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Exclusive Carlos Sainz Q&A: Beating Alonso feels ‘weird’

18 Apr 2015

Three races into his F1 race career and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz has already scored six points, matching much-lauded team mate - and fellow rookie - Max Verstappen. That has come as a surprise to some, but not to the Sainz himself. More shocking to the Spaniard is finding himself ahead of legendary compatriot Fernando Alonso…

Q: Carlos, Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko said that from his four drivers you are the biggest surprise. You were the last to be signed, as they were not quite sure, you had the least time in the car - and now you have over delivered. I this what a rookie wants to hear?

Carlos Sainz: Wow, this is good news! Maybe expectations about me where a bit low. I have no idea why, though, as I had just come from winning a world championship series [Formula Renault 3.5] in a very nice way - with many victories. I had the confidence in myself and I knew I could do it - be in F1 - and in Melbourne and Malaysia I showed what I was capable off. In my mind there was not a moment of doubt. It is great to hear that from my boss, for sure. To hear from your boss that you have over delivered - how can it get better?

Q: He also said that you have ‘star qualities’, that you have ‘presence’, and that you could be the next Lewis Hamilton in terms of becoming F1 racing’s ‘man about town’. These are pretty big shoes to fill. How are you working on this?

CS: Ha, can I read this somewhere? That is great to hear. I would never have expected a comment like that from Helmut.

Q: How would you describe your first three races? What was your best moment so far?

CS: Looking at the overall balance it was a pretty good start. There were two very positive moments - Australia and Malaysia - and one a bit negative - China. I am prepared to go through good and not so good periods. You have to make your good periods count and learn from the bad ones. Sure, when you are so new a bad race probably affects you more than if you’ve gone through that many times before. I had many issues in China: strategy, clutch, a bit of mistake on my side - there you go.

Q: What was your best moment?

CS: Making it into Q3 in Australia: that was pretty thrilling. Running P5 in Australia without problems: that was amazing. Recovering from P15 to P8 in Malaysia with a two-stop strategy: that is never easy for a rookie. Many positives - so hard to pick one.

Q: You are very lucky to have joined Toro Rosso this season, as the team is doing better than ever. How much luck is involved in your career?

CS: I fully agree that luck is an important factor in F1. You can be the best driver but in a bad car you don’t go anywhere - and a rookie career can be finished in the blink of an eye. So yes, I am very happy with Toro Rosso. The package feels good. But it is also not as good as it looks: we are down on power - that makes racing for a rookie driver not the easiest. So you have to be extra clever, pay extra attention to details.

Q: Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost is known to be a no-nonsense guy. What was the steepest learning curve with him?

SC: For sure Franz has been a great help in pre-season. He knows what to tell a young driver in the right moment. He has been a huge help for me.

Q: You and team mate Max Verstappen where thrown into the shark pool and expected to swim. Are you both talking about the best way to do that? Or is it already tradition, even among rookies, that everybody is doing his own thing?

CS: Max and I, we are both going our own way. We are very similar drivers in terms of driving style and approach. But especially me, I like to focus only on myself - to bring out the full potential in myself. Only that will get you to the top.

Q: You are a big fan of Fernando Alonso and right now you are ahead of him in the standings - could you have ever imagined that in your first year?

SC: That feels very weird! I have been following him for so many years, and now to be ahead of him is magic. Of course, that is McLaren’s fault and not mine. With a good car Fernando will be at the top again.

Q: Will that ‘weird’ situation also last through this weekend? How is it going so far?

CS: Friday was a bit of a difficult day. We had numerous small problems. In FP1 I had to limit my running due to engine troubles. On top of that it is a new track for me and not getting enough mileage makes it tricky here. In FP2 we faced some braking issues - and were running underpowered to save the engine. Take all these things together and then you are happy with P14. We have to take care of our engine.

Q: New track, issues with the engine - where do you see yourself on Sunday?

CS: This track will make it very difficult to get into Q3. It has a lot of long straights - and that is not really good for us. There are not many high-speed corners where we can close up again. So points will be hard to come by. But of course with my youthful enthusiasm I will try anything to make it happen.