Sainz: Under the radar and starting from zero


Toro Rosso rookie Carlos Sainz will be as disappointed as any Formula One fan that Fernando Alonso will be absent from next week’s Australian season-opener.

The 20-year-old Spaniard, whose double world rally champion father has the same name, has a treasured photograph from a decade ago of himself as a wide-eyed kid alongside the smiling Alonso.

Both men had planned to take another, more significant one, in Melbourne — of them ready to race as rivals.

Alonso, whose new adventure with Honda-powered McLaren will now have to wait until Malaysia to get started, promised last August that they would be together on the starting grid in Australia.

The vow was intended as a confidence boost, coming at a time when Sainz’s hopes of securing a Formula One drive appeared to have stalled.


“It was a tough time for me as Max [Verstappen] was announced in STR [Toro Rosso] and I had been not chosen for the seat,” Sainz told Reuters before Alonso was ruled out on doctors’ orders following a testing crash in Barcelona.

“He [Alonso] was feeling quite sorry for me because he knew I was doing a good job, I was winning a championship and all that and he decided to post this picture on Twitter. And it actually gave me a big confidence boost.

“I told myself ‘I still need to do this, I still want to race against my idol.’ There is a saying that says ‘Make your heroes your rivals’ and when I looked at the picture he posted I said ‘You need to keep pushing and go for it’.”

His hopes were revived only weeks later when Sebastian Vettel announced his departure from Red Bull to take Alonso’s place at Ferrari, with Russian Daniil Kvyat then promoted from Toro Rosso and creating a vacancy.


Until recently, rookie drivers came into Formula One determined to emulate older heroes like Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna or Alain Prost.

Sainz belongs to a different generation, one that grew up enthralled by Alonso — the first Spaniard to win a Formula One championship and the man who put the sport on the map in a country more obsessed with soccer and cycling.

Even the achievements of Carlos Sainz senior, the first Spaniard to win a world title on four wheels and a household name in Spain, could not compete with the allure of Alonso.

“When I was at a very young age, let’s say nine or 10 years old, is when Fernando Alonso started to become big in Spain. So at the age of 10 I decided Formula One had become my dream,” recalled Sainz junior.


“My dad took it perfectly. He perfectly understood me because I had never watched rallying on TV or followed rallying that much. And obviously when you have a son that is going to dedicate himself to a sport that is similar to yours, I think you are a proud father.”

Verstappen, who also has a famous father in Schumacher’s former team mate Jos, has attracted most of the pre-season attention as Formula One’s youngest ever driver and Sainz is happy enough with that.

The Spaniard, who last year became the youngest champion in the Renault 3.5 world series with a record number of poles and wins, would rather avoid comparisons with the past.

“It’s much better because like this there is no comparison. They cannot compare me to my Dad, because the sport is completely different,” he said. “The only same thing is you have an engine and four wheels but everything else is completely different.

“Maybe I’m a bit more under the radar than I’m used to,” he added. “But in the end both Max and myself have exactly the same pressure from the team. We are both rookies, and we are both starting from zero.”