With Sainz set to win FR3.5 title, will Toro Rosso beckon?


Carlos Sainz Jr. is poised to clinch the Formula Renault 3.5 championship this weekend in Jerez, needing just six points to follow in Kevin Magnussen’s footsteps and win the F1 feeder series.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a strong season with DAMS, winning seven races to give himself a 44 point lead over compatriot Roberto Merhi, but the big question waiting to be answered is “what next?” – quite clearly, the aim is Formula 1.

As a member of Red Bull’s junior programme, Sainz has backing from one of the biggest and most successful brands in motorsport that has cultivated the talent of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat in the past. As a result, standards are supremely high, and Red Bull also isn’t shy of a curveball.

In fact, Sainz has twice been a victim of said curveball. He seemed to be the ‘second choice’ for a seat at Toro Rosso in 2014 when Daniel Ricciardo was promoted, only for GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat to sweep the carpet from underneath him and favorite Antonio Felix da Costa to get the gig. He’ll now be at Red Bull in 2015.

This year, the appointment of Max Verstappen once again denied Sainz a shot at the seat, only for him to be given a reprieve when Sebastian Vettel confirmed his decision to leave Red Bull, thus allowing Kvyat to move up and free a space.

So will Sainz be overlooked yet again?

Consensus is that there are three viable options: Sainz, GP3’s Alex Lynn and FR3.5/GP2 driver Pierre Gasly. All are very young, very talented and Red Bull-backed. If a curveball were to be thrown yet again, Sainz would be pushed to one side.

What Red Bull really like to see are ‘moments of brilliance’ – take Kvyat’s fine end to the 2013 GP3 season, or Verstappen’s six-race winning streak in this year’s FIA F3 European Championship. That’s the kind of stuff that gets the attention of the top bods.

So when Alex Lynn arrived in Russia last weekend, he had the chance to do that. The Briton has led the GP3 championship all season long and been in impressive form, but here he needed to find the killer blow. He was able to win the title in Sochi, and as main challenger Richie Stanaway faded and endured a pointless weekend, Lynn had little reason not to seal the deal.

Yet he didn’t. He finished seventh in the feature race and fifth in the sprint to bring home just 12 points. He may only need one point to win the title in Abu Dhabi (meaning he’ll probably win it in qualifying, sadly), but he didn’t achieve what Red Bull would have wanted.

Gasly has enjoyed a successful junior career, but hasn’t made too great a splash into GP2 since joining for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza with Caterham Racing. He is yet to score any points, and although he has enjoyed an impressive debut season in Formula Renault 3.5, it would be hard to give the drive to the man who finishes the season third in the standings over the champion.

But then again, with Red Bull, it’s very hard to say. Sainz has the support, the talent and even the genes – his Dad is a legend in the rally world – and he just needs the break.

He might need a pittance to win the title in Jerez this weekend, but Sainz will know that he needs to bring home as many points as he can to make it impossible to say no.

Then again, this is Red Bull we’re dealing with – the brand that quite literally dropped a man from space and brought him home safe and sound. The word “impossible” just doesn’t feature in the company dictionary – and that could be to Sainz’s detriment.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023


Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.