AFTER closing the gap to Pierre Gasly to just five points in the driver’s championship standings following the Hungarian Grand Prix McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was asked about his chances of overhauling the Frenchman.
‘I don’t think that’s going to last much, unfortunately, but it just shows how well we’re doing at the moment and how consistent we are since Baku,’ said the Spaniard, downplaying his chances.
Fast forward a week and Gasly’s demotion to the Toro Rosso team has opened up a huge opportunity for the Spaniard to claim the team’s highest driver’s points finish since Lewis Hamilton’s fourth place in 2012.
After coming off the back off two fifth-place finishes Sainz is in a rich vein of form, taking points in eight of the last nine races.
Another points finish in Belgium and the 24-year-old will soon overhaul the deficit to Gasly who will be expected to struggle at Spa as he adjusts to his new surroundings, a less competitive car and dented pride.
Once ahead, barring a string of unreliability Sainz can expect to stay ahead in the standings and effectively finish best of the rest outside the top five drivers.
Behind him is Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen, a distant 27 points behind while Red Bull new boy Alexander Albon trails by a massive 42 points. Even if the young Thai driver hits the ground running it would take a huge swing for Albon to overtake the Spaniard as we head deep into the season.
To achieve his best ever F1 finish and beat one of the Red Bulls would be hugely satisfying for Sainz, himself a former Torro Rosso driver and part of the Red Bull driver programme.
After being overlooked for a Red Bull seat in 2016 in favour of teammate Verstappen, Sainz was loaned to Renault in 2017 and 2018. But after loosing out at the chance of a seat in the senior team for a second time, when Gasly was chosen to replace Ricciardo for this year, Sainz quit Red Bull completely and completed his switch to McLaren.
Since his move the self proclaimed smooth operator has enjoyed a stellar season and comfortably outscored the highly rated rookie of Lando Norris.
It serves as a timely reminder to Sainz’s former employees of his undoubted talent at a time when they are struggling to find a driver worthy of filling their second race car.
With fourth place already seemingly secured in the constructors championship for McLaren and a sixth place finish in the driver’s championship a genuine possibility it would present a remarkable comeback for the Woking-based team which seems to have finally emerged from its years in the F1 wilderness much to the delight of its legions of loyal fans.