Why we watched him in 2017
2016 was a dramatic year for Red Bull Racing's sister team, Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen got promoted to Red Bull after a rather clumsy Daniil "The Torpedo" Kvyat was judged to be unfit for that role. As Verstappen shined with Red Bull and Kvyat was shunted off to Toro Rosso, one driver quietly kept going along his business and racked up 46 championship points. That man was the ever-so-consistent Carlos Sainz. In 2017, we watched the Spaniard not only be his consistent self but a driver who looked hungrier, and much more aggressive. He consistently outpaced Kvyat race after race as he made a strong mark for himself in the driver grid.
This did not go unnoticed as he later won a seat at Renault for the final four races of 2017 to replace an unimpressive Jolyon Palmer. With Renault, Sainz showed immense adaptability to go toe to toe with a much more established and settled driver in Nico Hulkenberg.
Drivers’ championship performance
The reason Sainz makes it into RealSport's F1 drivers of the year list is because he has shown steady growth and improvement throughout the season. Building off of 2016's consistency, the spaniard scored 48 points with Toro Rosso in 2017. In comparison his teammate, Kvyat managed only 5 points with the same machinery. This stark contrast in performance is mostly owing to supreme race pace and an innate ability to extract the best out of his car on race day. The two drivers were fairly closely matched in qualifying. Sainz out qualified Kvyat eight times while the Russian was faster six times. The average time gap between the two drivers was only 0.114 secs in favour of Sainz. However on race day, he frequently made sure he brought his car home and gained valuable points for Toro Rosso. For a team that has struggled with pace all season, it takes immense patience and tenacity for a driver to still score points. Sainz epitomised that beautifully.
Despite some unlucky reliability issues resulting in two non finishes with his small stint at Renault, Sainz still earned points and finished 9th in the drivers' championship. These results simply indicate that Carlos was always up for all the midfield challenge that came his way.
No prizes for guessing this one. The driver's career best equalling finish came at the Singapore Grand Prix and deserves to be this best weekend of 2017. Amidst a hectic and chaotic race that saw a start full of crashes, ever changing track conditions and frequent safety car appearances, Sainz stayed calm, picked up places at the start and fended off Perez and Hulkenberg to finish 4th.
This was no easy feat considering the fact that there were much stronger and faster teams eyeing fourth place. Its races like these where one can see the amount of potential and talent that Sainz has to stay calm and maintain pace to fend off strong challenges.
Despite a strong 2017 campaign, Sainz had his fair share of unfortunate incidents which further resulted in DNFs. However, his worst probably was the final weekend at Abu Dhabi. After only managing twelfth in qualifying, Sainz was well in contention to finish in the points before he had to retire owing to his front left tire not being put on properly by pit crew during a routine pit stop. The DNF was enough to make Renault nervous as they needed Nico Hulkenberg to finish in 6th to help secure the sixth place in the constructors' standings. Lucky for the French team, Nico came through in the clutch.
With a promising Renault team and a strong teammate in Nico Hulkenberg, Sainz will hope to further build on 2017 and finish higher in the constructors' championship whilst proving his case to the top tier teams that he deserves a shot to fight with the best. It will be interesting to see how he competes against a rather experienced campaigner in Hulkenberg and what kind of car Renault come up with for 2018. With all things considered, Sainz has a bright future ahead of him in Formula 1 and we hope to see him contending for podiums and wins soon.
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