As a boy of around seven, he was almost shy. But he was fascinated at the same time, his gaze absolutely fixed on the brightly-painted cars moving past him, which provided just a hint of the power and speed about to be unleashed. On a very big day for this small person, surrounded by more people than he could possibly imagine, he was unfailingly polite. When introduced he held out his hand solemnly, before scuttling back to his father’s side.
But it wasn’t long before his father had to go, affectionately ruffling his son’s hair before returning to work. His son watched him leave, big brown eyes filled with excitement and anticipation.
That boy was Carlos Sainz Junior: the place the Catalunya Rally in the early 2000s, when Carlos Sainz Senior was driving the Martini-liveried Ford Focus WRC. For many people, this was where they first met Carlos Junior, as Catalunya was one of the very few rallies that he was allowed to visit. His father always insisted that school came first – and in any case, Carlos Senior believed that he was there to do a job, not entertain his family – so it was very rare to see any of them at a rally.
Catalunya was an obvious exception, and ‘Carlitos’ was given the incredible treat of coming with his father to work and watching him drive in front of an adoring public.
On Monday, it would be back to school, and Junior might not see his father again for a while, as Sainz Senior was always the hardest-working of all the rally drivers: constantly testing, visiting the factory, then testing again until it got dark. These were the rules and the unstinting work ethic that young Carlos grew up with. But on his trip to the Catalunya Rally, he could finally see the rewards of all that hard work for himself. It must have made a huge impression.
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Fewer than 20 years later, Carlos Junior has claimed what is perhaps Formula 1’s ultimate prize: a seat at Ferrari. Incredibly, Ferrari in 2021 will be Sainz’s fourth F1 team from only six seasons, but Maranello didn’t hesitate to confirm the Spaniard within days of Sebastian Vettel announcing his departure.
This constant contractual merry go round has only made Sainz stronger, confirming his ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances and soak up expectations. Just like his father.
“It’s all down to him,” was Sainz Senior’s simple verdict. “I always said that if he worked hard and focused on his goal it was possible for him to achieve it.”
Carlos Senior is reluctant to talk much about Junior these days: he wants his son to be his own man. But there’s one thing that Sainz Senior desperately desired for his son that he never had himself: the parental support to get a motor racing career off the ground.
“I wanted to help Junior when he was younger, because I had to do it all by myself when I started off and I remember how difficult it was,” said the older Sainz. “But I wasn’t going to do it automatically. First he had to work hard and prove that he had the commitment. If he did this, I told him I was ready to help him.”
The young Sainz has certainly proved himself, finishing ‘best of the rest’ in the drivers’ championship last year, behind the top three teams. Now aged 25, the hardest part of the journey is still to come: turning promise into greatness at the most famous Formula 1 team in the world.
During an interview back in 2010, the 15-year-old Sainz – then a Formula BMW driver – was asked about his father. He eloquently replied that if one day he could be just half the driver that his father is, he would be happy – but that he would be even happier if he could be just half the man.
This is the mark of the driver that Ferrari has signed for next year. A young man with towering respect for his father and fellow competitors, who has been raised since his earliest days as a sportsman in every sense of the word. Someone who has seen motorsport from the inside for as long as he can remember. A driver who knows nothing but the fact that the very highest standards are expected from him as an athlete and a person. A talent who has been tugged from team to team but kept smiling. A person who is firmly rooted on the ground and in his family, but still has ambitions that reach high into the sky.
Carlos has taken on so many of the traits of his father: confident but not arrogant, passionate but not impulsive. Both father and son are quick because they are unafraid of most things. Especially hard work.