While Max Verstappen has been hogging all the attention, from being hailed as the once in a generation talent and raising the bar high for new drivers coming into the sport, his contemporary and ex-teammate is going on and about with his head low, in the shadows, putting in stellar performances to the best of the capabilities of the machinery he is driving.
I’m sure by this point you sure would have guessed that I’m talking about Carlos Sainz Jr. even if you didn’t read the title already. While Verstappen maybe the superstar, Carlos Sainz is no pushover and he has held his own in the season and a half when he teamed up with the child prodigy. And it’s no less feat given how trying that duration must have been for the Spaniard who himself was a rookie. Despite some stellar performances, his young teammate grabbed all the media headlines and attention. Verstappen’s popularity was not only limited to the outside world, but also the Red Bull family. Sainz had to deal with the mindset of the people within the team, for whom Verstappen was the favourite child. Also considering the fact that Red Bull allowed itself to go through a coup d’etat of last year’s shocking mid-season swap between Verstappen and Kvyat. It must have been the biggest heartache that Sainz would have to go through his entire life.
But despite such unspoken ordeals, Sainz held his own and gave his best after best and has silently been raking in the praise and attention of exactly the kind of people who ensure whether you end up driving for their team or not. Sainz may not have podiums to his name but his talent is second to none and people behind the scenes at big teams know it and are keeping a close eye on his situation. Red Bull is wary of both Sainz’s talent and the interest their rivals has on him and therefore is trying everything in its power to keep the Spaniard from defecting to any other faction. They know that Sainz has the potential to be one of the next big things in F1 and are relying on him as a cushion to fall back on the moment any of its superstar moves to pastures anew.
But in his third year at the junior team which usually is the longest any of the driver is kept at the Fainza based team, Red Bull are running out of options to keep the Spaniard onboard. With reigning GP2 (now F2) champion Pierre Gasly standing on the door and the Russian Kvyat who is finding his feet again after the demotion, Red Bull is in a fix so as to whom to keep and whom to show the door. But the question remains that would Sainz stay at Red Bull in hope that the A-team seat would open up for him because Red Bull are sure to use this as a carrot stick to lure Sainz Jr. to stay. They are bound to intimidate him by telling him the uncertainty he could face outside the Red Bull family or worst that he could end up as a journeyman.
With Renault’s interest in him at an all time high, this year’s decision could make or break Sainz’s years to come. In Renault, he has the opportunity to be in a manufacturer team whose deep wallets guarantee a front of the grid showing in the near future but that future is at the very least more than a couple of years away given that the team does not mess up. Staying at Toro Rosso allows him to leverage a better deal with Red Bull with a sure shot promotion to the A-Team any moment either of the driver leaves but the chances of that happening are bleaker than Kimi Raikkonen not having a bemoaning radio conversation with the pit wall during a race.
It would be naive to think that Red Bull with their deep pockets and bargaining power would keep Sainz’s best interest at their heart when the negotiation between the two begins for a contract extension.
By merely keeping him in the junior squad for 2017 and harbouring thoughts of retaining him further or the very least making lives difficult for any other team to get the Spaniard, Red Bull are ruining Sainz’s future.