Our snapshot of Toro Rosso’s son of a gun, and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 F1 season.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
Formula One is no place for patience, but for Carlos Sainz, the wait will – has to – continue in 2017. The 22-year-old son of rally legend Carlos Sainz Sr had a convincing second season in the category last year for Scuderia Toro Rosso, featuring inside the top 10 for portions of the year. But with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen signed with Red Bull’s ‘A’ team for the foreseeable future, the waiting game for the Spaniard goes on. Can his career trajectory still go up while he’s in a holding pattern? You bet. What’s in store for Sainz’s 2017? This.
The younger of Toro Rosso’s two 2017 pilots (teammate Daniil Kvyat is a little more than four months older), Sainz is yet to make it to an F1 podium in 40 starts, but had a strong second F1 season last year, finishing a career-best sixth at his home Grand Prix in Spain, and matching that later in the season in the United States and Brazil. A trio of third-row starts (Monaco, Hungary and Singapore) showed that when his machinery allowed him to compete on a level playing field (more of which later), his talent could shine through.
What he did last year
Sainz’s three sixth-placed starts came on street circuits or tight tracks where outright power wasn’t the key determinant of success, which handcuffed Toro Rosso for last year after the team elected to run 2015-spec Ferrari engines for the season before a move to Renault power for this year. While Sainz (and Kvyat) were usually sitting ducks on the tracks where power was king, the Spaniard’s performance in Austin, where he fought over fifth place with compatriot and idol Fernando Alonso late in the race in a clearly inferior car, was all the more meritorious considering the length of the back straight of the COTA layout.
What changes in 2017?
Other than the Renault power beneath his right foot, not a whole lot under the skin for Toro Rosso and Sainz; on the surface, thanks to arguably the most eye-catching livery of 2017, plenty of people will notice STR more than usual this season. With Ricciardo and Verstappen locked in at Red Bull Racing until the end of next season under their current deals, short-term chances for Sainz to move within the ‘family’ are zero, which leaves him in a quandary – does he pursue a chance that emerges elsewhere, or does he bide his time, keep improving his standing in the sport, and wait in case an opportunity arises at what is a perennial front-runner? All he can do for the time being is keep producing, and hold onto the number one driver tag within Toro Rosso that he earned last year after thoroughly dominating Kvyat after the Russian re-joined the team from the Spanish GP.
Number to know
Of the teams that managed more than three top-10 finishes last year, only Romain Grosjean of Haas (100 per cent of his team’s 29 points) contributed more than Sainz’s 73 per cent of Toro Rosso’s tally of 63 points for the season.
Kvyat had the appearance of a lost soul at STR when swapped for Verstappen last year, and Sainz easily had his measure, scoring 42 points to the Russian’s four in the final 17 races of the year. Kvyat is clearly much better than that, as two F1 podiums will attest, and Sainz needs to pick up where he left off last year and be the dominant driver within his own team. If a Toro Rosso is nibbling around the back-end of the top-10 points-paying positions, or qualifying further up the grid than it should be with a banzai Saturday lap, it needs to be Sainz at the controls.
Scoring more points than the previous year (Sainz had 18 points to finish 15th overall in his rookie season in 2015, and 46 to finish 12th last year) is the bare minimum. But the real dream is a shot at a Red Bull drive, right?
A slow start through factors out of his control. Toro Rosso had a problematic opening test for the 2017 season in Barcelona last week – Sainz and Kvyat managed just 183 laps between them, fewer than any other team, and covered one-third of the mileage completed by the all-conquering Mercedes outfit. Improved reliability is critical for a team that generally banks a decent slab of points from the opening flyaway races at the start of the year before F1’s return to Europe sparks the next big development push. Pre-season testing, given there’s so little of it, is crucial for all 10 teams, but a smooth four days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this week could remove much of the early-season uncertainty for STR.
Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko believes Toro Rosso should be a good midfield team – “their aim is to finish fifth,” he told Sky Sports this week – which leaves Sainz in the perfect place for a top-10 championship finish this season. Beating the Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari drivers looks a bridge too far, but after that, he’s right in the mix. Fifteenth in 2015, 12th last year – how about ninth in 2017 to continue that trend?