When Fernando Alonso made his Ferrari debut in 2010, Carlos Sainz was only just getting started in single-seater racing, dreaming of one day emulating his Formula 1 hero. Little over a decade later, he will become the third Spaniard to race for the Prancing Horse. 

Having been inspired to chase his F1 ambition after meeting Alonso in 2005, Sainz quickly climbed the motorsport ladder aided by Red Bull’s backing, ascending to his grand prix debut with Toro Rosso 10 years later after triumphing to titles in Formula Renault 2.0 and 3.5 along the way. 

This was when the pair first locked horns on track, with Sainz driving for the same team Alonso - then at a struggling McLaren - made his F1 bow with back in 2001. Following a brief spell at Renault, Sainz flew from the Red Bull nest to join McLaren, replacing his compatriot, who having grown frustrated at the team’s lack of progress, quit the sport at the end of 2018. 

They will once again be reunited on the F1 grid this year, with Alonso returning for a third stint at the rebranded Alpine team, while Sainz has earned a deserved dream opportunity to drive for Ferrari after two outstanding campaigns helping McLaren pull off its meteoric rise. 

Championship titles and victories aside, their careers have shared some curious parallels in terms of making eerily-similar career moves - which Sainz simply describes as “coincidences”. And the new Ferrari man is quick to distance himself from any comparisons to a driver he so greatly admires. 

Rather than looking to follow Alonso’s lead, Sainz is determined to go about his F1 career his own way in his bid to etch his name into the history books. 

“It’s tricky because I’ve already been in Renault but I didn’t get the two world championships,” Sainz quipped when asked by Crash.net how much he would like to emulate Alonso’s levels of success now he has the tools to show he can be one of the best in the world. 

“I think careers are always impossible to compare, because you don’t join the teams at the same time, it’s completely different timeframes, completely different rivals, everything. 

“But what I know is that one day I want to fight for a world championship and I want to get myself into that position as quickly as possible and as early as possible, because I feel ready for the challenge. 

“He’s been an extremely strong driver but there’s never going to be another Fernando Alonso. He was the first one, the pioneer in many ways, and I’m just trying to do my own career, my own way of doing things, of seeing things, of driving and I’ll see where that gets me.” 

He may not have raced for Ferrari yet, but Sainz has already noticed an early impact of being part of a team as illustrious as the Scuderia, and he is prepared for his profile to skyrocket further back home in his native Spain, as well as in Italy, once the season begins. 

“I’ve already felt a bit that since it was announced because it was huge in Spain and I expect it to keep going up and keep growing,” he explained. 

“But that’s a good thing. I enjoy that and it’s great to have the fans on your side, to have the media attention, I think it only brings positive things. I’ve always loved racing at my home grand prix and it’s always gone well, so I can’t wait to be honest.” 

Drivers making the step up to bigger teams have on occasion found themselves using their status to explore new projects outside of the sport, with the most notable example being seen with Lewis Hamilton’s rise to global megastardom amid his foray into the fashion and music industry. But Sainz remains insistent that he will not be making any drastic changes to his life with his new-found fame.

“I just like being myself,” he continued. “I’m not planning on exploring one side of my image or the other. 

“I am obviously a very family-oriented guy, I keep wanting to go back to Spain and spend time with my dogs, with my family and my friends, and I don’t have a lifestyle honestly that differs from what a normal guy is. 

“If I become more famous for being a Ferrari driver, that will not change my approach. I will not suddenly go into fashion or anything other than what I am being. If there’s good sponsorship which lines up with my values, I will take it and I will exploit it but I’m not planning on doing anything different.”

At 26, Sainz heads to Ferrari in the prime of his career, performing stronger than he ever has before on track while carrying himself in an assured, mature manner off it. 

Sainz credits McLaren for helping him to develop greatly as a driver and becoming “a better version of myself” over the past two years, during which time he has integrated himself into the team environment at Woking and fully immersed himself into everything he did - forging strong relationships and working tirelessly with his crew and engineers behind the scenes in his dedication to improve.

This approach is something Sainz has already taken with him to Ferrari as he got accustomed to his new environment and started the process of getting to know the people he’d be working with upon his first trip to the team’s Maranello headquarters last week. 

Key to enabling him to make such a success out of his McLaren stint was the fact that the team provided him with a multi-year contract for the first time in his career, something he had been longing for after growing frustrated with facing annual uncertainty surrounding his future while he was under Red Bull’s wing. 

Sainz has penned a two-year deal at Ferrari and wants multi-year contracts to continue to be the norm as he looks to make Ferrari his long-term home. He has no intention of simply being a stop-gap for Ferrari protege Mick Schumacher, with the son of seven-time world champion Michael making his eagerly-anticipated F1 debut this year with Haas and already being tipped for a potential Ferrari seat in the future. 

As his predecessor Sebastian Vettel found out, Ferrari was quick to move on when a better option came around. But Sainz, who speaks fluent Italian, is not worried that Ferrari will be lacking the kind of family relationship that was such a successful ingredient in the McLaren environment. 

“I thought I was going to build a long-term relationship with McLaren and I enjoyed the two years with this team a lot,” Sainz explained. 

“The second year we saw improvements already compared to the first one, so it shows that stability in one team and staying in one team for a long time helps with performance and makes you a quicker driver and a better driver. 

“That’s also my target with Ferrari and why I signed a two-year deal with them. As long as we are happy with each other, I want that to be the new tendency in my contracts, not just one year like I had with Renault, not knowing what was going to happen. 

"If there is one thing I’ve learned in McLaren, it is how important it is to be more than one year in a team to extract the maximum potential of that car and the people that are next to you.” 

In contrast to Sainz’s excellent 2020 in which he notched up a second career podium, led a grand prix for the first time in Portugal, and secured his best finish in the championship in sixth while helping McLaren clinch third in the constructors’ standings, Ferrari endured a woeful season. 

Ferrari was unable to compete with McLaren through 2020 as the Italian outfit dramatically slipped down the competitive order and slumped to sixth place in the constructors’ standings, marking its worst result since 1980. 

Some progress was made towards the end of the year as Ferrari ended a winless campaign with three podiums to its name and pulled off a notable upswing in competitiveness across the final races of the season.

Across 2020, Sainz had to repeatedly bat away suggestions that he might end up regretting his switch given Ferrari’s downturn in form, but he is convinced from what he has already witnessed, along with major regulations changes coming into effect in 2022, that his new team can quickly turn things around and re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with at the front of the grid.

SEE ALSO: Sainz will be playing 'catch up' to Leclerc early in 2021 F1 season 

“I already see some positive signs from Ferrari and improvements and obviously there is a new engine coming which should again improve the situation a bit,” he stressed. 

"But I think 2021 is a difficult year for everyone. We all know Mercedes is going to keep dominating the sport and without a big regulation change there’s a lot of chances that will continue in 2021.

“So, for me, I think Ferrari and pretty much everyone who is not Mercedes should focus more on 2022 and try to make that the biggest change in the competitiveness of the team. 

“I’m already confident that Ferrari know that and are going to try and do that and that 2021 is going to be a transition year. 

“I will be trying to build good relationships and getting to know the car race by race and then in 2022 we start with a clean sheet of paper and new regulations and it’s going to be more important also.

“I feel ready for whatever comes. I’ve always said my ultimate goal in Formula 1 is to try to be world champion one day, and I'm ready to take that next step into Ferrari and see how it goes. I feel 100% ready.”

 

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