The Spaniard joined the Red Bull Junior Team in 2010, before making the step up to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso in 2015, in the same year as Max Verstappen. Yet while Verstappen went on to partner Daniel Ricciardo at the senior Red Bull Racing team in 2016, taking the seat of Daniil Kvyat midway through the season, Sainz stayed on at Toro Rosso until mid-2017, when he was loaned out to Renault as a replacement for Jolyon Palmer.
Sainz was believed to be in contention for the second seat at Red Bull after Ricciardo announced that he was set to take his place at Renault for 2019. Ultimately, however, Red Bull opted to promote Pierre Gasly from Toro Rosso, leading Sainz to take the decision to replace his childhood hero Fernando Alonso at McLaren, following the two-time champion’s announcement that he would bow out at the end of the year. And while the move now takes Sainz out of the Red Bull network – one his father, two-time World Rally champion Carlos Sainz, is still a part of – he maintains that he has nothing but goodwill for his former backers.
“I am leaving the Red Bull family in a very good way,” said Sainz ahead of this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. “I owe pretty much my Formula 1 career to them. Thanks to them, I am going to McLaren, because they put me into Formula 1, and I have been able to have a career thanks to them. I am opening up a new chapter. Next year is my first two-year deal with a team, and I cannot wait.”
Asked if he was disappointed at being passed over for the second Red Bull seat, Sainz replied: “It’s impossible to be disappointed when you are leaving a team to go McLaren.
“It’s one of those dreams I had as a kid – and to be joining McLaren in the future, it’s impossible to be unhappy. Yes, I have been part of Red Bull family for a very long time and I always said Red Bull were one of my main objectives. But as a racing driver, the McLaren family pushes you a lot, and it’s impossible to be disappointed with that.”
Sainz also confirmed that his dealings with McLaren stretched back far further than the 2018 ‘silly season’, revealing that talks had been ongoing with the Woking-based team for “a year or two”.
“As soon as Daniel [Ricciardo] was announced at Renault, obviously there was a period of time where I didn’t know where I was going to go,” said Sainz. “I had been preparing my options and McLaren have been one of them for a long time now. I’ve been in touch with the McLaren management for a year or two now. Because of that, I was very calm about the situation. I had to wait about to see what happened with Red Bull, and then make my only decision. In the end it has turned out to be good.”
McLaren’s incumbent driver Alonso, meanwhile, backed up Sainz’s optimism about his move to the team, calling McLaren “an amazing organisation”.
“I don't know exactly how the car will be or what the performance Carlos will find, but what is 100% is that the team is an amazing team,” said Alonso. “The second best team in the history of the sport and this is something that you will feel immediately when you come to the factory, when you enter the MTC [McLaren Technology Centre], you meet the people, the engineers, the design office, the mechanics.
"Everyone is committed and determined to put McLaren back on the top, and that's something that is quite special when you join this kind of organisation. So that will be the first feeling, the first moment of joy [for Carlos]. And hopefully the second will be in the Barcelona test [in February 2019].”