By Sam Cooper | planetf1.com
Carlos Sainz has always been a driver used to time away from the limelight. His first ever race seat had him partnering Max Verstappen and when he made the move to McLaren, a lot of the talk was of the sport’s next great driver in the form of Lando Norris.
But yet, when he moved to Ferrari in 2021, the beneficiary of Sebastian Vettel’s defeat in the quest for power, his life and role in the sport changed.
followed by two retirements.
A podium in Canada and a maiden win in Silverstone were bookended by retirements and in the final six races, he twice finished on the podium, twice off it but still in the points and twice retired.
This inconsistency, especially at the start of the year, was easy for Sainz to focus on as his number one area to improve but after two races of 2023, the Spanaird appears to have regressed.
In Bahrain, he failed to make the most of Leclerc’s DNF and was overtaken by his compatriot Fernando Alonso for the final podium spot and in Saudi Arabia, despite starting eight places ahead of him, it was not long before Sainz had Leclerc on his gearbox.
Lance Stroll’s DNF and the subsequent safety car all but ended Leclerc’s charge up the field, sparing his team-mate’s blushes, but it does now raise the question of what is Sainz’s role at Ferrari?
Is Carlos Sainz a Valtteri Bottas or a Nico Rosberg?
When a team has a supreme talent like a Leclerc or a Verstappen or a Hamilton, the question for the second driver often becomes, what role am I going to play?
Life on the opposite side of an undoubtedly highly talented driver can be difficult to survive in, just see the numerous team-mates Verstappen has dispatched over the years, and often these drivers fit one of two roles.
You have a Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez who accept they will not rock the boat too much if it means keeping their place in a top team and then you have a Nico Rosberg, who is willing to burn the whole place down if it means winning that coveted championship.
Ferrari has long said it has no number one and yet anyone on the outside looking in will clearly be able to point at which of the two Ferrari drivers is more likely to break the sport’s oldest team’s trophy drought.
In 2022, Sainz, in arguably the second quickest car, finished 62 points behind his team-mate let alone championship winner Verstappen and of course, there were incidents out of his control and he did have a particularly bad run of luck in terms of lap one retirements, but if you were tasked to pick a race in 2022 that both Sainz and Leclerc have finished in which the Spaniard has bested his team-mate, an answer does not spring immediately to mind.
The obvious choice would be Silverstone where Sainz picked up his one and only win but a scratch under the surface reveals his win was just as much due to Ferrari shooting Leclerc in the foot once again.
Away from the Silverstone success and in almost every metric, Leclerc beat Sainz in 2022. Points, average race result, average qualifying result, laps completed, races won, podiums scored.