Carlos Sainz: With McLaren 'it was love at first sight'

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In the build up to his 100th Formula One grand prix in the United States recently, Carlos Sainz tweeted a short video clip of himself doing doughnuts in a motorised toy car when he was a young boy.

Sainz insists that it came naturally, that it had nothing to do with his father, Carlos Sainz Sr, who at that time in the late 1990s was one of the most famous names in motorsport, as a double World Rally champion.

Over two decades later, the 25-year-old has now forged a career for himself at the highest level, with Sunday's United States Grand Prix representing a significant milestone, even if it has yet to yield the glittering success enjoyed by his father.

Reflecting on how far he has at least come since he was caught on camera doing his spins, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sport, Sainz said: "My dad had just returned from a rally and he saw me doing these doughnuts. I was not even three.

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"He said 'Who the hell has taught this guy to do doughnuts?' because he hadn't taught me how to do that. Probably the most impressive thing from that video is not that I was doing the doughnuts but that I was doing them without anyone having taught me.

"There is clearly this gene inside me or this thing inside me that I've always had in my blood. I don't know, but since very little I've always wanted to be in racing cars, and that was without knowing who my dad was and what he was doing for a living.

"I had no idea at two or three years of age that my dad was a rally driver and he was doing doughnuts around the world.

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"It's something within me since I was very little. When I jumped in a go-kart at three or four, with my friends, I was super fast without anyone really teaching me.

"It's one of those things that you're just meant to be. It's the way it has worked for me."

Titles in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and Formula Renault 3.5 paved the way for Sainz's elevation into F1, initially with Toro Rosso in 2015. Perhaps unfortunately for Sainz, his team-mate that year was another rookie in then 17-year-old Max Verstappen.

After being outscored by Verstappen by 32 points, when Red Bull opted to make a change to their driver line-up early into the 2016 season, it was Verstappen who was naturally promoted.

Sainz spent nearly three seasons with Toro Rosso before a move to Renault, one that materialised earlier than expected after the French manufacturer ditched Jolyon Palmer with four races remaining of the 2017 campaign.

It was a switch, though, that failed to pay dividends, despite Sainz playing his part in Renault finishing fourth in the constructors' championship last season.

When McLaren CEO Zak Brown came calling, Sainz admits that there was a spark that was not quite there with Toro Rosso and Renault.

"What sold me on McLaren was, first of all, the connection with Zak and how much this team wanted me to join," recalls Sainz.

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 01: McLaren Renault driver Carlos Sainz (55) of Spain stares at his steering wheel as he practices a start  during P1 practice at the F1 United States Grand Prix on November 01, 2019, at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX. (Photo by Allan Hamilton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Sainz during P1 practice at the US GP (Credit: Getty Images)

"As a driver, it's very important to feel at home and feel that the team wants you. I've always felt at McLaren it was pretty much love at first sight since we started talking.

"It was very important for me, after the Renault and Red Bull periods where I never felt fully at home, that I went to a team that wanted me and that I could show my talent, so that was a big, big part of it.

"Then when I saw the restructuring going on inside McLaren, I realised how realistic they were about their chances, and how honest they were about why they had been so poor in recent years.

"I also saw a team in the making and wanting to move forward, which is exactly what I needed at the time."

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His relationship with rookie team-mate Lando Norris proved to be a slow burner early on but the duo have since become an eye-catching item who have helped propel McLaren to the heights of fourth in this year's constructors' championship after years in the doldrums.

"The first couple of months with Lando, I saw him as a very shy guy," assessed Sainz. "It was not very easy to get into him and start the jokes.

"But once we shared winter testing, and started doing on-track racing, all of a sudden you could clearly see we were going to get on very well, and that we were going to have a lot of fun. It has very quickly developed into a very strong relationship.

HUNGARORING, BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - 2019/08/04: Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris of McLaren F1 Team in the paddock during the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Sainz and McLaren team mate Lando Norris (Credit: Getty Images)

"That is important as a driver, but more importantly for the team, for the mechanics, for everyone to see that the two drivers who are leading this big organisation are getting on well, that they are pushing flat out on track, but then away from the track they are also pushing the team forwards and having fun.

"It gives the team a good vibe, which leads to a good mood and extra motivation, and that extra motivation in results. It's a snowball effect that's affecting the team in a positive way."

Although without a podium in his 100 grands prix, Sainz is at least poised for a career-high finish in the drivers' standings, lying seventh, effectively the best of the rest behind the duos within the Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull teams.

Right now, Sainz could not be happier.

"I never thought about whether I'd get to 100 grands prix," said Sainz. "You always go race by race, focusing on the next one, and trying to be the best driver you can.

"I've definitely felt, since the first race in Formula One, that I belong here, that I would make a career out of it, and so far it's working very well.

"It's fair to say I'm very happy and proud to be at McLaren, and in the position I am today. With the upward curve we are on at the moment, it's the right place for my career.

"I'm feeling at home, and it's giving me the best chance to show my talent and capabilities, and it's reflected in good results and a good season so far."

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