PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

Move to Ferrari will put added pressure on Carlos Sainz Jr. in 2021

Leave a comment

Joining Ferrari is a big boost for Carlos Sainz Jr.’s Formula One career, yet the Spanish driver will find himself under more pressure competing alongside rising star Charles Leclerc.

Leclerc is widely seen as a future F1 champion along with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The 22-year-old ex-karting rivals are considered the likely successors to Lewis Hamilton when the six-time world champion, who is 35, eventually retires.

The speedy Leclerc beat Hamilton for most pole positions last season (seven to five) and outperformed four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel in his first season at Ferrari.

Despite racing in only his second season in F1, Leclerc beat the vastly experienced Vettel for wins (2-1), pole positions (7-2) and finished fourth in the championship, with Vettel fifth.

It was a blow to Vettel’s confidence and ultimately shaped the team’s future.

For while Leclerc had already signed a new Ferrari deal until the end of 2024 at a reported 10 million euros (around $11 million) per year, the Italian team could not agree on terms with Vettel about a new contract. His huge contract worth $40 million per year ends after the 2020 season.

Driver and team announced a mutual separation Tuesday after the season, and Vettel’s future in F1 remains very uncertain.

His departure opens the door for Sainz, 25, in a two-year deal that few would have predicted a few months ago. He is the son of two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz, and drove impressively for McLaren last season.

He secured the first podium finish of his career, finishing sixth overall, and his consistency helped the improving McLaren team finish fourth in the constructors’ championship.

His cool, calm attitude could work well at Ferrari after the tensions between Vettel and Leclerc. The discreet Sainz is unlikely to ruffle Leclerc, whose welcoming smile belies a fierce ambition sometimes reigned in by the team to prevent those tensions from escalating.

“He has the technical ability and the right attributes to make him an ideal fit with our family,” Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said of Sainz. “A driver pairing with the talent and personality of Charles and Carlos, the youngest in the past fifty years of (Ferrari), will be the best possible combination to help us reach the goals we have set ourselves.”

Those goals include the team winning its first F1 drivers title since Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 and a first constructors win since 2006.

Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo was the other main candidate touted as a possible replacement for Vettel at Ferrari.

But the 30-year-old Australian driver, who won seven races with his former team Red Bull, instead will join McLaren next season.

Sainz Jr. already knows what it’s like to fill big shoes, having replaced Fernando Alonso at McLaren. But the task he faces at Ferrari is much bigger.

“I’m excited about my future with the team,” Sainz Jr. said.

He has five seasons of F1 experience, but he’ll need to find an extra gear to compete with Leclerc, who won twice last season but could have had four victories if it wasn’t for a late engine failure in Bahrain and team orders in Vettel’s favor at Singapore.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

Ker Robertson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?