The son of a much-loved double world rally champion, it was perhaps inevitable that Carlos Sainz Junior would choose to pursue a career in motorsport. But unlike his famous father - namesake Carlos Sainz - the gifted young Spaniard chose to ply his trade on the track rather than on the loose.
It has proved to be a wise move: after establishing an enviable record in junior formulae the disarmingly mature Red Bull-backed driver earned an F1 seat at Toro Rosso, barely ten years on from his first competitive kart race.
Born in Madrid in 1994, Sainz first got behind the wheel at the age of seven when he began to drive at his father’s indoor karting centre, though it would be a further three years before he started to compete seriously.
Over the next few years he’d develop into a formidable competitor, and in 2009 - his final year in karts - he won both the Western European region of the KF3 series and the Monaco Kart Cup, a prestigious event which counts the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica as previous champions.
The following year proved an extremely important one in Sainz’s career as, aged 15, he not only graduated to car racing but was invited to join Red Bull’s heralded junior team. Under the watchful eye of Dr Helmut Marko, Sainz raced to a solid fourth in the European Formula BMW championship before following that up with a commanding victory at Macau in the sister Asian-Pacific series.
His progression continued in 2011 as he made a hugely successful transition to Formula Renault 2.0, seeing of the challenge of fellow Red Bull protege Daniil Kvyat to win the Northern European Cup with a total of 12 wins and 26 podiums in 34 races. Keen to capitalise on the momentum, Red Bull placed Sainz in Formula Three in 2012 where he’d compete in both the British and European series.
In the end it was an up-and-down season for the Spaniard in the ultra-competitive category, though he did take several wins - including a fabulous victory at a rain-soaked Spa-Francorchamps - which underlined his burgeoning potential.
Sainz moved on again in 2013, this time to the F1-supporting GP3 Series, but he struggled to adapt and managed just two podium finishes all season. Thankfully, his maiden F1 tests with Red Bull and Toro Rosso went much better, with both teams impressed by his approach and feedback.
A few decent outings in the Formula Renault 3.5 World Series at the end of the year marked the prelude to a superb 2014 season in which he completely dominated the same championship, scoring a record-breaking seven wins en route to the title.
That success, allied to Toro Rosso’s decision to part ways with Jean-Eric Vergne, opened up the chance of Sainz graduating to F1 racing, something that had looked a remote possibility when the Italian team opted to sign Max Verstappen to their first vacancy.
Sainz’s promotion to the highest level of motorsport was finally confirmed following a successful run-out with Red Bull at Abu Dhabi late in the year.
“I watched [Fernando Alonso] win the world championship on TV when I was 10- or 11-years-old and back then I would never have dreamed that I would one day be racing against him,” commented a delighted Sainz. “When [Helmut Marko] told me I had got the seat and I was going to race with people like him and Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, the size of what I’d achieved suddenly hit me.
“I will try to do what all the previous Toro Rosso drivers have done: get in the points and prove to my bosses that I’m worthy of the seat.”
And over the course of 19 races the young Spaniard did just that. Inevitably, there were downs as well as ups in his rookie campaign - the huge practice crash in Russia from which he was fortunate to escape injury being the big one. But generally his speed and performances were every bit as impressive (and only marginally less spectacular) as his much-lauded team mate Max Verstappen’s, and were it not for some cruel reliability he would undoubtedly have scored substantially more than the 18 points he tallied.
His fortunes improved in 2016 as he continued to build a reputation as a quietly confident, quick and mature driver. Putting aside the disappointment of team mate Verstappen being chosen for a mid-season promotion to Red Bull Racing, he overcame his Toro Rosso machinery’s limited competitiveness to score points on no less than 10 occasions, including sixth places in Spain, the USA and Brazil.
Retained – unsurprisingly – for the following year, he dominated team mate Daniil Kvyat and when it became clear there would be no Red Bull Racing vacancies in the near future, agreed a deal whereby he would be loaned to Renault for 2018, before making an early switch to his new team for the final four rounds of 2017.