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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: What happens next will define Sainz’s F1 career

by Mark Hughes
2 min read

This is a somewhat incongruous moment for Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari Formula 1 contract extension to be announced – just as he’s suffering a difficult start to his season as team-mate Charles Leclerc soars.

In reality, the of-the-moment form of Sainz is not particularly relevant to Ferrari’s choice.

He’s a super-positive force within the team, bringing a great work ethic and a great ability to analyse car behaviour and translate it in terms the engineers can quickly grasp. Although the team loves Leclerc, at a technical level it has perhaps a better line of communication with Sainz – and in a way that benefits both drivers.

That and his basic very high level of performance is all that Ferrari requires of him. In many ways it would be more convenient for Ferrari if Leclerc’s early-season edge over Sainz continues, enabling it to focus unambiguously on one driver as its title focus, with the other in support.

But that will not be enough for Sainz himself. Being in place at the Scuderia just as it is coming good is a career-defining opportunity for him. He has everything in his hands now to win grands prix and challenge for world titles – but he needs to access his full ability to do that.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

The question is whether he can stretch that performance up to Leclerc’s level in this car or whether there is something intrinsic in it that enables Leclerc to reach a higher ceiling.

The question is whether Sainz is now in the position of David Coulthard alongside Mika Hakkinen at McLaren at the beginning of 1998 – with the great car under him but a team-mate he’s been equally matched with up until now about to step it up a gear – or of Nigel Mansell next to Nelson Piquet at Williams in ’86, ready to prove all the disbelievers wrong regardless of the mega-star team-mate.

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