Carlos Sainz has found himself in an enviable position most drivers can only dream about having landed a drive with Formula 1’s most successful and longest-serving team in Ferrari.

The Spaniard will join the Scuderia next season on a two-year deal to complete the Italian outfit’s 2021 line-up alongside Charles Leclerc, following Sebastian Vettel’s shock departure once his current deal expires at the end of the year. 

Sainz won the race to fill the void left by four-time world champion Vettel, getting the nod over a number of other potential suitors for the Scuderia, perhaps most notably Daniel Ricciardo

Some have questioned the wisdom of ignoring a seasoned race winner in favour for a driver with just a single podium to his name… So just why have Ferrari gone so off-piste with its latest selection?

Why is Sebastian Vettel leaving Ferrari? |

His potential is clear to see 

Throughout his five-year F1 career, Sainz has continually shown his abilities and proved - particularly with his performances in 2019 - that he is ready for the step up to front-running machinery. 

And at just 25 (26 by the time he makes his Ferrari debut), Sainz still has his best years ahead of him. He will join Ferrari at the start of what appears to be his personal peak after demonstrating glimpses of his true potential last season with a series of impressive displays for McLaren. 

He has the right mentality and built a hardened inner-strength - having flourished at Toro Rosso and Renault while being exposed to the pressures of the Red Bull environment - which will serve him well when he moves to Marnaello, where his actions will be scrutinised closely. 

After being allowed to slip through Red Bull’s fingers, Ferrari will provide him with the belated opportunity to showcase his obvious talent and fulfil a lifelong dream in the process. 

He’s fast and reliable 

Sainz is not only fast but also reliable, which was key to achieving a career-best result of sixth place in the championship, as well as helping McLaren secure a vastly-improved fourth in the constructors’ standings, last year. 

He was closely-matched with Max Verstappen over one-lap during their tenure as teammates at Toro Rosso, regularly outpaced both Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hulkenberg, and was only narrowly defeated 11-10 by Lando Norris in qualifying last season. Come race day on Sunday, Sainz is even stronger. He also excels in wet-weather and changing conditions. 

But where Sainz stands out the most is thanks to his ruthless consistency, which helped him record eight top-six finishes across 21 races in 2019. 

This will prove a key attribute for Ferrari in its bid to pick up enough points to finally end its long drought without a piece of championship silverware which has now extended beyond a decade. 

He is smart  

Sainz is intelligent both on and off the track and knows perfectly how to play the team game and tow the party line. As a result, he is unlikely to get drawn into any political games that might ensue at Ferrari. 

He has the right attitude and focus and also finds himself boasting the perfect role model and mentor in his father, two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz Sr. 

Sainz has developed into a driver who can get the most out of his car in almost any situation despite setbacks - highlighted by how he bounced back from a poor start to 2019 after three non-scores. 

A blend of fierce Spanish passion mixed with clever race craft has enabled Sainz to shine in wheel-to-wheel combat, while he has also demonstrated his brilliant tyre-management skills, including en route to claiming his maiden podium finish in Brazil last year. And he rarely makes mistakes, even under intense-pressure scenarios. 

He can give Ferrari what it needs 

What Ferrari needs above all else in 2021 is some harmony within the team so it can focus on the clear direction of structuring a race and championship-winning organisation without the sort of dramas that were beginning to flare up between Leclerc and Vettel. 

Sainz not only established a strong rapport with McLaren’s staff but he also enjoyed a respectable relationship with Norris, despite their ongoing track battles for personal pride. 

He has shown so far at least that he won’t let ego or personal ambition get in the way of the ultimate team goal, suggesting he would support Leclerc in the championship if required in a similar manner to the back-up role Valtteri Bottas plays alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. 

This is not saying he will be cast entirely as Leclerc’s wingman, but he would be more likely to assume such a position than Ricciardo. 

“Sainz is a very nice, intelligent boy with a lot of team spirit,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto noted. 

“He is a hard worker and having him alongside Charles will be useful: in these 5 seasons he has done well, bringing the car almost always to the finish line and giving many points to his team."

Finally, with the impact of the coronavirus crisis reaching all 10 of F1’s teams, Sainz also represents a more affordable option to Ferrari than Ricciardo.

The huge challenge that awaits him

While Sainz has proved he is ready for a step-up, there is no denying the monumental task he faces in establishing himself at Ferrari. 

He will join a team which is very much centred around Leclerc - emphasised by his long-term contract tying him down until the end of 2024 - and will enter a totally new environment. Sainz will have to adjust to a different way of working with new personnel and philosophies, though he has already changed teams three times in F1. 

Sainz has also never really had to fight for status in a team and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to being identified as a clear number two, with Leclerc wrestling the de facto team leader position away from Vettel over the past 12 months. 

While Sainz has coped with pressure in the past, Ferrari will test him mentally more than he has ever experienced before, and he will have nowhere to hide under the intense spotlight and weight of expectation that comes with being a Ferrari driver. 

Although Ricciardo’s stock is arguably higher as a seven-time grand prix winner and the Australian may be viewed as the better option from a pure driving ability standpoint, Sainz appears a better fit at this time.