World Championship position: 5
Number of World Cup points: 164.5
Number of wins: 0
Best place to start: 2nd place (Russia)
Best result: 2nd place (Monaco)
When Carlos Sainz was announced as Sebastian Vettel’s successor in early 2020, many in the paddock thought the Spaniard would go second fiddle. Charles Leclerc had already proven himself with two wins and also had a long-term contract in his pocket, making him the man for the future. Sainz would be a solid second driver and also someone who had yet to find his way in Maranello. The latter turned out to be partly correct in practice, although Sainz adapted much faster than friend, foe and even the people at Ferrari could have suspected in advance.
Sainz had to deal with a new environment, a new power source and above all a new chassis. The latter, in his own words, forced him to adjust his driving style. “I saw a lot of things about Charles in the data that were incredible. I didn’t know you could drive that car like that, but along the way I copied things and adapted my driving style.” The pace and the way Sainz has done that are commendable. For example, 27-year-old Madrileen moved to Italy, he was frequently found in the factory and he left nothing to chance.
The man with 140 Grand Prix starts to his name was determined to grab his chance at the Italian powerhouse with both hands and that work ethic has certainly paid off. Sainz has taken four podium places, has even scored fifteen point finishes in a row after the Grand Prix of Styria and has also shown ‘best of the rest’ in the drivers’ championship behind the men of Red Bull and Mercedes.
Even more important is that he has sent a clear signal to his own employer: Ferrari can also rely on him for the future. It does not have to be a foregone conclusion that Leclerc is the man for the future. After all, Sainz has far exceeded expectations in his first year and has shown that he can combine his natural speed with an impressive consistency. Added to this is the ability to adapt quickly. These are qualities that are all necessary to succeed at the top. Few in the paddock would have suspected Sainz had all those characteristics in him, but 2021 has shown otherwise.