McLaren are starting the 2019 season with an all-new driver line-up of unproven Carlos Sainz spearheading the team and rookie Lando Norris in the garage next door, despite their collective inexperience team chief Gil de Ferran believes they are world champions in the making.
McLaren have opted to go with Sainz to lead the team as fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso seeks alternative adventures.
When quizzed by AS about the wisdom of such a young pairing, de Ferran responded, “It’s true that Carlos is still very young, Lando even younger, but this is an interesting gamble for a team like McLaren.”
“Of course we believe that Sainz can be a world champion, that’s the reason our drivers are in the car. If we did not believe that then they would not drive for us.”
“As I said, I think Carlos is doing well and he’s still very young, so he needs to keep developing. Now, we need him to be part of the team so that we can undertake this journey of rebuilding McLaren together. There is no pressure on him, we just need to work together.”
“We’re taking a long-term view of the drivers. Particularly when you look at Lando… he is a supreme talent. He has been very successful in all stages of his career, I think I am right in saying he is the youngest world champion in karting ever.”
“Every time he gets in the car he adapts fast. It is very, very impressive. He’s very young, but he’s shown a lot of maturity at the wheel, also in his Formula 2 season.”
“We think we’re going to have two great guys behind the wheel and we just have to work together. We have to learn from each other and that always takes a long time, but we have made a good decision.”
Asked if Alonso influenced the decision to hire Sainz, de Ferran replied, “No, it was not Fernando. We had the opportunity to sign Carlos when he was available and when we looked at his record and how well he drove compared to many of his teammates, we thought: Here is a guy who is very young, is still in development.”
“Next year will be his fifth year in F1. Carlos is an intelligent guy, so then we thought it was a great opportunity,” explained de Ferran.
In with the new kids on the block and out with the once ‘hot property’ Stoffel Vandoorne. He did not cut the mustard when he was thrust into the big time alongside Alonso and the veteran simply pulverised his young teammate.
De Ferran explained the thinking behind axing Vandoorne, “These decisions are very complex. Stoffel is a great driver. He has also been a great ambassador for McLaren and is well liked by the team.”
“It was a difficult decision, but I think Stoffel and we are focused on trying to do the best we can in these last races. That’s the best thing for him and for us, we know he can be competitive.”
This year, obviously, we have given him a very difficult car, which has not helped his cause but we have to continue working together and see if we can be more competitive and add more points.”
“For me, it was particularly difficult because I really like Stoffel, not only as a driver but also as a person. I think he is a great human being, so it was a particularly difficult decision,” added de Ferran.
In recent years, McLaren have a woeful track record ‘developing’ and taking in young promising drivers before wrecking their careers, including the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Sergio Perez, Gary Paffett, Kevin Magnussen and now Vandoorne.
Big Question: Can McLaren turn Carlos and Lando into F1 world champions?