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F1 2016 Driver Review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Carlos Sainz Jr.

Team: Scuderia Toro Rosso
Car No.: 55
Races: 21
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: 6th (Spain, USA, Brazil)
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 46
Laps Led: 0
Championship Position: 12th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

I’m still not convinced there is that much difference in ability between Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. While Verstappen has lived up to the hype he is surrounded by, Sainz has quietly got on with the job at hand, leading Toro Rosso to a respectable seventh in the constructors’ championship.

The thing to remember in all of this is that Toro Rosso raced through 2016 with a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit. As the rest of the field developed, Toro Rosso stood still – and yet Sainz was able to claim some big results. His charge to sixth on home soil in Spain was impressive, but the stand-out performances came in Austin and Brazil, once again finishing both times around.

Brazil saw Sainz come close to a breakthrough podium, running fourth for much of the race before losing out late on to – you guessed it – Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel. Another podium shout came in Monaco, when two slow pit stops cost Sainz track position and left him a disappointing P8 at the line.

All in all, another hugely impressive year for Sainz that will have undoubtedly caught the eye of some of F1’s biggest teams ahead of a possible move up the grid for 2018.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

There must be something about tenacious Spanish drivers outperforming the machinery at their disposal. Carlos Sainz Jr. may be the son of the rally legend, but in F1 terms, he’s the next generation Fernando Alonso – and that’s arguably some of the highest praise that can be bestowed on a driver. 

Sainz got his just rewards and recognition this year for his efforts, dragging the Toro Rosso with a year-old Ferrari engine nearly to a top-10 finish in the championship. With 46 points, he was only three off of Max Verstappen’s total last year in the team, and that was with a same year Renault power unit.

Rather than act as though he was overlooked for the Red Bull senior team seat – and he was – Sainz instead put his head down and kept going through thick-and-thin, showing both pace and race craft far beyond his 22 years. Arguably, he’s a more complete driver than Verstappen at the moment, even if Verstappen has more highlight-reel clips at his disposal. Along with Alonso at McLaren and Robert Kubica at Renault a few years ago, Sainz’s campaign was one of the best midfield runs in recent F1 history.

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.