A short while ago, one of the most trending Formula 1 videos from the montage consisting many at Spain in 2022, right ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix, showed Carlos Sainz of Ferrari answering a straightforward question:
“A home race, in a seriously fast, title-contending Formula 1 car.. can anything get better?” asked Lawrence Beretto of F1.com
And the answer given, rather earnestly, by the man famously described as F1’s Smooth Operator, was this, “No, not really.”
There was a hint of excitement and that mischievous smile on the face of the noted Ferrari driver who was perhaps trying his best to curb the excitement of driving amid tens of thousands of home fans.
Not that he’s not done it before; prior to setting foot at Catalunya, Barcelona, Sainz had already contested in seven previous Spanish Grands Prix.
On each of these events would he emerge as a figure of valiance if not perfection, having scored points on all occasions.
But what remains elusive so far for a man who, as of 2021, emerged as the solitary figure responsible for mounting Ferrari’s massive improvement, is a podium.
The best, so far, that Sainz has collected in Spain is a P6, a result earned twice- once in 2016 and then, in 2020.
The first effort came courtesy a fine drive with Toro Rosso and the next, in the famous Papaya-liveried McLaren.
The big question, therefore, is this:
What can the man decked in the passionate red racing overalls bring home whilst competing on his home track in a Ferrari?
Should there be another podium and he’s collected nine already, the tally would finally reach the double figures.
Yet, nothing could be any better if that podium- should it happen- yield a race win.
For where Sainz is concerned, whose racing idol is another famous Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, he’s not a huge fan of the idea of coming second best.
Even if that means coming second best to his own Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc.
But then again, Sainz remains ever a man of few words, someone who, much like Leclerc, believes in action.
He’s come a long way since battling hard against the likes of the seemingly unputdownable Red Bull pair of Verstappen and Perez in 2021 and the likes of Norris (McLaren) to mount a Ferrari recovery.
While 2021 was about capitalising on opportunities and converting opportunities into podiums – and he bagged four last year- 2022 is about mounting a serious challenge at the world championship.
The days of being a midfielder are over; Carlos Sainz, easily one of the fastest and widely regarded exports from Spain to F1, has a car that should comfortably see him holding fort at the front of the grid.
But while passion and an appetite for struggle are very much there, what isn’t are blazing lap times in qualifying.
At Bahrain, he admitted at having to struggle to extract that extra tenth of a second which wasn’t such a problem for Charles, the-then pole sitter.
He wasn’t that bad at Saudi Arabian GP quali, bagging a P3 start with his 1:28:402 in Q3.
But right after that, one would see Sainz drop down drastically where his Saturday performances and form were concerned; he’d gather a P9 at Australia for quali, an effort followed by a tenth place start at Imola. Meanwhile, Charles continued to be either at the front of the grid in the said events.
What didn’t help, furthermore, were the back to back DNFs sustained at these events. Sainz was gutted. Perhaps low on confidence even. But he hadn’t given up just yet.
Which is precisely when he worked up some magic and returned to the podium at Miami, a fine recovery of sorts given his fighting third.
But now is the time to go further up. Now is the time to even surge ahead of P2, a performance that, should it happen, bring about the finest moment yet in an exceedingly capable driver’s career.
Though, will that be easy?
Lots to ponder about and lots to see and witness as we are hours away from what’ll hopefully be a very exciting 2022 Spanish Grand Prix, a race that could be the caravan for the Spanish knight called Carlos Sainz Jr.