The Red Bull Dilemma- Was Carlos Sainz The Answer?

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ATUL KUMAR MAURYA | 18th October 2019

Carlos Sainz has been in scintillating form since the start of the 2019 season. As the self-proclaimed ‘smooth operator’ finished with a strong 5th position at the 2019 Japanese Grand Prix, a serious question arose. A question which has been dead for a few years now, but needs to surface up because of the current situation in which the both the parties find themselves in: did Red Bull let go of Carlos Sainz too early?”

The 2019 season has been a mixed bag for the Austria-based team. Max Verstappen has shown signs of what he can do with a powerful car and how he is a future World Championship contender. Since Daniel Ricciardo left Red Bull to join Renault and the team switched from Renault to Honda manufactured engines, things haven’t been panning out as planned out by Christian Horner and Co. The real issue which the Red Bull Racing team is facing is the recruitment and performance of the second driver in the line-up.

Pierre Gasly, who was chosen as the successor of Ricciardo didn’t put up a fight to his own teammate, let alone other drivers. After being replaced by the Thai driver Alexander Albon in the middle of the campaign, a decision which was termed as temporary by the team to test the new man in the parent-team car before the start of the next season.

With Red Bull facing a driver crisis mid-season, one could say that a certain Carlos Sainz could’ve been the perfect partner for Max Verstappen at the team.

Down The Years

Scuderia Toro Rosso (2015-2017)

Sainz was chosen to partner Verstappen for the 2015 season. The season started at Australia where the Spaniard who was participating in his first Formula 1 qualifying manage to qualify inside the top 10 and finished the race at 9th the next day. As the season progressed, Sainz fared fine before crashing in the Russian GP. He finished the season at 15th position.

In 2016, the 25-year old finished most of the races in top 10 and a few no-points finishes. Sainz finished at a season high 6th in Spain, Brazil and the United States. He ended the season at 12th position with 46 points.

The 2017 season was the one where he started to truly showcase the limitless potential he had. Finishing mostly in the top 10s, Sainz held off Lewis Hamilton beautifully in the streets of Monaco to claim a hard fought 6th position. But his career best was yet to come as he finished at 4th in the Singapore Grand Prix.

The same weekend, the big announcement came. Carlos Sainz was leaving Toro Rosso to join Renault for the 2018 season on a loan. During the Japanese GP, it was announced that he’ll be replacing Jolyon Palmer to partner Nico Hulkenberg from the 2017 US GP.

Renault (2017-2018)

Sainz began his journey in the black and yellow colours in quite some fashion. He outdid Nico and finished at 7th. After that race, he didn’t finish in the top 10 for the rest of the season. However, he did end up in the Championship at 9th position with 54 points.

Sainz had a positive start to the next season, but was mostly outscored by Hulkenberg. However, he did finish 5th in Azerbaijan, but the season was mostly plagued with Renault’s reliability issues. The mercurial racer ended the season with 53 points at 10th, 3 places and 16 points behind his teammate Nico Hulkenberg.

McLaren (2019)

In August 2018, it was announced that Carlos Sainz will be joining McLaren to replace the retiring Fernando Alonso, who the former identifies as his idol. Sainz’s season started in the worst possible manner as his first race with the British team ended early in DNF due to reliability issues. Sainz then had collisions in both Bahrain and China, but has since recovered in the best way possible.

He finished 7th in Azerbaijan, 8th in Spain, 6th in Monaco, 11th in Canada, 6th in France, 8th in Austria, 6th in Great Britain, 5th in Germany, 5th in Hungary, 6th in Russia and 5th in the recently concluded Japanese Grand Prix. He is currently placed at 6th position in the World Driver’s Championship with a solid 76 points and has been the best of the rest behind the top 3 teams’ drivers.

Red Bull Racing Since Sainz Joined The Toro Rosso Ranks

Ricciardo and Kvyat were the first-choice drivers for Red Bull in 2015. They performed well together as Red Bull finished in 4th place in the Constructors Championship. Coming as a bold decision, Kvyat was sent back to Toro Rosso and Verstappen was promoted to strengthen the parent team and challenge Ricciardo at the top in 2016. It worked out pretty well as the Austrian team finished 2nd in the Championship.

The 2017 season was plagued with reliability issues and the relations between Red Bull and Renault started to tarnish. Still, both the drivers kept working hard and the team ended the season 3rd in the Championship.

The 2018 season was again a story of the reliability problem of the Renault engines. The team started the season poorly and something was there in store to jolt them even more. Ricciardo announced his move away from the team and committed his future to Renault. They still ended on a pretty fair note, being 3rd in the list. Gasly was chosen as Ricciardo’s successor and had a big task of teaming up with Verstappen and taking the fight to Mercedes and Ferrari. But things took an ugly turn.

After a few poor performances by the Frenchman, he was demoted back to Toro Rosso prior to the Belgian Grand Prix and Albon was called up to replace him, a condition which looked like total turmoil. Albon has been performing just fine in the RB15 but hasn’t been able to put up a real fight against his own teammate. The conditions aren’t looking very promising before the start of the 2020 season and the Red Bull Racing management will have to make some harsh decisions to stay competitive in the game.

The Final Verdict

Carlos Sainz was let go of too early before he even got to fulfil his potential in the Red Bull and Toro Rosso colours. After being in the top 6 drivers for most of the 2019 season with a reliable car at his disposal, Sainz is proving his mettle on the biggest stage. Often termed as the silent assassin, a guy who isn’t known for being aggressive in nature, his driving has certainly showed bite this season and has made some smashing moves and overtakes in the process. If Red Bull will think of the mistake, as they faltered in 2017 by letting go of Sainz, they might regret the decision even more given the fact that they themselves are stuck in a turmoil kind of a situation to choose a second competitive driver to partner Max.

Carlos could’ve been the answer to all their problems and the team could’ve worked more on developing the car rather than deciding who to partner Max with.

As we near the 2019 edition of the Mexican Grand Prix, one does wonder if we’ll get to see Sainz moving to any of the top 3 teams someday and even fighting for the Championship in the upcoming days, a scene we would all love to see.

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