Ferrari has selected Carlos Sainz as its successor to Sebastian Vettel for the 2021 Formula 1 season, and it is a move that has all the makings of a win-win for both parties. 

Sainz has landed himself with one of the most coveted seats in motorsport, having been announced as Vettel’s replacement for next season after the German and Ferrari confirmed a mutual split when they failed to agree terms for a new contract.

The Spaniard had already commenced early talks with McLaren over extending his current deal and was expected to remain following a stellar maiden season in 2019, but the lure of joining a front-running team following Vettel’s bombshell exit understandably proved too much of a temptation and convinced him to move. 

Ferrari identified Sainz as the ideal replacement to partner its new superstar Charles Leclerc, whose impressive performances in his first year at the Scuderia effectively forced Vettel out of the team. 

The four-time world champion saw his long-held position as de facto team leader come under threat after being outperformed in every department and beaten in the overall championship standings by Leclerc. 

The situation escalated with a series of disagreements over team orders throughout the campaign which reached boiling point when Leclerc and Vettel collided at the penultimate race in Brazil. While both insisted their relationship was strong, the implications of their burgeoning power struggle were becoming ever visible.

A new long term contract for Leclerc last winter, which committed him to Ferrari until the end of 2024, acted as yet another sign of the generational shift at the Italian outfit. Vettel ultimately felt unable to accept the offer - reported to be a vastly reduced salary and a shorter contract than he wanted - to stay alongside Leclerc. 

Ferrari’s attentions quickly turned to finding a replacement and it was Sainz who emerged as the clear favourite. On Thursday the move was made official, with the Spaniard agreeing a two-year contract to complete Ferrari’s youngest driver line-up since 1968. 

"With five seasons already behind him, Carlos has proved to be very talented and has shown that he has the technical ability and the right attributes to make him an ideal fit with our family," said Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto. 

"We've embarked on a new cycle with the aim of getting back to the top in Formula 1. It will be a long journey, not without its difficulties, especially given the current financial and regulatory situation, which is undergoing a sudden change and will require this challenge to be tackled in a different way to the recent past.

"We believe that a driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of the Scuderia, will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves."

The Maranello outfit will picture Sainz as the perfect support act for Leclerc, in a similar back-up role to the one Valtteri Bottas plays to Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. For the short-term at least, Sainz is likely to accept such a position in exchange for the opportunity to show off his skills in race-winning machinery and dice it out at the front-end of the grid. 

There are also clear financial benefits for the Scuderia, which like all teams, is feeling the squeeze of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty it has caused on a global scale. Sainz will arrive at Ferrari commanding a far smaller salary than his predecessor Vettel - believed to be around £36m per year - providing some light relief for the F1 team amid a large revenue loss.

While no discredit to Sainz’s abilities, his signing formally elevates Leclerc into Ferrari’s primary focus, which is testament to the impact he has made in the short time he has competed with the team.

Sainz’s signing certainly marks a shift in approach for Ferrari, which previously relied on luring big name signings to Maranello in the hope of recreating glory. This time it has an asset it has nurtured through the ranks and now believes it will reap the rewards of that investment.

Moreover, Ferrari is looking to establish some harmony in its driver line-up following the tensions that rose between Vettel and Leclerc, which threatened to become an all out power struggle towards the end of 2019. By signing Sainz, Ferrari has the opportunity to build a fresh start. 

The 25-year-old enjoyed a strong and respectful relationship with Lando Norris during their maiden year together as teammates, showing he can get along with an equally-competitive teammate, albeit neither were in the position to fight for the big prize and enjoyed a relaxed and happy environment at the ever-improving McLaren. The pressure and weight of expectation that comes with being a Ferrari driver is on another level altogether, and it will represent a tough test for Sainz.

But everything Sainz has displayed throughout his F1 career so far points towards him being ready for the step up. Sainz was thrown in against tough competition from the off upon his promotion to F1 as he was paired alongside Max Verstappen at Toro Rosso for his debut season in 2015.

He starred throughout his near-three year spell at Toro Rosso before earning a move up F1’s midfield to join Renault on loan from Red Bull. Here Sainz continued to shine but it was not until he made the switch to McLaren in 2019 that his true potential was realised. 

Sainz excelled in his first season with McLaren and showed how big a mistake Red Bull made by letting him slip through their fingers as he topped the midfield drivers last year, claiming the ‘best of the rest’ tag with a career-best P6 finish in the championship. 

A maiden podium in Brazil proved the icing on the cake during a stellar campaign in which he played an instrumental role in helping McLaren secure its most competitive season in years on its way to fourth in the constructors’ championship. 

Despite many of his best on-track battles frequently being missed by the TV cameras in 2019, his performances have not gone unnoticed. Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, whose career path strangely mirrors that of Sainz, recently heaped praise on his fellow countryman before his move to Ferrari was confirmed. 

“Carlos is doing great, not only last year,” Alonso explained speaking to Sky F1. 

“I think last year the whole team did a good season and Carlos was there in the right moment, in the right place. But I think from the very beginning, already for Toro Rosso, he was doing a very good job.

“He had Max Verstappen as a teammate at the beginning, which is never the easiest thing, and then he had Nico Hulkenberg in Renault, so he always had tough competition and he was always very, very competitive.

“I think it's great for the country, good for Spain and I think he will have a great future.”

Sainz’s Ferrari is a belated opportunity to show what he can do with front-running machinery underneath him. He rarely makes mistakes and is a keen racer in battle, if nothing else people will see this move as vindication for his evident talents.

At the same time, switching to Ferrari is certainly a big gamble for Sainz. While he has had strong team-mates in the past, he’s never had to assume an obvious ‘number two’ tag, a role that hasn’t always benefited some F1 careers regardless of the results they are achieving in more competitive machinery.

Indeed, great world champions have struggled to make it work in the past and Sainz is leaving comfortable surroundings at McLaren as the Woking outfit looks to continue its recent upward trajectory with Mercedes engines coming onboard for 2021. 

He has ultimately rolled the dice on the possible option for short-term success and few can blame him. 

At Ferrari, Sainz will finally get the chance to prove himself as a top-line driver and underline his potential world champion material.

 

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