Carlos Sainz: No Longer Charles Leclerc’s Wingman!

Carlos Sainz
Carlos Sainz

Formula 1 might seem to fans as a bit of a flight to fancy given the raging speeds, imposing machines and the bloated budgets the teams have with which to put forward a strong challenge in the world championship fight. But truth is that every team orbits around a main player, a key force around which it develops its strategy and ultimately, the fight.

The golden boy at Ferrari!

And truth is that at Ferrari, Charles Leclerc-not Carlos Sainz Jr- is that key player. Ever since a stalwart like Kimi Raikkonen was made to leave the team at the end of the 2018 season, even as F1’s Iceman secured a third spot on the Driver’s Standings that year, Leclerc was recruited with the image of the Scuderia’s golden boy.

In reality, Carlos Sainz Jr., came in a bit later, not before another stalwart in Sebastian Vettel had competed for two long if also dreary seasons at the Maranello.

And even today, Leclerc who actually trails Sainz, if in case some of us haven’t noted, is the man pegged to fetch glory for the Scuderia outfit.

Leclerc’s already recorded a massive moment for the Scuderia and that too, in his maiden year before winning at Spa and later, at Monza.

Sainz v Leclerc: the parallels between Sakhir and Monza

Forget not that Bahrain 2019 was perhaps just as heartening if also heartbreaking a moment for Charles Leclerc as was Monza 2023 for a certain Carlos Sainz.

The parallel between the two races, split across four years, are unique and direct laurels at two very high quality drivers.

Like Bahrain’s testing Sakhir circuit where tire wear is often at its limit, Monza’s stout challenge was no less odious for Carlos Sainz.

The point to note here being that Leclerc fought on and secured a great pole position before an early engine problem turned the complexion of his race on its head. What should have been a deserving victory became in the end, a valiant podium.

Ditto for Sainz, four years on albeit in a completely different situation. Sainz fought on during Saturday and post topping the practice sessions- second and third- secured a great pole, perhaps the finest qualifying effort of his career.

Tyre-wear and being worn out in general!

But immense pressure being applied on those tires to fight the bulls off on a track that’s so demanding on the rubber meant that Sainz’s chances of victory, quite like Leclerc in that particular year, withered away.

One of the huge Ferrari problems this year has, unforgettably, been the fact that the present-day car eats well and truly into the tires and much too quickly when compared to the Red Bull, Aston Martin or Mercedes machine.

Resultantly, much like his current teammate who had to settle for an arduous- if also painstaking- third at Sakhir, Sainz secured a podium at Monza.

Rather importantly, there was a Ferrari on the podium in front of the home crowds at Italy.

But having said that all, this time, in particular, Carlos Sainz demonstrated in real, not in theory, that he possesses the same racecraft as his more favoured and easily more liked teammate Charles Leclerc.

Surely, it’s not Leclerc’s fault if he is more admired; he’s fast, is naturally talented, has several more poles to his name than Carlos and appeals to the fancy of the girls and is an automatic pick among doting F1 fans as the best current driver besides Max Verstappen.

But just how is Carlos Sainz jr. too far behind?

If consistency is a subject of discussion, then it ought to be noted that where the last few races, including Zandvoort are concerned, then the Spaniard has picked his form.

Rather incredibly, despite having not had a podium to his name prior to Monza, he still had a point’s advantage over his teammate.

It ought to be noted that Charles had three podiums to his name whilst Sainz had none until the completion of the Dutch GP.

But where Carlos, perhaps it still doesn’t occur to his critics, responds to the faith of his backers, is that he has had fewer race retirements this year than Leclerc. At Spain, Canada, Azerbaijan and Miami, Carlos Sainz was consistently on the pace and even on the limit on occasions, fetching a top five finish in races that aren’t necessarily the easiest to combat.

Moreover, a few hours back, as the Ferrari strategy department, as per normal, dozed off allowing both drivers to have a go at each other even as that meant risking the podium for one among the two, Sainz demonstrated immense coolness under pressure to fend off Leclerc.

On two occasions, Charles Leclerc got desperately close and nearly into the rear of his pole sitting teammate who at that point was desperately trying to hold onto a podium place. Surely, we all enjoyed th racing and who doesn’t enjoy an instance of hard as nails racing with nothing held back?

But such luxuries can’t be ill afforded when you are a Ferrari and not even third on the Constructors.

Besides, did anyone note Leclerc quite simply failed to catch up to Verstappen in the early stages so that his teammate could build an advantage out in front for the Ferrari to gun for a win? Not only did Leclerc struggle at that point, he even struggled to put pressure from behind on Perez as Sainz, then in second, was in close pursuit of race-leading Verstappen.

Did perfect teammplay action actually transpire at Monza when Leclerc, whose job should ideally have been to pressurise one Red Bull, instead went all out on Sainz?

Surely, the chances of team principal Fred Vasseur commenting on that are about as likely as 2021 Abu Dhabi’s result being altered in Lewis’s favour!

But truth is, Carlos Sainz, superbly underwhelming as per some in comparison to Leclerc, is more than the Monegasque’s wingman. He’s, quite frankly, the pillar of dependability that offers Ferrari breathing space when the going gets tough.

This is not some random fanboy statement; in his first year at the Scuderia, he demonstrated a penchant for consistency and reliability in garnering a fifth on the driver’s standings, which included podiums at Monaco, Russia, Hungary and Abu Dhabi.

Moreover, what Leclerc fans can’t deny but may surely pass wry comments to is that their hero found himself outscored by 7.5 points in the maiden year of the two’s pairing.

Concrete vs Cosmological

It was Carlos Sainz, not the golden boy of the Scuderia who helped Ferrari recover from what had previously been a terrible year into a position of formidable midfield strength in 2021.

With Mission WinNow being firmly planted on the racing suits of the fighting duo, Sainz was the carrier of the more practically achievable goal: improve now!

He was the practitioner of monk-like patience. That’s despite neither of the two contesting in a winning machine.

Carlos Sainz isn’t competing to prove a point to Leclerc and it’s vice-versa. Both young drivers have been paired to find a way to return Ferrari to the realm of the glorious. Although that can only happen when equal focus and opportunity are presented to both instead of subjecting just one favourite driver to cosmological praise whilst hugely undermining the other.

If the Monza crowd roared in rapturous applause, it wasn’t due to Leclerc’s hard fought fourth; it was because Carlos Sainz saved the day and brought home a valiant third for Ferrari.

Note- the article in no way aims to disrespect Charles and is a presentation of the view of the author, not the publication!

Carlos Sainz
3 – GP ITALIA F1/2023 – SABATO 02/09/2023 – credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

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