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F1 | Sainz: “Leclerc is one of the greatest talents in F1, racing with him is a chance to improve as a driver”

Six-month after joining the Maranello team, Carlos Sainz sits back and reflects on his experience so far. While in McLaren he “found a family”, joining the Scuderia was a dream he had since he was a young boy.

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F1 | Sainz: “Leclerc is one of the greatest talents in F1, racing with him is a chance to improve as a driver”
Fuente imagen: formula1.com

In an exclusive interview with BBC Sport, Sainz talks very openly about his experience with La Rossa. "I've found it really cool," he concedes.

Joining Ferrari has been like “making a dream come true. So there is a lot of excitement and a lot of nervousness before doing your first race, your first test”.

Carlos Sainz Jr. has not had the smoothest of careers so far. He made his debut in Formula One back in 2015, alongside Max Verstappen. At the time, they were both racing for Toro Rosso but, while the dutchman got the call to jump to the senior team, Sainz saw no opportunities for improvement inside Red Bull, and started looking for a way out.

He ended up relocating to Renault for the final few races of 2017 and a full season in 2018, but never felt happy there either. It was only when he got to McLaren in 2019 that his career really took off.

"One thing I discovered in McLaren, is what a difference it makes for an athlete to perform in an atmosphere and in a team where they appreciate your value, where they give you the importance and the perfect environment to perform at the highest level, psychologically but also technically”, Sainz revealed.

Before McLaren, he never found a supportive environment where he could grow and thrive as a driver.  At Toro Rosso, he was only ever on a one-year contract. At Renault, "rumours started about Ricciardo coming to Renault” and he says he “didn't feel as liked or as wanted”.

"In McLaren, I definitely found my home and I'm really thankful to Zak Brown and everyone in McLaren for giving me that two-year deal. I managed to pay them back in terms of results."

Precisely because of his impressive improvements as a driver, as soon as the news of his deal with Ferrari came out, there were those who worried for Sainz, fearing his choice was far from wise.

After an abrupt end to the Vettel-Ferrari relationship and with Leclerc signing a multi-million, multi-year contract extension; many feared Sainz was consigning himself to a support role.

"I couldn't say no to that opportunity," Sainz says, "and I jumped the boat into Ferrari hoping to create a very similar environment and situation to McLaren, expecting that was going to be possible. So far it has worked really well because I found a really nice team, a good atmosphere here and I'm enjoying myself a lot."

He had wanted to join Ferrari since he was a 10-year-old boy, and he admits there was "definitely a bit of romanticism" in his choice to move. Yet, it was a fully pondered decision, says the Spaniard.  

"Obviously, I did think about it. When you sign a deal, you consider all these options, but immediately as I started to have my first conversations with Mattia [Binotto] and everyone, I realised that I was going to have equal opportunity”

"So [I thought] maybe my first year in the team is going to be challenging to match Charles' results. But I rely a lot on my talents and my work ethic and the way I approach things and even if the first year is going to be tough, I am expecting in the future to be close to him or even hopefully a bit ahead.

So far, results speak louder than any scepticism. The 26-year-old Spaniard has every reason for being pleased with his move. Indeed, of all the drivers changing team at the beginning of 2021, he has been the most impressive. While four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel managed to snug a podium in Baku, he had been struggling for a while and the same is true for Fernando Alonso at Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren. On the other hand, Sainz has looked at ease within Ferrari from the beginning and he has scored the team's best result - second place at the Monaco GP.

Moreover, Sainz considers his new teammate Leclerc as “one of the greatest if not the greatest talent in Formula 1 now”, so gauging himself against the Monegasque was part of the appeal of joining the Scuderia.

"If you want to test your qualifying speed against anyone, it is against Charles Leclerc; I think he is the best qualifier on the grid,” Sainz says.

"It is not only speed. He also has a very good work ethic, but he is also very good at team building, he has a lot of strengths that make him such a strong driver".

"I am loving the challenge, to be honest, because I know there is no one better than him probably as a single lap with a Ferrari Formula 1 car."

"I would say right now if you put any driver in a Ferrari car, it will be difficult [for them] to out-qualify Charles because he has that three years of experience, he knows exactly how to pull out a lap in Q3 [the final part of qualifying] with this car, he knows exactly what the car does and he has the talent to extract that performance with a Ferrari.

Despite Leclerc’s undeniable speed in qualification - with an average advantage of 0.233secs compared to his teammate - the competition between the two has been very close. Sainz has been the pace-setter several times over race weekends and his ability to find pace so early on in his Ferrari career has been one of the most striking aspects of the season.

Further, while in Formula One, the rivalry between teammates is nothing new; Sainz says that his priority at the moment is helping the team bounce back after 2020 purgatory – Ferrari’s worst season in the last 40 years.

"There tends to be a lot of competition with team-mates and I am the first one who wants to finish ahead of Charles in every race, in every qualifying,” says Sainz,

"[But] at the moment in Ferrari, there is a priority number one that is to take the team forward as quickly as possible back to the top”.

As far as the future goes, Sainz hopes to prolong his stay in Italy, despite the presence of Ferrari-contracted Mick Schumacher, the son of the team's most successful driver.

“I am very happy with how this first half of the year is going, and I feel like I still have a lot of potential and a lot of speed to find in Ferrari,” Says Sainz

"In the future, I want to be part of this team and honestly I don't think too much of who is on the radar. I know if I perform at a very high level and I keep working hard and the way I'm working I shouldn't be too worried about what's around”. 

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