Carlos Sainz says he has joined McLaren in the belief the struggling British team can return to the front of the Formula One grid.
After a major shake-up in the driver market this summer, Sainz will move from Renault to McLaren in 2019, replacing fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso. He joins the team at a low point in its history following six years without a victory, but says its management has shown him a clear plan to bring the team back to the top.
“I don’t see a lot of scratching heads,” he said at the launch of the OnePlus 6T McLaren Edition smartphone earlier this week. “I see they more or less have a very clear picture of what has happened, why and the way we need to improve.
“So already when I got here, they made me an explanation and presentation of what happened — so for me it was very positive to see some clear minds out there and strong leadership to see where we are going,
“Another thing is whether it is going to work or not next year, this we don’t know. We know we have a direction, we know we have an analysis but it is going to take time. That is everything I can say.
“It is still not going to be night and day, and it is still going to be a process of years ahead, but I am happy to be part of this process and I am proud of this team because I think I can be a good help and I can improve with them altogether.”
However, Sainz is wary of the advantage reigning champions Mercedes has at the top of the championship.
“I think McLaren has the tools [to return to the top] but I still think that Mercedes has set a new bar to everyone. I think every team that is not Mercedes right now is playing catch up because they have set a new benchmark to all the teams of F1, the way they need to work and perform to get the level they are, which is simply incredible at the moment.
“That is why there is not a lot of rush but there is a commitment to improve McLaren and to make it first, a solid midfield car and then do a step, and that is our short-term/mid-term plan and hopefully one day this team, and hopefully I am still here, goes back to where it belongs.”
Sainz sees McLaren as long-term project and not just a stepping stone on the way to a bigger team.
“I want to make it, not my team because it sounds a bit strange, but I want to make it my home for the next few years. The only way to do that apart from good results is showing good commitment to the brand, to the team, getting on well with everyone.
“I can tell you that this last month has been a very encouraging sign to see how everyone has welcomed me and the way we’ve been working together this last month. I feel very much at home already and that is a very important first step as a driver, the first feeling is always very important and that first feeling has been really positive.”