He’s the son of a World Rally Champion who counts Fernando Alonso as his unofficial mentor; the boy from Madrid who’s been with the Red Bull family since 2010, and now has his sights set on a World Championship of his own. Jennie Gow meets F1’s star in the making, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.
Growing up in the shadow of a world famous father can make for a pretty tough existence. Life can be extremely challenging when you choose to do the same thing as your dad. But for Carlos Sainz Jr., he only has praise for the man who taught him what it meant to be a racer, and no regrets at all about following in the footsteps of one of Spain’s greatest ever drivers to pursue a life as one of the fastest men in the world.
Sitting down with Sainz Jr. ahead of his home race, he tells me about his relationship with his father and how they have always been very close. He says this as, ironically, Sainz Snr. walks behind us and smiles; “He’s come with me to all the races, from karting to other formula, and now F1. He comes to nearly all of them and I enjoy it because it’s having someone by my side that you can trust. There are very little people you can trust and rely on in the paddock, and he’s one of them.”
Carlos is nearing his 50th race in Formula One and great things are being mooted about the 22 year old. His best finish is a 6th place last time out at his home race in Spain but, it has to be said, that performance was in a Toro Rosso with a year old engine. Stick him in a Championship-contending car and many in the paddock think he could be winning titles, let alone races.
“I wouldn’t mind having a couple of World Championships, for sure”, says Carlos of his father’s rallying Championships in 1990 and 1992 with Toyota. However, he’s keen to stress that he is his own man: “Apart from that, I want to do things in my own way. I’m his son, of course, but I want to do things my way and that’s what I’ve been doing up until now.”
There’s no doubting that winning is in the Sainz blood. Sainz Jr. took the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship in 2014 and, before that, he was Formula Renault 2.0 NEC Champion, in 2011. His attitude is one not of entitlement but of confidence in his own ability.
Does that come from his father? “For sure, he’s a World Champion and it doesn’t matter if it’s in badminton or tennis or football, or whatever. He has the right attitude and without the right attitude you cannot be a World Champion. In terms of that, he gives me really good advice on how to become a Champion.”
However, when asked who his biggest influence has been, Sainz is keen to pay homage to his Mum; “My mother is probably the one I admire the most because she’s been dealing with myself and my dad for very long, and is the one controlling us both. [She] is the boss at home.”
The love he has for both of his parents is obvious.
It is also clear that there is one other man in the paddock who has a special place in Sainz’s heart – fellow Spaniard and F1 veteran, Fernando Alonso. “I like competition and rallies, but I was not as attracted to Rally as I am Formula 1. When my father took me to the Spanish Grand Prix 11 years ago to meet Fernando Alonso and to see my first f1 race, I suddenly realised I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver.”
He is clear on what Alonso means to him; “He was my idol, my hero, my inspiration to become an F1 driver and [that’s] what I’ve been fighting for since then. That was a special day for me.”
“He’s probably the only driver in the paddock [with whom] I have a bit of a personal relationship. He’s helped me a lot in the past. When he’s had a chance to speak well about me, to guide me or give me advice, he has always done so. I have a lot of respect and am grateful [for] everything he’s done for me.”
And what about Alonso’s opinion of Sainz the younger? Does the 2-time World Champion rate his Spanish counterpart? Speaking in the drivers’ press conference ahead of the race this weekend, it certainly appears so: “I think everyone can see the progress that Carlos has made in the last three years. He started already impressing a lot of people because I think he has the talent. I think young drivers arrive in Formula One and they are ready. They are prepared. If you add that preparation to the talent that Carlos has, already in the first year he was at the very, very high level. Now, with experience, I think he’s one of the best on the grid.”
It’s high praise indeed. But what’s next for Carlos Sainz Jr.? It is clear, and he admits, that he wants to be a Formula One World Champion, “I don’t know when or how, but I want to be. And Toro Rosso knows it, and that’s why I’m convinced [that] at the end of the year, if I keep performance as I am doing, they will give me a chance to step up or do something different with a big team.”
However, Carlos knows how things work at a big team like Red Bull. He knows that there have been many casualties who have tried, and failed, to be the best with the team over the years. Surely, if one of their current drivers were to leave, he would be next in line for a plum job?
“At the moment, this is how it looks and is what I’ve heard, but if I want to keep going that way, I need to keep performing. I need to keep performing at the highest level, like I am doing now, and make sure that continues to be the case. But I’m not here to be the third driver [for] anyone. I want to become a leading driver.”
With his two idols, his father and Fernando Alonso, both double World Champions in their respective sports, and great ambassadors for their beloved Spain to boot, Carlos no doubt has big shoes to fill. It surely won’t be long before he has a chance to prove himself at one of the top teams. There are many – including me – who believe that, if he is in the right place at the right time, he could surely fulfil his lifelong dream and become that which he has always wanted: a Formula One World Champion.