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.

IndyCar: Tony Kanaan’s ‘Last Lap’ begins at Texas Motor Speedway

Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The streak lives for Tony Kanaan. At least for one more race.

With Kanaan running only ovals during his farewell IndyCar season in 2020 – which has been dubbed the “Last Lap” – his record streak of 317 consecutive Indy-car starts was to end with the season opener March 15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Fate had other plans. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the postponement of St. Pete (now the season finale in October) amid the shutdown of American sports.

IndyCar has made multiple changes to its 2020 schedule since then, and as a result, Kanaan is getting an opportunity to extend his “Ironman” streak.

The 2004 NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner is set for career start No. 318 on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway – driving the No. 14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet alongside the team’s new full-season driver, Charlie Kimball, in the No. 4 Chevy.

“A lot of people ask me how I coped with the delay of the season,” Kanaan said Monday in an IndyCar Zoom news conference. “To be honest, I was mentally prepared already because my first real race was going to be the [Indy] 500. My mind was already set for May.

“I only really had to delay, what, a couple of weeks from what I was originally scheduled to do. For me, I think it wasn’t as hard as for the other guys that were already in St. Pete, ready to go.”

But while his mindset is locked in, Kanaan notes that he’s been out of a race car for eight months. In fact, as of Monday, he hadn’t sat in a car fitted with the new Aeroscreen cockpit protection system.

However, he is no stranger to the wild and woolly action at Texas. Ditto for his new-slash-old teammate, Kimball: The two competed together at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-17.

That experience is something A.J. Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt is grateful to have on his side.

“Going into this race, it’s huge,” Foyt said. “Especially with the one-day show, everything is accelerated, and going to a big track like Texas, having a guy like Charlie sit on the pole there [in 2017], knows his way around there, and obviously TK is very good there, as well.

“It’s a little bit of peace of mind for sure. Anything can happen, but the engineering group has been working really well together. We’re really hopeful we’re going to unload and get these guys some good cars out of the box. That’s the plan.”

Speaking of Kimball, the Californian is set to revive his full-time career in the sport after making just seven starts last season with Carlin.

He’s enjoyed his unexpected free time at home with his wife, Kathleen, and their two children, Hannah and newborn son Gordon, who arrived in March. But he’s grateful to get back in the car – and to accompany Tony on his ‘last lap.’

“We’re friends off the track,” Charlie said. “We train together. He’s gotten me addicted to riding a bicycle on a computer game, but also our wives are friends, and I think our families when we can get together and the kids can play, I think they’re going to interact really well. I’m excited for his daughter Nina to spend some time with our daughter.

“And the experience – I mean, he’s taught me things and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to restart on ovals and what you can and what you should and shouldn’t do and what he still does. That experience is invaluable to me to continue to learn and get better. I just feel really honored to be his teammate during his last lap, especially when we get back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.”

The NTT IndyCar Series season begins Saturday night from Texas Motor Speedway with the Genesys 300 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.