ABU DHABI: As he gets ready to wrap up his maiden Formula One season with Ferrari on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, Carlos Sainz has not just fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving for the Maranello marque, but has the chance to secure his highest championship finish should things go his way at Yas Marina Circuit.
The Spaniard is in a three-way battle with his teammate Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris for P5 in the championship, and is just 8.5 points behind the former and 4.5 points adrift of the latter entering the final race of the season.
Should he eclipse both of his rivals, Sainz would improve on the sixth-place championship finishes he achieved with McLaren in 2019 and 2020 and it would bode well for his upcoming sophomore season with the Prancing Horse.
Irrespective of where he lands in the standings after Sunday’s season finale, Sainz handled the pressure of driving for the most iconic team in F1 in impeccable fashion, and earned praise from Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto for how well he adapted to learning a new power unit in his first year in the red car.
Last race, last push!! Vamooos @ScuderiaFerrari!
— Carlos Sainz (@Carlossainz55) December 8, 2021
“The better the driver, the quicker the process, and I think that Carlos in that respect has been very strong. We knew he was a good driver and this season he’s simply demonstrating it as well,” said Binotto on Friday.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, a former Ferrari team principal, said that Sainz is “without a doubt the big surprise of 2021.
“I have to say that he has surprised me. His adaptation, his solidity, his performance, his speed,” the Italian was quoted as saying by MARCA.
Sainz, who is in his eighth year in F1, says that 2021 has been his most enjoyable season to date. The 27 year old grabbed three podiums with Ferrari this campaign — in Monaco, Hungary and Russia — and had top-eight finishes in each of his last nine races heading into Abu Dhabi.
“I think it’s one of my favorite seasons in F1 in terms of just enjoying F1 and enjoying being part of this sport and this team,” said Sainz on Thursday.
“It’s been quite hectic — a lot of races, but also a lot of good times. I managed to enjoy myself and at the same time I managed to improve myself during the year. I feel like I’m finishing the season much stronger than I started it; that shows that there’s important progression inside the team.
“I’ve seen changes inside the team also that have gone in the right direction, so honestly the feeling going into next year is very positive. We’re going through a good moment and with good momentum.”
Being able to find joy in the process despite the added pressure of becoming a Ferrari driver is not an easy balance to strike, but Sainz has found comfort in knowing that he gets to live his dream every day.
“It comes with a lot more pressure, it also comes with a bit of a busier schedule, being a Ferrari driver and having to have so many commitments, so it does make the season a bit more packed, a bit more stressful, a bit more with extra pressure,” he admits.
“But it’s been fairly easy for me to keep reminding myself that I am achieving a dream, that is to drive for the best team in Formula One and the most historic team in Formula One, and it’s a dream come true for me since I was a kid, to be driving for Ferrari.
“And if I keep reminding myself of this kind of thing then I actually go into the weekend always excited, always with good energy, always trying to learn, trying to become better, to make sure that if the chance of fighting for a world championship with Ferrari ever arrives, I’m going to be as prepared and as ready as possible.
“This has given me a good balance this year. It has allowed me to make another little step as a driver and to make me finish the season on a high and now ready for whatever comes in 2022.”
Sainz says that he feels “100 percent ready” to fight for the championship if the car becomes more competitive next year and is satisfied with how well he adapted to a new team this season, and how quick he was from the get go.
“When you think I’m still in the fight for P5 in the drivers’ championship, third in constructors’ standings looks good, so yes, I must have done a pretty decent season to be in that position,” he concludes.
Looking at the fierce battle taking place at the front of the grid as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen enter the final race on equal points, Sainz describes the situation as an “ideal scenario” for F1, and finds himself caught up in the gripping action, anxious to see how it all pans out.
He refuses to weigh in on who should be considered the driver of the season, though.
“Unfortunately on social media there is a lot of polarization. I wouldn’t say abuse between fans, but very polarized, and it makes the fight a bit less exciting when you see the two sides fighting each other so much. I think it’s just better to be a bit more neutral, enjoy the fight and let the best man win,” said Sainz.
“I’m not going to comment personally on who’s been my driver of the season, particularly because of that. If I will say one then one side will criticize me and say ‘mo, Lewis has had a better car,’or if I say Max, it’s too polarized. I just don’t want to take a stance because it doesn’t make sense looking at how polarized it is on social media.
“I think they’ve both done incredible seasons and they’re both driving at an incredible level. From my side, I just wish that they can keep it clean this last weekend and give it a good showdown, for the image of the sport more than anything else; for the benefit of Formula One and to show that we are still a sport, not only a show and show good sportsmanship and a good showdown in the grand final.”
On Saturday, Sainz out-qualified his teammate and will start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from P5, with Leclerc two positions behind. But Norris put together a stunning lap to clinch P3 in qualifying, and will start in front of both Ferraris.