. Verstappen against Ricciardo. Rosberg got to bet Hamilton. Button had more points than Alonso one season. Nobody always outscores or destroys their teammates. Sainz had a fairly even seasaon with Max and in races where neither DNFed they ended 5-4 for Max on Sundays, 10-9 for Sainz in quali. He murdered Kvyat two years in a row and now has doubled Norris in 2019.

      He is young, experienced, super fast, good overtaker, reliable, regular, team player and does not makes mistakes. I can’t see him as a Barrichello or a Massa. But the other way around in any case.

      1. 2015: 7-7, 2016: 3-1 . Overall : Max outqualified Carlos by 10-8

        1. 2015 numbers show a clear 10-9, don’t try to make numbers up.

          1. Numbers just tell one side of the story. Sainz is a decent midfield driver just as the Irvines, Barrichellos, Bergers, Massas before and therefore suitable as second driver to support Charles.

      2. “was clearly quicker than Hulk between the Spanish GP until 2019 plans were announces”
        Read that same phrase many times from you and still wonder what I shall read from it.
        Did Renault let him down? Dropped his motivation to score as many points as possible?

      3. Mark,
        Like I mentioned Sainz did not beat Max on track…in their 23 races together they can be compared inn 20 quali sessions. Verstappen outsocred Sainz 9-7 in 2015 and 4-1 in 2016… that makes 13 versus 8 overal.

        If you apply similar ‘racing logic’ to Verstappen vs Ricciardo you’ll find out Dan was ahead on points only thanks to Verstappens mechanical issues and perhaps a lucky SC in Malaysia 2016. On track, Verstappen was the driver in front of his team mate more often… Just like Dan was ahead of Kvyat in 2015 and Hamilton was ahead of Rosberg in 2016.
        Imo scoring more points is not the same as beating…. look at Russell versus Kubica fe.

        Sainz has a lot going for him, young, consistent… but not exceptional fast… Norris almost equaled him in his rookie season while the same Norris was not an impressive qualifier in F2 the year before. Hulkenberg was faster too, which puts another selection of drivers in front of him.

        1. You can’t mix 2015 with 2016. With 2015 they shared 19 races together. 2016 is a different story and you only have 4 races to compare, so not enough numbers. Or would you say that Kvyat was much much better than Ricciardo in 2016 because of those races? In 2015 in races where neither DNFed they finished 5-4 for Max. 10-9 on Saturdays for Sainz. Easy numbers. Sainz has shown that he is exceptionally fast. He finished 6th in the Championship with a McLaren, mate. Did Verstappen ever finish 6th with a midfield car?

  8. Totally forgot about Monaco 17… wow that’s really impressive

  9. Jeffrey Powell
    21st May 2020, 14:42

    It just shows that you can watch F1 for 55 years and still not be a judge of how good a driver might be. I always thought of him as a nice guy that was competent and a good team player I never saw him as an extreme talent ,probably I wasn’t paying enough attention. Perhaps Ferrari share my estimation all be it with 100% more information.

    1. Totally agree. I never thought of him as anything more than pretty decent and a safe pair of hands. Nothing spectacular though. Although maybe that’s me just not paying him enough attention

  10. I’ve always quite liked Sainz, but unfortunately his drives in the midfield have often gone unnoticed by tv directors and admittedly me too. He has compared well to all of his team mates which is very impressive when you consider he has been to 3 different teams over the past 3 seasons. It would have been interesting to see how he progressed at McLaren with his feet under the table for a year but that will be clouded now as he is kept more and more out of the loop before joining Ferrari. He did as well as possible last year so I am optimistic about the move. 2022 will be the year to truly scrutinise his performances at Ferrari.

  11. So stupid sainzs car made him look better then he actually was and having a rookie teammate helped massively. Ferrari started looking like they were getting smart by hiring Leclerc and firing Vettel but are going to their old ways by hiring sainz

    1. That rookie you are talking about is a F3 champion and F2 vice-champion. Was Hamilton just a rookie in 2007? And sure, the Toro Rossos and the Renault made him look much better. Those are amazing cars, almost like a Mercedes.

  12. Yes he got lucky with strategy in some races and did Ok when the pressure was off, but bottom line is that he has trouble with rookies and journeymen, and is nothing special. His biggest talent is really talking himself up and PR. Ferrari pressure and Leclerc will show him up once and for all.

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