Formula 1: How Carlos Sainz Jr. proved his worth in Monaco

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) /

A brilliant drive by Carlos Sainz Jr. in Monaco proved his worth to Ferrari just five races into the 2021 Formula 1 season, his first with the team.

When Charles Leclerc smashed his Ferrari into the barriers at the Swimming Pool chicane in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix, there were a lot of frustrated drivers, none more so than his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. But when Leclerc failed to start the race, the Spaniard proved his worth as a Ferrari Formula 1 driver.

Prior to the 2020 Formula 1 season, there were a lot of question marks as to why exactly Ferrari decided to swap a four-time world champion in Sebastian Vettel with a driver who has yet to win a Grand Prix in Sainz.

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But after the first five races of the 2021 season, the reasons are clear for all to see. Sainz is able to deliver consistent points finishes for the Scuderia and he is getting closer and closer to Leclerc in both qualifying and the race, something that Vettel was rarely able to do last year, irrespective of Ferrari’s own woes.

To add to that, Sainz has been by far the best driver in a new team from 2020 to 2021.

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Daniel Ricciardo decided to move from Renault to McLaren after Sainz vacated the seat at the Woking-based squad, but the Australian has not had much fun this year.

He may lead teammate Lando Norris 3-2 in qualifying this season, but Norris has gotten the best of him on Sunday in all but one Grand Prix this year, and he is 32 points ahead of his Australian teammate. World champions Fernando Alonso and Vettel have also been left wanting more against teammates Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll at Alpine and Aston Martin, respectively, with the race in Monte Carlo offering the first sign of a return to form for Vettel in a good couple of years.

Sainz himself has recently described switching teams in Formula 1 as being as difficult as switching between categories on the path to Grand Prix racing. So considering how well his move has gone says all we need to know about how the Spaniard is performing right now.

He has continued to improve race by race. He recorded a points finish in Bahrain in eighth place, two positions lower than his teammate. He showed a decent transition and was able to build on that in Imola, demonstrating his wet weather prowess to climb his way from 11th on the grid to finish in fifth.

A pointless finish in Portimao did not represent Sainz’s lightning pace all weekend around Algarve International Circuit, as Ferrari put him on a strategy that left him as a sitting duck for the second half of the race. But it was a good learning experience for all involved, as he was on the reverse of that equation in Barcelona and finished in seventh.

But Monaco was where Sainz truly earned his stripes for Ferrari. While the Scuderia’s golden boy was unable to start the race, they needed Sainz to pull through for them.

After starting in fourth place (net third), he showed that he had superior race pace than Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, and when the Silver Arrows’ botched pit stop forced the Finn into retirement, Sainz asserted his pace and looked for a time like he might challenge Verstappen for the race lead.

He was unchallenged by Norris behind him and claimed a well-earned second place after having shown great pace all weekend. He had, by every definition, delivered for Ferrari on a day when Leclerc did not score the big points for the team like he is accustomed to.

Therefore, he is quickly winning over plaudits, including 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg. Rosberg had previously said that he thought Ferrari should have opted for Ricciardo over Sainz.

Talking to Sky Italia on Sunday, the German said the following.

"“I can only congratulate Sainz. Ferrari has chosen the right man. I also liked the fact that Sainz was slightly irritated after his second place. He felt he had the speed to take pole on Saturday and win the race on Sunday. That’s the spirit of a winning driver.”"

Following that performance, Ferrari find themselves just two points behind their fierce rivals McLaren in the constructor standings, which is a much different position compared to where they were last year.

Even with their woes, Ferrari had the pace to beat Renault and could have challenged Racing Point and McLaren, but with only one driver scoring big points every weekend, it was mission impossible.

Clearly, they have a better car in 2021 compared to 2020. But with two solid drivers in Leclerc and Sainz, the latter has already proven his worth in ways that Ricciardo has not yet done at McLaren.

Just like he was at McLaren, Sainz is having a positive influence on everyone at Ferrari, providing that leadership and stability when the people within the team need it most. He was able to deliver a key result for Ferrari on a weekend when they needed big points — and a shiny trophy to boot.

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So now that the Scuderia have two strong racers in their roster, they will certainly be feeling punchy as the rest of the 2021 season continues to play out.