Formula 1: The most ‘disrespected’ driver on the grid

Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) /

Perhaps no driver gets less respect for what he has achieved in Formula 1 than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., and his recent history backs it up.

When it comes to discussions about potential Formula 1 world champions not named Max Verstappen, several names are brought up almost every time. Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc usually top the list, with a few others perhaps making an appearance from time to time, including George Russell and even Oscar Piastri.

Yet not nearly enough attention is paid to Carlos Sainz Jr., who is now in his third season with Ferrari.

Everyone seems to hype up Norris as a potential future world champion. Him being at McLaren is supposedly “hindering” his progression, and he should be seeking out other opportunities so that he can maximize his potential.

There is probably a lot of truth to that. But there is undeniable truth in the fact that in two seasons as teammates at McLaren, Sainz beat Norris both times, and relatively comfortably. He finished five spots ahead of him in 2019, which was admittedly Norris’s rookie season, and three spots ahead of him in 2020 before moving to Ferrari.

When Carlos Sainz Jr. joined Ferrari ahead of the 2021 Formula 1 season, he was immediately seen as the number two driver.

The team were clearly building around Charles Leclerc, whom they had hired ahead of the 2019 season as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement.

Despite the idea which some peddled that Sebastian Vettel would “make Leclerc cry”, Leclerc beat the four-time world champion in both of their seasons as teammates.

Yet when Sainz joined Ferrari in 2021, he finished two positions ahead of Leclerc straight away, and hardly any attention was paid to it.

Why is that?

Leclerc did beat Sainz in 2022, when Leclerc won a career-high three races and Sainz secured his first career victory in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit, as well as the first three pole positions of his career, but Sainz finds himself ahead again through seven races in 2023, five of which have seen him finish ahead of the 25-year-old Monegasque.

Both drivers have certainly made their share of on-track errors, specifically since the start of last year. Yet it is Leclerc who should “leave Ferrari” for better opportunities and Sainz who should “be replaced” by a better driver.

It just doesn’t make a ton of sense, especially considering the fact that Sainz has been strong throughout his entire career. It’s not like he has had a fluke season here and there, and it’s not like he is washed up at just 28 years old.

He has been consistently able to extract solid pace from whichever car he is in at whichever team he is with. And he has been with quite a few teams, including not only McLaren and Ferrari but Toro Rosso and Renault as well.

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Does Carlos Sainz Jr. have Formula 1 world championship potential? That’s probably a bit of a stretch, unless a whole lot of things line up. But if Ferrari end up cutting ties with him at some point in the near future, there should be plenty of teams lined up for his services, and he could thrive at any one of them.