5 reasons why Carlos Sainz has settled so quickly at Ferrari
When Carlos Sainz signed for Ferrari, many felt he was doing so as Charles Leclerc’s wingman. That is despite the Spaniard arriving at Maranello with two consecutive top-six finishes in the drivers’ championship, having played a critical role in McLaren’s recovery that left them up in P3 in the constructors’ championship.
One of Sainz’s outstanding qualities is his mental strength and so he let such chatter wash off his back. He was going to Ferrari to compete both for the team and for himself – and he’s delivered from the very first moment he turned the wheel of the world’s most famous racing car.
After six races, he is seventh in the drivers’ championship, just two points behind incumbent Leclerc – who is in his third season with Ferrari. And he gave the Prancing Horse their first podium of 2021, with second in Monaco.
It speaks volumes of where he is in his career right now that he was disappointed with that result as he felt a win was possible had he not made a small mistake in qualifying.
Sainz is one of five drivers to join new teams over the winter – Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) being the others – and though he is the most inexperienced in terms of Grands Prix completed, he has made the smoothest transition. So how has he done it?
1. Relocation, relocation, relocation
The world is your oyster when you’re a Formula 1 driver looking for somewhere to live. Many choose Monaco, others Switzerland, others choose their homeland, but for some they choose proximity to their team and are happy to jump about depending on who they are racing for at the time.
Sainz is no stranger to a removal company, the Spaniard having moved to London when he was racing at Toro Rosso and Renault, then to an apartment close to Woking when he moved to McLaren – and now he’s got a place a short drive away from Maranello.
Living so close means that not only does he have a shorter commute – and a more generous morning alarm – but it is easier to spend more time at the factory and that in turn has helped him quickly integrate in the team.
2. Putting the hours in
It’s clear that Sainz already has a very strong bond with the team, you could see that in the way they embraced after his podium in Monaco, and in particular with his team of engineers.
Communication is so important in Formula 1, particularly when you’re the new boy and need to mould your style of working with that of your new colleagues – and the relationship with your chief engineer is super important.
Already it is believed Sainz and Riccardo Adami, who previously worked with Sebastian Vettel, are understanding each other well. There’s plenty of joking between them and they are operating close to what it was like when the Spaniard worked with Tom Stallard at McLaren. That may not seem like a big thing on the surface, but in a world where every split second counts, it can make a telling difference.
Bedding himself inside the Ferrari family has been helped by the huge amount of time he has spent at Maranello between races.
If he’s not in engineering meetings, he’s chatting with his engineers, in the team’s gym fulfilling his training plan, or having lunch in the staff canteen getting to know everyone.
His enthusiasm and dedication to being the best he can be is infectious – and has had an impressive impact on his team
It’s much like the approach Vettel took when he was at Ferrari. The duo have history, with Sainz having spent countless days in the simulator providing valuable data to Red Bull for race weekends.
When Vettel left the team, he wrote a letter to Sainz thanking him personally for all the late nights in the sim. There’s a lot of respect between the two of them, and it’s a characteristic that is helping mould Sainz into a very impressive person, let alone racing driver.
3. Using Ferrari's advantages to his advantage
With testing so limited these days, Sainz did at least have the benefit of one run (just one run) in a 2018-spec Ferrari at their Fiorano test track before he headed to pre-season testing. The likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel did not get to enjoy such old car run outs with their new teams.
Even though the 2021 car is a different beast to the one he drove, Sainz made the most of that day, familiarising himself with how the car’s systems operated and how the team went about their business during a track day.
Given he has raced for four teams in seven years, he’s honed his ability to pick up things quickly and that helped him make the most of his minuscule 1.5 days of running in 2021-spec machinery in Bahrain.
That test was mostly about getting a feel for how a Ferrari Formula 1 car handles, because as expected, it was different to that of the McLaren he had become accustomed to during two years at the team.
He played down expectations heading into the season, accepting that it would take some time for him to be the “Carlos of McLaren” and that helped keep the pressure off.
But the smooth and methodical start to life at Ferrari has given him a strong foundation that he is already building on, having the confidence to pursue set-up directions he feels make the most sense for him.
4. Being adaptable behind the wheel
Swapping teams isn’t easy, especially with so little testing - just ask race winners Vettel, Ricciardo and Perez – but Sainz has made a habit of making it look so.
Since his debut in 2015, he has raced with Toro Rosso, Renault, McLaren and now Ferrari. With each change, and with more experience, he has been able to adapt quicker and quicker.
The Spaniard has been using a trial and error approach in qualifying – an area where he knows he needs to improve – and while it will occasionally lead to instances like a mistake on his first run in Monaco that could have cost him a front row start, on balance it’s helping him close the gap to Leclerc.
And aside from a tyre strategy that didn’t work out in Portugal, he has been his usual consistently quick self in race trim from the very first Grand Prix.
“It’s been a good start, I’m not going to lie,” he said when we chatted recently. “I’m quite satisfied with how things are going right now. I’ve been able to settle in quickly. The focus is to keep getting better and better results.”
5. Using his 'team player' mentality
Anyone who had had the pleasure of meeting anyone from the Sainz family will know they are engaging and driven people who are lovely to get on with and dedicated to the task in hand, so it’s no surprise then that not only had Sainz Jr got on well with every team he’s worked with, but he’s also had good relationships with team mates.
His bromance with Lando Norris is well documented and he’s already built up a strong relationship with Leclerc at Ferrari. They have plenty in common, which helps – they play paddle, chess and golf together – and are both very respectful of each other.
They appreciate that one can make the other faster and especially while Ferrari aren’t competing for race wins and the championship, it makes sense to work together, be open with each other regarding data and set-up directions, to push the team forward.
Sainz says he knows Leclerc is “exploiting 100% the capability of the car in qualifying and the race” and that gives him target to which he wants to hit. Already he feels like Leclerc’s form is pushing him to get more out of himself – and it’s already providing dividends.
The 26-year-old hit the sweetspot at McLaren in terms of how to get everything out of the car, so he knows what he needs to put in place to try and do the same at Ferrari.