Alonso backs Sainz to reach F1 despite Toro Rosso snub

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Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso has backed fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr. to reach Formula 1 despite being rejected by Toro Rosso for a race seat in 2015.

The Spanish youngster currently leads the Formula Renault 3.5 championship – one of F1’s feeder series – and looks set to win the title, following in the footsteps of Kevin Magnussen.

He was expected to replace Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2015, being the most senior and established Red Bull junior driver, but was snubbed in favor of 16-year-old Max Verstappen. The Dutchman will become the youngest ever F1 driver when he makes his debut next March.

Speaking in Belgium ahead of this weekend’s race, Alonso admitted that he was surprised not to see Sainz get the nod, but is confident that his compatriot will reach F1.

“Obviously I was thinking and many people thought that he would be with Toro Rosso next year,” Alonso explained. “He will arrive in Formula 1 sooner or later. He has the talent, he has the mentality, he has the right approach.

“He is 19 – now that seems old. 19 years old, leading the World Series, winning in all the championships that he’s raced before. He will arrive.”

Verstappen’s rapid promotion has certainly ruffled some feathers in Formula 1, sparking a debate over whether or not he is too young to race. For Alonso, putting in a driver at such a young age has both its pros and cons.

“There is a lot of experience that you get with the years, the championships on your shoulders,” Alonso said. “Sometimes arriving in too early is a good thing, sometimes arriving too early is a bad thing, because you don’t have the experience sometimes to cope with some of the demands that Formula 1 has.

“Red Bull has what it wants because everybody today asks about Verstappen, which is good coverage in the media.”

Would Alonso have been ready at 17? “Probably I was not ready,” he admitted.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).