Carlos Sainz was one of the standout drivers not battling for the 2021 Formula 1 World Champion, the Spaniard using his first year to entrench himself at Maranello and give his highly-rated Ferrari teammate some serious food for thought.
Stats show that Sainz finished fifth in last year’s Drivers’ Standings, best of the rest (behind the Red Bull and Mercedes quartet) and most importantly ahead of teammate Leclerc, the team’s chosen one.
Third place in Abu Dhabi, behind the feuding Title contenders Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, was the best send-off he could have wished for, going into the off-season on the front foot and for sure a big smile each morning.
During last year Ferrari’s pair scored five podiums each in total, but Sainz edged ahead in the final standings by 5.5 points with four podiums to his name, which might not seem much, but the fact he beat his teammate in his first season of trying is certain to have won over the hearts and minds of all those at Maranello, and the long-suffering Tifosi as he did many pundits, us included.
Throw into the feel-good factor for the Madridista is the fact that his peers on the Grand Prix grid and F1 team principals gave him the nod ahead of Leclerc as a driver they admire.
Sainz: I have to improve in everything
If Sainz is more Alain Prost or Niki Lauda in his approach to racing – cerebral, effective; then Leclerc shows shades of Gilles Villeneuve and Jean Alesi – brave, lovable.
Right now one could argue Ferrari needs large dollops of the former. Step-up Sainz who has evolved into a driver that could well lead the great Italian team to more success, provided his team deliver a race-winning package.
But the evolution of Sainz is by no means over, so says he: “I have to improve in everything. As a driver, I am never one hundred percent satisfied with any of my facets. I think they all have room for improvement.
“Every year I go into winter knowing that I have to improve in all those areas if I want to continue my progression as a driver and to be a F1 world champion.”
Looking back on an epic year, Sainz emerged as a cool and calm force within Ferrari costing his team far less than Leclerc in crash damage expenses and instrumental in the Reds beating McLaren to third place in the 2021 F1 Constructors’ Championship.
For now, the two drivers have adapted well, far better than the toxic environment that prevailed in 2020, during Sebastian Vettel’s last season in Red.
Sainz: As a driver, I want to fight for a F1 world title
But the reality of the last decade in F1 is a team or two have dominated, leaving crumbs for those who have not managed to keep up. Hence for 2022, with the promise of a level playing field, spirits are upbeat ahead of what might be.
“What I do know is as a driver I want to fight for a world championship and that I am prepared for what comes next season, it could be that there is a very close F1 or there might be someone who hits the button and dominates.”
Sainz arrived at Ferrari as they were undergoing one of their worst spells in an illustrious history at the pinnacle of the sport. In 2020 they were sixth in the F1 Constructors’ Championship, this year third place is a mighty and impressive improvement.
The 27-year-old can take credit for making it happen by adapting fast to being in the unique spotlight of being a Ferrari driver, avoiding conflict and giving it all for the cause with his hearty cry of “Vamos!” that sends all the right signals to his team, and anyone who doubted Sainz is the real deal.
No matter who you are, you can’t beat a driver if his car is one-second faster
He also staunchly believes he can take the battle and compete successfully against the current driver benchmarks, namely Hamilton and Verstappen, saying so in an interview with AS: “With the same car yes I can, or at least with more equal conditions.
“The problem is that last year Mercedes and Red Bull were between eight tenths and one second per lap faster, that’s the car. The difference between drivers I think is not more than two or three tenths.
“If there is a driver in a car eight tenths faster than yours, no matter how good you are, you will not be able to beat them. I hope that F1 next year is more even, we can all have more fun and compete equally.”
While all the right noises have been flowing from the HQ about next year’s rules and the car they have developed for the new era, Sainz is cautious: “Regarding Ferrari in 2022, it is very difficult to know where we are going to be next year.
“But I think the team has grown a lot and during the season we became a much stronger team in terms of pitstops, strategy, tires, the way to execute on weekends… If the car is good this year, we are ready!” declared Sainz.