Silverstone, 2022. That was the moment a goal within touching distance for so long was finally grasped by Carlos Sainz. Fittingly, his first pole position of his career was duly followed by a first Formula 1 race win, in his 150th grand prix. Ferrari were back among the top contenders and Sainz, this time, was the leading man ahead of his team-mate Charles Leclerc. The Scuderia were a force at the front once more. Or so we thought.
Despite producing a race-winning car, Ferrari failed to capitalise last year amid strategy and reliability clangers. Red Bull leapfrogged the calamitous prancing horse – and have not looked back. Now, Ferrari have not won since Austria last year, just a week after Sainz’s inaugural triumph. They are fourth in the Constructors’ Championship at the halfway stage this season. Sainz has not even finished on the podium.
“I thought we’d be fighting for more podiums and wins but unfortunately it’s a very competitive team called Red Bull who are dominating,” Sainz tells The Independent.
“It’s been a challenging season. All of us at Ferrari expected more from this year’s car and performance. We haven’t done the best job.
“I’m happy with my own performance and the way I’m driving. But for one reason or another the results are not coming.”
2023 marks Sainz’s ninth-straight season in a sport he has devoted his life to. You can only wonder his thoughts as Max Verstappen – the driver he entered the sport alongside at Toro Rosso in 2015 – steamrolls to a third consecutive world championship at Red Bull. Via Renault, McLaren and now the scarlet red of Ferrari, Sainz’s progression through the ranks has been steady, if a bit slow.
“I saw from very early on [as a junior] when I was winning that I was very good,” the 28-year-old says. “But I was naïve to believe that just by winning I was going to be an winning F1 driver.
“I started to understand that everything needed to align. There needed to be a space for me in F1 and then I would need to be good enough to stay on. There’s always challenges.”
An initial challenge, no doubt, was coping with the pressure which naturally came with being Carlos Sainz Jr. His father won the World Rally Championship twice and still competes in Extreme E at the age of 61. But Sainz Jr. is quick to point something out: his dad was not a pushy parent throughout his upbringing in Madrid.
“My dad never got me into it, it was just me and something inside me that wanted to drive,” he insists. “It was just the genes, I’m not going to lie.
“I happened to fall in love with F1 as a sport. It coincided with racing in go-karts and since the age of two, I’ve always been on top of a car.”
His adoration for the sport is palpable. Time spent away from the paddock – whether it be golf, eating tapas or time with his family and dogs – is attuned to his return to the racetrack.
Despite being the right side of 30, only three current drivers have completed more consecutive seasons in the sport than him. And unlike his first team-mate Verstappen – who despite his success is adamant he will not race deep into his 30s like Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton – Sainz is not interested by other competitions or opportunities at the moment.
Not even the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which Ferrari won this year?
“Yes I would, one day,” he says. “But I don’t think about it yet. Why? Because I’m so focused on F1.”
Instead, while the ultimate dream is still attainable with a contract at Ferrari until the end of the 2024 season, Sainz will continue down the same road. And that road is currently one of recovery, which starts this weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix before the summer break.
“I want to be a world champion one day,” he states. “I want to be winning more races. My brain is only thinking about that and I don’t even think about the other possibilities. Now, my target is to help the team to develop the car and go faster. That will allow me to fight for podiums and wins.
“And that’s what I’m here at Ferrari for.”
Carlos Sainz is a brand ambassador for Estrella Galicia 0.0.