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

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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.

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”