TeamTalk: Is Carlos Sainz F1 World Champion material?

FERRARI F1 GP CANADA GIOVEDI 17/06/2022 credit @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Nico Rosberg triggered this TeamTalk when suggesting that Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz is not Formula 1 World Champion material, so we asked the headline question to our crew.

Before we go ahead, it’s worth noting that Sainz, last year, in his first year at Ferrari he beat ‘homegrown’ teammate Charles Leclerc in the championship.

However this year Leclerc has ramped it up, as Ferrari delivered a race-winning package which the Monegasque put to good use with two wins but Sainz has yet to win and early on watched his teammate jolt out of the starting blocks to a healthy championship lead while the Spaniard suffered misfortune and dropped into a mistake-laden slump.

But that quickly changed after Leclerc’s DNFs in Barcelona and Baku which coincided with Red Bull’s resurgence to the point that Max Verstappen now leads Sergio Perez in the standings after nine rounds; Leclerc is third; Mercedes’ George Russell fourth and Sainz fifth but the gap to his teammate is only 24 points as they head to Silverstone for Round 10.

Is Carlos Sainz F1 World Champion material? This is what our TeamTalk crew had to say:

Kevin Melro: Maybe Carlos is thinking too much about winning and not actually earning it

FERRARI F1 GP CANADA GIOVEDI 17/06/2022 credit @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Every F1 driver is highly skilled and immensely talented, absolute professionals of their trade; no protest. Given the best circumstances, there’s no reason why any one of them couldn’t win a race or contend for a Championship.

It’s very easy to criticize them when they don’t. We do after all watch every driver navigate through a racing career and generally grow up as a person in the process. Between social media and the modern age of internet, the camera never stops rolling, we see everything. It’s entertaining for us but it can be disappointingly unfair for them.

In the case of Carlos Sainz, he said something interesting during his post-qualifying interview at Bahrain this year. When expressing his lap time deficit to Charles Leclerc, David Coulthard asked Carlos to share with the fans what’s involved in reducing his delta to Leclerc.

In response he said: “I’m struggling, I’m thinking a lot while driving and this takes a bit of space out of my head while driving”.

It took me by surprise as this is not the response you’d expect from a seasoned driver; as if he’s just dumped a puzzle out of the box and is now becoming overwhelmed looking around to see others are already well on their way to completing their puzzle and he hasn’t quite figured out what he’s supposed to be putting together.

“Thinking a lot while driving”, translates into mental instability and a lack of confidence. Carlos has the talent, the car, the experience, the right people around him. He has every ingredient except perhaps the belief that he can do it.

What Sainz needs is a humiliating and gnarly slap across the face, a massive soul-crushing slap; metaphorically speaking, and he needs to be able to stand firm and take it.

I can remember Leclerc in the Sauber complaining about how aggressive Kevin Magnussen was and thinking to myself that it only gets tougher, kid.

Leclerc learned a lesson in Austria 2019 when Max humiliated him, Verstappen straight out muscled the Monegasque for the win in the closing laps like a total sweat. It fundamentally changed Leclerc into the driver he is today, it turned him into a proper winner.

On the other end, Nico Rosberg made a valiant effort to disparage Max in the early phase of the season last year to which Max made best use of his time on track, racing Hamilton extremely hard and in doing so ramming Nico’s criticism down his throat.

Verstappen today is an absolute beast who with the slightest sniff of a win will deliver the goods. For example during the last phase of last week’s Canadian Grand Prix, Verstappen did not once turn his head to show he was looking at his mirrors despite Sainz being in DRS range with a quicker car.

He may very well have cranked his eyes over but he did not turn his head; it’s a total power move.

So what? what’s the point? Encouragement is good and required, but an injection of an absurd level of negativity makes or breaks a driver teetering on the edge of realizing their own potential, and I believe this is where Sainz finds himself right now.

Lewis Hamilton has made a career of turning unjust negativity into positive energy, it’s the truth. The point is the pivot moment in Sainz’s career that will define him as a leader – like Hamilton, Verstappen, Rosberg…etc, or a follower like Bottas, Ricciardo, Gasly…etc – has not yet presented itself.

I admire Sainz, and my heart is full of appreciation for his ability, but at this time it would appear “thinking a lot” about winning a championship seems more likely of a reality for the Spaniard than the far-fetched idea of going out and earning one.

Sean Stevens: I don’t think Sainz is F1 championship material

leclerc sainz Barrichello-Schumacher

Is Carlos Sainz World Championship material? To be brutally honest, no I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean he won’t win the occasional race and feature on the lower steps of the podium or close to it.

Whilst he has the talent and skills to do the job, he appears to lack two key ingredients required to win a F1 World Championship.

The first is consistency. Throughout his career, he has shown flashes of brilliance, one of them even enticing the “good doctor” to bring him into the Red Bull junior team. Unfortunately, the flashes were also matched by “flushes” as in “toilet” and “down”.

Carlos’ season to date highlights this point – a roller coaster ride of results leaving him sitting in 5th place when he should be lying in 3rd.

The second is self-belief. This is a bit of a catch-all as it incorporates confidence and the “need’ to be the best (as opposed to “want”). I can think of at least five other drivers currently in F1 who register higher on this scale than the 27-year-old Spaniard – one of them is driving a shitbox and sits ahead of him in the current standings!

For me, he belongs with a whole series of great “Number Two “drivers who had/have the talent but always missed/miss out on the “big one”. That is unless they accidentally find themselves in a super dominant car with a teammate who registers lower on the self-belief scale. A good example would be Jenson Button.

I believe he never would have been F1 World Champion if it wasn’t for the stand-out design and performance of the Brawn in 2009 and Rubens Barrichello in the second car. If Barichello hadn’t been “Schumi’d” at Ferrari for five years beforehand, I think he would have beaten him.

Michele Lupini: Sainz is not at Ferrari to play second fiddle

carlos sainz charles Leclerc selfies ferrari 2022 f1-75

Is Carlos Sainz world champ material? Hell yeah! Sure, he makes mistakes. And yes, his brilliant teammate Charles Leclerc has shown him a clean pair of heels from time to time.

And he couldn’t get past Max to win in Canada. But would anyone else have got that right? In a Ferrari on the day? Well, if Charles’ inability to get past the Canadian rank and file in the sister car is anything to go by, clearly not.

So to pass plausibly the best driver on the grid in probably the best car … I promise you, none of his harshest critics would have stayed near Max and that Red Bull. Never mind put him under pressure.

To be blunt, the Ferrari was not the best car on the day. Leclerc proved that full well. If his F1-75 could not grunt out of that hairpin, take it with salt, Carlos had a similar challenge. Max knew that. Red Bull knew that. They just exploited it.

Blame Ferrari for losing in Canada. You’d swear by now they’d engineer the car to release from that hairpin, in a way it could threaten the Red Bull into the final chicane. But thy didn’t. Water under the bridge. Again. ‘Til next year. Looking back,

Yes, Sainz has put pressure on himself. Not nearly as much as Ferrari has put on him though. Ferrari has cost Ferrari far more than Carlos has cost the Scuderia this year.

He’s the best man for the job at Ferrari and could well pull a surprise if not this year, in the future should the Reds conjure up a race-winning streak because Sainz is not there to play second fiddle to anyone. Prove me wrong, Smooth Operator. Ole!

Jad Mallak: I think Sainz is F1 championship material…

GP BAHRAIN F1/2022 - DOMENICA 20/03/2022 credit: Carlos Sainz bahrain gp f1 Scuderia Ferrari

One has to feel for Carlos Sainz as he goes through a very trying period at Ferrari, after doing so well in his debut season last year. Over his career, he has come close to that elusive first win more than once now, but without any luck.

I believe Sainz is one of the most understated drivers in the Formula 1 paddock today, and despite not having the flare or sheer talent of Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc, but he is a seriously good driver, and what he may lack in term of raw pace, he makes up for it with his hard work and methodology.

The problem now is that he is hell-bent on getting that first win, and that is putting him under extra pressure both internal and external; as if the pressure of driving for Ferrari is not enough.

However, I feel once he nails that perfect weekend with some luck he will get it, and he will be free from the shackles of the high expectations that currently hold him back.

Once that first win is behind him, he will be more relaxed, as is the case with Verstappen this year after winning his maiden Title in 2021. The Dutchman is a totally different driver oozing with confidence and laid back in his approach.

Sainz may not have that extra bit of talent that separates good F1 drivers from exceptional ones, but he is a damn good driver and it is a matter of time before he gets his first win, and after that starts fighting for his first Championship.

Whether he wins it or not, that’s anyone’s guess as many factors play a role. After all not all great drivers won Championships. For the sake of giving an example – no direct comparisons here – Sterling Moss went through his illustrious F1 career without winning a Title, the best driver never to win a Championship.

Coming back to Carlos, is the Championship material? I think he is…

Paul Velasco: Yes he is and history shows that smart can beat fast in a protracted F1 title race

Prost Senna 2 Sainz Leclerc

At the start of this season, I put 100 bucks on Carlos Sainz being the 2022 F1 World Champion. If I were offered a refund or double my bet, I would do the latter. I still believe!

However, if I could I would try to convince the betting company to rather allow me to put my 100 on Carlos beating teammate Charles come to the end of this season like he did last year, in his first year as a Ferrari driver.

The problem is Sainz wants to beat his teammate at all costs by going toe-to-toe with him however, simply and harshly put, Leclerc is faster than Carlos and will probably always be. The Monegasque in exalted Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna company when it comes to qualifying.

And therein lies the solution. Carlos needs to tap into the Prost-Senna lessons in our sport’s history. The Professor was beaten 28-4 in the qualifying but in the race, it was the Brazilian beating the Frenchman, 17-13.

During their years as teammates, with McLaren dominant as ever, Senna won the F1 drivers title in 1988 and a year later Prost did the business by being smarter rather than faster in 1989.

Thus, Sainz should know that the WDC is all but out of reach, his focus for a reset and recharge is now to beat Leclerc again in the championship come the end of the season. What he did in Montreal, holding station when he might have attacked for that first win, was smart as it gets.

Imagine he tried a torpedo move on Max during those final tense 15 laps, and the y both crashed. Who would benefit the most? Simple maths says: Leclerc.

And he might never admit it because of the whole team sports blah blah blah, Carlos would rather Max win the title than Carlos because that’s how race drivers are wired, and if he does not think that way then I am afraid putting 100 bucks on him beating Leclerc would be a waste of money.

As for the first win opening the floodgates for Sainz, bollocks! It only means you know the way to the top step of the podium one time, thereafter he could be remembered as a one-time F1 winner over the past three decades such as the likes of Alessandro Nannini, Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis, Jarno Trulli, Robert Kubica, Pastor Maldonado and Heikki Kovalainen.

For those blokes, after the first one, no more came. And I will go out on a limb and say that each win gets harder, especially with guys like Max, Charles, George Russell, Lando Norris and the like, they are only going to get better and better.

However, history shows that smart can beat fast. Brains can beat brawn, thus we need Professor Carlos to step out, beat Charles and then look around and see how the F1 championship looks.

If VER-LEC ever gets raunchy (surely it will?) just behind them the Spaniard is best placed to take advantage; and suddenly that 100 bucks I put on Sainz winning the title might not be such a waste.