F1 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

© AP

Carlos Sainz Jr.

Team: Scuderia Toro Rosso
Car No.: 55
Races: 19
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: 7th (USA)
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 18
Laps Led: 0
Championship Position: 15th

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Carlos Sainz Jr. was arguably the unluckiest driver in Formula 1 this year: unlucky to suffer so many issues with his car, unlucky to only score 18 points, unlucky to have Max Verstappen as a teammate.

Sainz’s debut season in the sport was a very strong one when you take everything into account, not just his final points total. A solid start to the year with points in Australia and Malaysia was followed by a fine performance in Spain when he charged past Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat late on to score points on home soil.

However, a run of four DNFs between Austria and Belgium mired the year, costing him serious hauls of points – bear in mind he was ahead of Verstappen in Hungary early on, who would go on to finish fourth – and sullying what was a strong season in truth.

Verstappen unquestionably had a better year, of that there can be no doubt, but the 31-point gap between the two Toro Rosso drivers does Sainz a disservice. He was more than a match for the Dutchman in qualifying, and although he lacked some of the fire that was seen across the garage on-track, Sainz proved that he more than deserves his seat in F1.

Hopefully 2016 will allow the Spaniard to show his true colors and put Verstappen to the sword. It’s arguably the most intriguing intra-team battle on the grid.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

If you think of Daniil Kvyat (21), Sainz Jr. (21) and Max Verstappen (18) as three brothers within Red Bull’s current quartet of young talent (Daniel Ricciardo is 26), then Sainz would have to be viewed as the “troubled middle child.” He’s talented and quick… but also desperately unlucky and overshadowed by either his older or younger siblings.

The case in point: Kvyat got promoted to Red Bull after just one year at Toro Rosso’s incubator, and Sainz Jr. got his F1 chance arguably a year late, having missed out on the ride in 2014. Matched up alongside Verstappen, arguably the most exciting rookie F1 has had in years, Sainz was always going to be overlooked – and doing so would have done him a disservice.

The young Spaniard was pretty impressive for most of the season though. He had some standout qualifying efforts and his resiliency was profound. His weekend at Sochi about summed it all up. He’d been flying early in the weekend but had one of the year’s most severe looking accidents in qualifying. Upon racing, he carved through the field… then got let down by a mechanical failure.

Verstappen outscored him 49-18 but the gulf in performance was not that big in actuality. Sainz just bore the majority of Toro Rosso’s bad luck – as Jean-Eric Vergne had in the past few years. He was arguably one of the top 10 drivers of the season and his results did not reflect how solid a performer he was, albeit one still with some room for improvement.


Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale


Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”