Has Carlos Sainz Screwed Up?
With Ferrari at the back and McLaren on the rise, has he made the wrong decision?
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Before this season had even started, it was announced that Sebastian Vettel would be leaving Ferrari at the end of the year. In the following days, a couple of announcements came our way. The first was that Carlos Sainz would be leaving McLaren to take Vettel's place at the Scuderia, and the second that Daniel Ricciardo would be making the switch from Renault to McLaren.
At the time, these moves seemed like a good thing for both Sainz and Ricciardo. The idea in Sainz' mind (and rightly so) was that he would make the move to Maranello and be in contention for victories, with regular podiums almost guaranteed. The Ferrari engine was the class of the field in 2019, with the Italian team often having a clear straight-line speed advantage over the competition.
However, after much scrutiny regarding the burning of oil to enhance performance along with the exploitation of fuel flow rules, the FIA released a few technical directives to stop this from happening. This immediately led to a drop in performance in qualifying for the Scuderia, but it wasn't anything drastic and they were still able to fight at the front of the grid.
During the winter break, it was announced that the FIA had arranged a 'settlement' with Ferrari following an investigation into their 2019 power unit. Along with the new technical directives, a new double fuel sensor regulation was put in place for the start of the 2020 season. I'm not going to go into how suspicious the secret 'settlement' was in this article, but I might do in the future (leave a comment if you'd like an article about that).
When we eventually got underway this season, it was clear from the outset how much slower the Ferrari-powered cars were in a straight line. The loss in performance was masked slightly in Austria due to the twisty nature of the circuit, but when we got to tracks such as Spa or Monza they were eaten alive along the straights.
Whilst we have witnessed the downfall of the Scuderia, at the same time McLaren have had their best start to a season since 2012. All of a sudden Sainz' once safe move to Maranello seems to be a move down the pecking order, whereas Ricciardo is going to Woking at a time where everything seems to be on the up.
Has Sainz made the wrong decision? I think the answer is a case of 'well yes, but actually no'.
Let me explain.
Sainz has been the perfect fit alongside Lando Norris at McLaren.
Sainz joined McLaren at a time where it was seen as his only option. He had been on loan from Red Bull to Renault during the 2018 season, but the French team had decided that they wanted Daniel Ricciardo to partner Nico Hulkenberg in 2019. This decision left Sainz with few options for 2019, as he could either make the switch to McLaren or potentially move back to Toro Rosso for another season.
He decided over a round of golf with Zak Brown that he wanted to make the switch to the British team, despite their struggles at the rear end of the grid. At the end of 2018, McLaren's closest competition was Williams, with the Renault engine exposing the weaknesses of their overall package after the Honda divorce a year prior.
Brown then signed 18-year-old Lando Norris to partner Sainz, a risky move given that the team needed detailed feedback from their drivers in order to improve the car. It was regarded by many as a fresh start for the team, and we all know how well this pairing has turned out for them.
I think the biggest downside for Sainz moving to Ferrari is the team atmosphere. He's become accustomed to a very relaxed atmosphere at McLaren, an atmosphere where there is no priority given to either driver and everything is done for the benefit of the team as a whole. McLaren has changed massively since Zak Brown joined the team, with the almost toxic environment from the Ron Dennis era left in the past. They give fans access that no other team does in the form of their brilliant 'McLaren Unboxed' series on YouTube and regularly engage with them on social media.
If you then compare this to the environment at Ferrari, a team which for as long as I can remember has had a 'number one' driver. This is a team that until recently didn't even follow the other teams on social media, nevermind engage with the fans. This is the polar opposite of the environment at McLaren, and I think it will be a shock to Sainz how different it is. There is hope in this regard however, as Sainz gets along well with Charles Leclerc. Hopefully the team will see this and take advantage of it much like the Norris/Sainz relationship, but I wouldn't count on it. I know a lot of people will be shaking their heads in disagreement at this point, so let me explain a bit more of what I mean.
If you look at how each team handled the departure of each driver, Ferrari have seemingly kicked Vettel out without talking to him about the situation. The relationship between the driver and the team cannot be described as good this season, as Vettel has come across as fed up and was even reluctant to talk to the team on the radio during some of the races. In contrast, Sainz seems genuinely sorry to be leaving McLaren at the end of the season. The team are not holding anything against him even though he decided to leave, instead deciding to make the most of their partnership before it's over. Sainz even went as far as to make a YouTube video thanking the team for what they've done for him over the last couple of seasons. Do you see what I'm getting at?
Ferrari will come good in the long term.
The obvious reason for Sainz to regret his move to Ferrari is their performance this season. The team have gone from challenging for wins last year to barely being able to challenge for points this year. We can speculate all we want about the reason for this sudden loss of performance, but I think we all know it's down to the 'settlement'. Due to the pandemic, the teams have each been given a certain number of tokens that they can cash in if they want to develop a certain aspect of their car. Due to this system, it prevents a team such as Ferrari from starting from scratch and instead only allows some development on this year's car. This means that when Sainz arrives in Maranello next season, the team are likely to be in a similar position to what they are now.
However, as you probably are aware by now, there are a whole host of new regulations coming into force for 2022. These regulations are designed to not only make the field closer together, but also make overtaking much easier due to the reduction in how 'dirty air' affects the cars behind. These are now the rules that Sainz will be focusing on, as he has accepted that he will be running in the midfield once again in 2021.
Sainz told Sky Sports F1: “I can wait one more year for sure. I haven’t fought for a Formula 1 win or even a podium for six years. I can do another year without those, so I think you need to accept that 2021 is going to be a tough year for everyone.
“I think every team needs the rule change (in 2022), everything needs a bit of a fresh start to try and trouble Mercedes because at the moment even Ferrari or Red Bull, you can see we are all just too far off. They (Mercedes) are just doing a better job and we need to reconsider how we approach Formula 1 and what kind of team you want in order to have a chance.”
I think what Sainz has said here is very telling, as he clearly believes Ferrari are the right team to take the fight to Mercedes in 2022 and beyond. I tend to agree with him here. If you look at the team's history, they've had their ups and downs but they are still the most successful team ever. Just like McLaren have been in the past few years, the team are not where they want to be right now but that doesn't mean that it's going to stay like that. With a young driver lineup and a restructuring of the team personnel in progress, I think you would be foolish to say that Ferrari won't make a return to the front of the grid in the future.
In conclusion, I don't think Sainz is regretting his move to Ferrari as much as you might think. Purely on a performance basis, as I have explained I don't think you can ever really count Ferrari out. They have more resources than most of the teams on the grid, as well as the two of the best drivers that Formula 1 has to offer in the form of Sainz and Leclerc. I could be completely wrong on this, but I feel that they will be back to challenging at the front of the grid when the new regulations come into play.
The only way that I see Sainz regretting his move to Ferrari is how the team operate in comparison to McLaren. Sainz has flourished due to the open-nature of how McLaren goes about business, with his time at the team the first time he had been under a multi-year contract in his career. I think that part of the reason for his success is that he knew the team were fully supportive of him, unlike his time at Renault and in the Red Bull young-driver programme. I hope that Ferrari adopts a more relaxed working environment under Mattia Binotto, as if they continue to prioritse one driver over another then they are going to slow their progress down dramatically.
To summarise, I don't think that Sainz has fucked up by signing for Ferrari. In my view there is a high chance he'll score some very good results for the Scuderia, and will most likely score his first win during his time with the team. However, this decision may affect his happiness in the long run, as I fully expect him to go to there with the intention of beating Leclerc. If he is not given a fair chance to do so, I think he'll be wishing he was back with his 'muppet friend' at McLaren.
There should be a new post on the tribe later this week, but if you have any topics that you want me to cover please feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message @harryonformula1 on Twitter.
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