A NEW START FOR SAINZ

As Car­los Sainz made his switch from Toro Rosso to Re­nault in Austin, F1 Rac­ing was there to see it un­fold

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS -

At the US GP he grad­u­ated from Toro Rosso to Re­nault. F1R was there to see how he got on

THERE was no trace of a smile on the face of the young Spa­niard, who had just done some­thing, first time out, that had taken his pre­de­ces­sor 24 at­tempts to achieve: reach Q3 in qual­i­fy­ing.

Not only that, but Car­los Sainz, on his first race week­end for Re­nault F1, at the 2017 US Grand Prix, would start in P7, prof­it­ing from the de­mo­tion of Max Ver­stap­pen, who’d been slapped with a 15-place penalty for chang­ing en­gine parts. Would it be un­char­i­ta­ble also to men­tion that Sainz would start at COTA 12 places ahead of his team-mate, the hard-charg­ing qual­i­fy­ing ace Nico Hülken­berg?

True, the Hulk’s grid po­si­tion was en­tirely un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive, since he was another driver who was handed a heavy penalty for chang­ing en­gine parts – in his case, it was an MGU-K shaft that failed dur­ing sec­ond prac­tice. So there’d been no head-to-head be­tween this fresh and ag­gres­sive driver pair­ing.

For some driv­ers though, those on an up­ward tra­jec­tory and with enough tal­ent, ded­i­ca­tion and luck to max­imise their op­por­tu­nity, plan­ets can align, as they had for Sainz this Austin Satur­day, and as they had, in­deed, ahead of the race, to el­e­vate him in a flash from Toro Rosso.

THE INSISTENT BLINKING OF

the high­in­ten­sity light at the rear of Sainz’s Re­nault R.S.17 draws the eye. It’s flash­ing on-off-on-of­fon-off – im­pa­tiently wait­ing for the ac­tion to be­gin. Sainz’s car is on the right-hand side of the garage, and it’s no­tice­able in the close con­fines of the COTA pits how much more real es­tate a 2017 F1 car oc­cu­pies than did its pre­de­ces­sors. These are big ma­chines: low, long, wide and pur­pose­ful. Heavy (too heavy, some say), but also pow­er­ful thanks to their so­phis­ti­cated power units, and ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing suf­fi­cient down­force to have raised cor­ner­ing speeds this year by as much as 19mph, or a whole ‘G’.

It’s sober­ing to re­flect on the fact that the men who are charged with tam­ing these de­vices are still of­ten so young. Sainz, aged just 23, will start his 57th grand prix in Austin and is al­ready ap­proach­ing the end of his third sea­son – ex­pe­ri­ence enough to have grad­u­ated from the Toro Rosso ju­nior pro­gramme and be­come part of some­thing much more se­ri­ous: Re­nault’s am­bi­tious, well-funded works team with a proud, cham­pi­onship-win­ning her­itage.

“IT WAS A FAN­TAS­TIC RE­LIEF TO GET CAR­LOS HERE FOR THE FIRST SES­SION AND TO SEE THAT ALL OF THE EF­FORTS AND CONTRACTUAL DIS­CUS­SIONS WERE WORTH IT” cyril abiteboul

But if Sainz is feel­ing any pres­sure, he’s not show­ing it as his crew of en­gi­neers and me­chan­ics bus­tle around his ma­chine, en­sur­ing ev­ery part of its setup is as pre­scribed by pre-race data map­ping. His new-liv­ery hel­met – Span­ish flag stripes on a matte-black car­bon weave – is al­most mo­tion­less in its po­si­tion at the very heart of the car. We’re just min­utes into Fri­day’s sec­ond prac­tice ses­sion, but Sainz has been en­sconced in the cock­pit for some time, wait­ing for his par­tic­i­pa­tion to be­gin.

The voice of race engi­neer Karel Loos cuts through over the in­ter­com: “There will be five timed laps on this run: slow-fast-slow-fast-slow. Recharge on slow laps. We’re try­ing lower lev­els of exit lock­ing and have some ‘cruise con­trol’ runs for aero cor­re­la­tion.”

The era of driv­ers head­ing out for a few laps, push­ing the car as hard as it wants to go, and then be­ing the only ref­er­ence for one, maybe two, en­gi­neers, with a post-run ver­bal de­brief (Clark-chap­man; JonesHead), is so far re­moved from con­tem­po­rary F1 as to be al­most unimag­in­able.

Anal­y­sis of Sainz’s per­for­mance will be foren­sic in its at­ten­tion to de­tail; num­ber-crunch­ing car­ried out at the track will be aug­mented by the ‘mis­sion con­trol’ in­tel­li­gence cen­tre watch­ing live from team HQ in En­stone, Ox­ford­shire.

But at the heart of this daz­zling tech­ni­cal ef­fort is a man whose skills are of para­mount im­por­tance to the suc­cess of the en­ter­prise. Those of Sainz’s pre­de­ces­sor, Jolyon Palmer, were found want­ing, re­sult­ing in the team ter­mi­nat­ing his con­tract ahead of the Ja­panese GP. This would be his last Re­nault race. And while this mid-sea­son driver swap might have seemed abrupt, it had, in fact, been a long time com­ing.

Re­nault team boss Cyril Abiteboul con­firms that he and the team had been speak­ing to Sainz for more than a year be­fore the switch, but that pre­vi­ous contractual ties had kept Sainz at Toro Rosso. These were loos­ened by the en­gine merry-go-round that next year takes Re­nault to Mclaren (re­plac­ing Honda) and Honda to Toro Rosso (re­plac­ing Re­nault). Abiteboul re­lates a feel­ing of ful­fil­ment at fi­nally se­cur­ing Sainz’s ar­rival: “It was a fan­tas­tic re­lief to get Car­los here for the first ses­sion and to see that all of the ef­forts and contractual dis­cus­sions were worth it. This was some­thing that both en­ti­ties wanted, but be­cause this is such a busy time of year, with a heavy travel sched­ule, we had to find a time away from fly-away back-to-back races to do it.”

Diaries were cleared for the week af­ter the Ja­panese Grand Prix and the en­tire race team were briefed to be ‘in the of­fice’ on the day of Sainz’s ar­rival to help make him feel wel­come.

“It was great,” says Abiteboul. “We did a dry run of a race week­end, with ev­ery­body there and it was su­per-pos­i­tive im­me­di­ately. We could feel that there was a good en­ergy and a good vibe.

“CAR­LOS IS QUITE STRAIGHT­FOR­WARD; HE HAS SOME HU­MIL­ITY. HE’S STRONG BUT AT THE SAME TIME HE LISTENS TO PEO­PLE” cyril abiteboul

There was an appetite to be work­ing to­gether and be im­me­di­ately up to speed.”

The ben­e­fits of those in­tense prepa­ra­tions are im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent here in Austin, as Sainz is thrown into the ‘team leader’ role un­ex­pect­edly early when the Hulk’s MGU-K prob­lem means his FP2 ses­sion is largely wasted. Car­los has to carry the team – and he’s ready.

His com­ments to race engi­neer Loos are clear and pre­cise: “I’m not so happy with the car this ses­sion. The trac­tion’s re­ally poor com­pared with FP1 and on the first timed lap the brake bal­ance caught me by sur­prise.”

He’s not yet as­sertive in his de­mands, but nei­ther is he fazed by tak­ing the step up to a larger, more ex­plic­itly am­bi­tious race team. Like any rac­ing driver, he knows what he wants and he knows that he now has to build re­la­tion­ships with his team that al­low him get it.

Abiteboul says that he and oth­ers were im­me­di­ately im­pressed by the blend of per­sonal qual­i­ties Sainz brings to his rac­ing: “Even though the re­la­tion­ship changes when some­one works with you, he’s not that dif­fer­ent from the Car­los I al­ready knew. He’s quite straight­for­ward; he has some hu­mil­ity. He’s strong but at the same time he listens to peo­ple. He’s young and he has the en­ergy of youth, but he’s also able to have some per­spec­tive on his per­for­mance now and how that might af­fect his fu­ture per­for­mance. He was con­ser­va­tive on his first week­end, but im­me­di­ately up to it.”

And how. Sainz was pipped for ‘best of the rest’ hon­ours only by fel­low young flier, Este­ban Ocon; ahead of them just the two Mercedes, the Fer­raris and a Red Bull. Be­ing ‘next best’ is Re­nault’s min­i­mum ex­pec­ta­tion this year and for 2018 their hopes are higher still.

“Hav­ing Car­los with us sent an im­por­tant sig­nal in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally,” says Abiteboul. “We are grow­ing as an or­gan­i­sa­tion mas­sively, but our ef­fort is not just about work­ing hours and fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment. It’s also about show­ing that we are do­ing ev­ery­thing that it takes to have a driver at the right level.”

Sainz’s P7 fin­ish in Sun­day’s race turned out to be no more than a sim­ple af­fir­ma­tion of what ev­ery­one al­ready knew: he’s a gifted, at­tack­ing driver, ripe for suc­cess. Much like another young Spa­niard who, more than a decade ago, found his F1 feet at Mi­nardi (the team that would be­come Toro Rosso), and then went on to be­come a world beater at Re­nault…

Re­nault had been in­ter­ested in Sainz for a long time, and now he’s here it’s clear he’s a good fit, im­press­ing the en­gi­neers with his pre­cise feed­back

Sainz made Q3 in his first qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion with Toro Rosso and fin­ished in the points in P7. Could he be fol­low­ing in the foot­prints of another fa­mous Span­ish racer?

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