Heavy rain has hit Monaco ahead of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, soaking fans, teams, drivers and the iconic street track.
After over an hour late, the drivers finally set off, racing against the clock as red flags riddled the crown jewel. They looked for dry lines, trying to find grip. Monaco is widely known as a track where overtaking is incredibly difficult given the tight spaces between the barriers. With heavier cars thanks to new tech regulations this season, it turned out to be a tough feat and the rain didn’t help.
Carlos Sainz Jr. drove past the pit straight, looking to pass Sergio Pérez. But his Ferrari F1-75 found a wet part of the track, and his instincts kicked in when his rear began to slip. Sky Sports announcers said: ‘His father’s rallying experience has come in there for him’ and described it as ‘the stoppage of the season’.
But that’s Sainz Jr.’s natural ability after growing up around running; that’s why he says “engines, tires, gasoline are in my DNA, in my veins”.
Sainz Jr. turned into a hustler, pushing his car to the edge with a calm disposition, showing flashes of his parents. His methodical approach was influenced by the advice of the two-time world rally champion, while his calm temperament and empathetic nature came from the advice of his mother. And there was a time when he may have been too pleasant on the grid, his rivals took him off the track in his early teens.
Her father’s advice? Look, in this sport, you either bite or you get bitten. So start biting.
Eight years, 147 F1 races, 10 podiums – Sainz Jr. has made a name for himself, stepping out of the days during his karting years where he was nicknamed ‘the son of Carlos Sainz’. He may come from racing royalty, but it hasn’t been easy for the ‘normal kid from Madrid’. He had to find his footing, overcome the watershed moment that many athletes face and navigate a multitude of teams to land in a powerhouse like Ferrari.
And even with a competitive car, Sainz Jr. still finds his rhythm.
“This season is tricky. Let’s just say that so far this season I haven’t had a race that I’m particularly proud of.
Believe it or not, Carlos Sainz Sr. wasn’t the one who gave his son his first car.
The two-time world rally champion drove home one day with his 2-year-old who was driving around the driveway in a battery-powered car, drifting and spinning like a natural. Sainz Sr. asked, who taught his son how to do tricks? Who put it in the car? Carlos Jr.’s godfather, Juanjo Lacalle, had given the eventual Ferrari star his first car.
“I could barely walk, but I could drive a car,” Sainz Jr. says. “And I think that must be part of something inside of us.”
The young pilot had big shoes to fill throughout his career, starting with overcoming the doubt and shadow of his star father. Nicknamed The Matador, Sainz Sr. became a racing king in Madrid winning the World Rally Championship title twice and finishing runner-up four times during his career. He recorded more starts in the series than any other driver, eventually retiring from the WRC in 2004 before his son started racing.
The following year, Sainz Jr. entered the go-kart circuit, and although it was the entry level for motor racing, he was synonymous with his father. He compared his experience to what it would be like for Tom Brady’s sons if they followed in their father’s footsteps.
“All the kids and all the dads on the teams you’re competing against are going to have an eye on you to see how he’s doing, right? And how this little guy, Tom Brady’s son, is doing in all the football competitions Sainz Jr. said. “I felt the pressure from 10 to 15 years old. All of a sudden you’re competing, you’re doing all these go-kart races and it feels like everyone wants to beat you. Everyone is watching how you are. You don’t have a name. You are the son of Carlos Sainz.
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“You are not Carlos Sainz. You are the son of, the son of, the son of. They say: “Carlos Sainz’s son made a mistake. He is not good. He’s just there because of his father.'”
But as he rose through the ranks, the young Spaniard started to make a name for himself and saw the positives. “He gave me so many great tips on so many things from his own experience as a two-time world champion that you can’t buy,” Sainz Jr. said. “So I would much rather take the, say, bad things for good things rather than otherwise.”
Most would have expected him to follow in his father’s footsteps into the world of rallying, where Sainz Sr. still competes from time to time, including the Dakar Rally. But another driver also caught Carlos Jr.’s attention growing up: Fernando Alonso, who won the Formula 1 world championships in 2005 and 2006 with Renault. Carlos Jr. went to his first F1 race aged 10, and the sport was easier to watch on TV compared to rallies.
“Although rallying was huge in Spain back then because of my father, I fell in love with Formula 1 and told my father I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver.
A decisive moment changed the trajectory.
Towards the end of the 2013 season, Sainz Jr. was racing on the GP3 circuit, and although he was successful, he says he had to win the following campaign if he was to have any chance of making it to Formula 1. “It was probably my last chance to go to Formula 1,” he said.
Sainz Jr. radically changed his approach to the sport, not only in the racing aspects but also in his behavior. “It was the basis of who I am today, this change of approach that I made that year.”
Now don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t that the Spaniard wasn’t trying. He says he thought he prepared, paid attention to detail and formed his methods. But during the winter season before 2014, Sainz Jr. began to revise its approach.
“In fact, I saw that I could do a lot more. I thought I was doing a lot, but I realized it wasn’t that much. If it’s my passion and it’s my job, I can do so much more.
Twenty years, six months and 14 days.
A decade after taking his first steps in go-karts, Sainz Jr. made his F1 debut in 2015. But he did more than start: He finished ninth in his very first race, earning points in Melbourne for Toro Rosso (now known as AlphaTauri). And the rest was history.
He remained at Toro Rosso until 2018, making the jump to Renault before replacing his childhood hero Alonso at McLaren a season later. He took his first F1 pole in 2019 in Brazil, and he would bring another one for McLaren in 2020 from Monza. Sainz Jr. may have only scored two podiums in two seasons with one of the most historic teams on the grid, but he caught Ferrari’s attention as he grew competitive in midfield.
Over the years, he’s learned that it’s one of the sports that is “a little less dependent on the athlete.”
“There are so many other factors that come into play in sport. There’s the machinery, there’s so many people involved in the sport, there’s an hour and a half race, pit stops, strategy calls. It’s a very complex sport to get it all right,” Sainz Jr. says. “And you, as an athlete, maybe doing a great job, and then suddenly there’s a day when you have puncture and you DNF, and you don’t finish the race and it’s a zero and you were doing a great job the same way one day you could actually suffer a lot on the track and not have a good day , but two people in front of you give up with problems and then you get a good result.
If he can have four podiums this season, including a second in Monaco, the 27-year-old has also recorded two consecutive retirements in Melbourne and Imola. He said before Monaco that “this season there is really nothing that has really clicked for me, and there is not a race that I would say I am 100% proud of. I’m pretty demanding with myself and I know when I’ve given 100% and when I’ve done 100% out of the car and myself. After six races this season, I wouldn’t say I’ve done one yet.
Cameras clicking, team members chatting and fans calling out drivers’ names echo in and out of the paddock, teeming with stars as they make their way to the hospitality suites or garage. Fans lean over barriers to get drivers’ attention for an autograph, others get in their way trying to take a photo.
There is pressure beyond what happens behind closed doors for these drivers, and it follows them off the track. While they can ignore the hate that comes on social media, fans often stop drivers on the street for selfies in their spare time, whether or not they know who the driver is.
Sainz Jr. wants people to stop and ask, How is it going?
“There are too many superficial approaches these days with the phone and just because five people want to take a picture with me doesn’t mean you want to take a picture with me just because I’m famous,” says Sainz Jr. .. “Instead of doing that, come ask me, why are you famous?” Like what are you doing? And I will very gladly answer that I drive for Formula 1, and that’s why people take a picture but you don’t want a picture with me because you don’t know who I am. Just say hello to me. Say, ‘Oh great. I will follow you from now on and nice to meet you.
“It would make my day because there are so many people who don’t know you, that just because they think you’re famous, they come and take a picture for their Instagram and then they send [to]their friends. But they don’t realize how painful it sometimes is to take another, another, another, another selfie, another selfie with people who might not even know who you are.
Who is Carlos Sainz Jr?
“I’m just a normal kid from Madrid, Spain, who loves being a Formula 1 driver. … I consider myself very lucky to have first reached Formula 1 and then moved through different teams to succeed in to achieve Ferrari. And now to have a competitive car to be able to fight for podiums and victories in Formula 1, which is a dream come true. But the biggest dream remains to be achieved, that is to be Formula champion 1.”
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